The Princess of Montpensier offers an unusual, refreshing blend of romanticism and realism, brought to the screen by veteran director Bertrand Tavernier and his frequent collaborator, cinematographer Bruno de Keyzer, BSC.
PART 2: INTERVIEW with BRUNO