A Cinematography Preview of Cannes 2019

The 2019 Cannes International Film Festival has just begun. Although there are a lot of news stories about the films, directors and actors at Cannes, not enough is said about the cinematographers.

This post lists some of the films that will be screened in the next 11 days, and identifies some of cinematographers involved. There are, of course, many, many, many more…


  1. Standing on Cinematographer
  2. Official Competition
  3. Women Filmmakers
  4. Intriguing
  5. ExcelLens Tribute to Bruno Delbonnel


1. Standing on Cinematographer

The Cannes poster has a special significance for film crews. It features the recently departed director Agnès Varda standing on the shoulders of her director of photography Louis Stein, who is himself crouched on the camera case, holding the tripod leg to stabilize the image. 

The photograph is from the set of Varda's first feature La Pointe Courte in 1954. The filmmakers are seeking the highest angle possible on a wooden platform, with the tripod set to its maximum height. Varda is shooting with a hand-cranked Debrie Parvo camera. She is 27. The ultra low-budget film was shot without sound and dubbed in post. It was edited by filmmaker Alain Resnais, and shown at 1955 Cannes Festival.

This image of a director standing on a cinematographer to get the shot is striking and symbolic. The cinematographer is literally elevating the director, showing that he will do everything he can to help her achieve her image. 

Agnès Varda shooting with the Debrie Parvo (afcinema.com)

The poster also celebrates a pioneering woman director shooting her first feature, a foretaste of the Nouvelle Vague. Agnès Varda was an original auteur who has left us with great documentaries -- my favorite is Daguerréotypes -- and evocative features like her masterpiece, Vagabond (cinematography by Patrick Blossier, AFC).


2. Official Competition

The two main competitions, the Official Competition and sidebar Un Certain Regard (aka UCR), are chosen by the genial festival director, Thierry Frémaux, and his staff. 

The Official Competition is the main event: this year 20 films will compete for the prestigious Palme d’Or, and other prizes awarded by a formidable jury headed by Alejandro Iñarritu.

The Official Competition jury during photo call: Robin Campillo, Kelly Reichardt, Pawel Pawlikowski, Alejandro Iñarritu, Maimouna N'Diaye, Elle Fanning, Enki Billal, Yorgos Lanthimos - French, American, Polish, Mexican, Burkinabé, American, Italian, French, Greek  (cannes-festival.com)

2019 is a year of heavy-hitters. This year's Official Selection includes 6 previous winners of the Palme d'Or: the Dardenne brothers, Abdelatif Kechiche, Ken Loach, Terrence Malick and Quentin Tarantino. I'm also heartened to see a new generation of talented filmmakers represented, notably Xavier Dolan and Céline Sciamma, alongside other Cannes veterans.

The 20 films, directors and cinematographers in the Official Competition

-> You can see this list as PDF

2019 is a very French year. Co-productions can make it difficult to define a film’s nationality, so my list identifies the director’s nationality and/or cultural origin. By this directorial standard, competing for the Palme d’Or are: 6 French films, 2 from the US, and 1 each from Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Italy, Palestine, Romania, South Korea, Spain and the UK.

I am really looking forward to seeing Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino, with cinematography by Robert Richardson, ASC. The film will screen 25 years after Pulp Fiction, which took the Palme d'Or in 1994. Of course, Tarantino insists on 35mm projection.

Robert Richardson, ASC, shoots Margot Robbie with a 35mm Panaflex XL camera on the set of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (imdb.com)

Other movies lit by ASC members include the Festival's opening film, The Dead Don't Die by Jim Jarmusch, lensed by Fred Elmes, and the series Too Old to Die Young by Nicolas Winding Refn, with cinematographer Darius Khondji. As elaborated below, Bruno Delbonnel is being honored with the Angénieux ExcelLens award.

I am also looking forward to seeing the latest work of cinematographers  Simon Beaufils, Sofian El Fani, Marco Graziaplena and others I do not yet know. I must applaud Claire Mathon, AFC, for shooting not one, but two of the films in the Official Competition!

I am dying to see Terrence Malick's new film about an Austrian conscientious objector during World War II, shot by Joerg Widmer. Joerg told me that this will be Malick's first film shot digitally.

It's great to note that 3 of the films in the Official Competition and 3 in Un Certain Regard were shot on Kodak negative. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from Kodak that half were shot in 35mm and half in 16mm. Robbie Ryan, BSC, ISC, shot Ken Loach's film in Super 16. As is his custom, André Turpin shot in 35mm with his frequent collaborator Xavier Dolan, who loves negative.

Les Miserables by Ladj Ly, cinematography Julien Poupard, AFC (Wild Bunch)

This year's Official Selection (combining the Official Competition, Un Certain Regard and films out of competition) includes 8 filmmakers who will be among the thirty-some first-time directors competing for the Camera d'Or prize, given by a jury that includes Benoit Delhomme, AFC. In the Official Competition, Ladj Ly's Les Miserables will evoke the black filmmaker's contemporary vision of Victor Hugo's underclass at a time of French social unrest, with cinematography by Julien Poupard, AFC.


3. Women Filmmakers

Although Cannes General Delegate Thierry Frémaux has stated that the Festival has worked to establish male-female parity in the jury heads, and jury compositions, as well as within its own organization, he has repeatedly refused the notion of a quota system for the filmmakers selected. Nevertheless, there has been a slow increase in the number of female directors and cinematographers selected, notably in the Un Certain Regard sidebar.

There are 6 women filmmakers in the list above of Official Competition films:
-- 4 directors: Céline Sciamma, Mati Diop, Jessica Haussner and Justine Triet (up from 3 last year).
-- 2 cinematographers: Irina Lubtchansky, and Claire Mathon, AFC, who shot both of her Competition films with a woman director. 

Portrait of a Lady on Fire by Celine Sciamma with cinematography by Claire Mathon, AFC (pyramidefilm)

In Un Certain Regard, 7 of the 18 films were directed by women. Historically UCR has been a stepping stone for the Official Selection.

In UCR I also noted 4 women cinematographers:
— Adam by Maryam Touzani, with cinematography by Virginie Surdej
— The Invisible Life of Euridice Busmao, by Karim Aïnouz, with cinematography by Hélène Louvart, AFC. 
— Beanpole, by Kantemir Balagov, with cinematography by Ksenia Sereda.
— A Brother's Love, by Monia Chokri, with cinematography by Josée Deshaies. Shot in 16mm negative.

During the festival, Women in Motion will sponsor a series of talks about women's representation in cinema. The speakers include actresses Zhou Dongyu and Eva Longoria, and Nadine Labaki -- director of last year's wonderful Capernaum and head of the UCR jury. (The talks will be streamed on the keringgroup's facebook page).


4. Intriguing

The Cannes festival is a cinematic cornucopia, with dozens of films and events. In addition to the "Official" competitions there are many offerings in 3 alternate selections: Director's Fortnight (Quinzaine des Réalisateurs), International Critics Week and ACID

Here are some other films and events that caught my eye:

— Chambre 212, by Christophe Honoré, with cinematography by frequent collaborator Rémy Chevrin, AFC (UCR). Shot in 35mm.

— Rocketman, by Dexter Fletcher, with cinematography by George Richmond, BSC (Special Screening). The musical biopic about Elton John will draw inevitable comparisons to last year's Bohemian Rhapsody.

— Being Alive and Knowing It, by Alain Cavalier (Special Screening). The latest offering by the poetic film diarist.

— Diego Maradona, a documentary by Asif Kapdia. An intimate look at the soccer superstar by a talented filmmaker. (Special Screening)

— Lux Aeterna, by provocative director Gaspar Noé, with cinematography by Benoît Debie, SBC (Midnight Screening)

— Tommaso by Abel Ferrara, with cinematography by Peter Zeitlinger (UCR)

— The Lighthouse by Robert Eggers, with cinematography by Jarin Blaschke (Director's Fortnight). Shot in 35mm black and white.

— The Shining, by Stanley Kubrik, with cinematography by John Alcott, BSC and memorable Steadicam footage by Garrett Brown.
This masterpiece will be introduced by director Alfonso Cuaron.

Sylvester Stallone will be honored during a special screening, and will show scenes from Rambo V, shot by Glen MacPherson, ASC.

— Rendez-vous with Nicolas Winding Refn on May 18

— Robert Rodriguez Master Class on May 21


5. ExcelLens tribute to Bruno Delbonnel

Angenieux’ ExcelLens Award is a recent yearly award for leading cinematographers. The past recipients are Philippe Rousselot, ASC, AFC, Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, HSC, Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC, Peter Suchitzky, ASC, Christopher Doyle, HKSC, and Ed Lachman, ASC. This year’s award will go to my friend Bruno Delbonnel, ASC, AFC.

Bruno’s impressive body of work includes a Harry Potter, and collaborations with leading auteurs like Tim Burton, the Coen brothers, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Alexander Sokurov and Joe Wright. For me, the masterpieces in his filmography are Faust and Inside Llewyn Davis.

Congratulations to Bruno for this well-deserved Cannes honor !




PDF list of films, directors and cinematographers in 2019 Cannes Official Competition - thefilmbook

afcinema.com: The Gaze(s) of Agnès Varda

criterion.com: How Agnès Varda Invented the New Wave

festival-cannes.com: Cannes International Film Festival  (English version)

Festival de Cannes Official Selection

Un Certain Regard (official sidebar)

Official screening guide

Director’s Fortnight – La Quinzaine des Réalisateurs 

International Critics Week – La Semaine de la Critique

ACID indie sidebar

indiewire: Cannes Cinematography Survey: Cameras and Lenses Used

AFC website with coverage of Cannes in French and English

wikipedia: Bruno Delbonnel



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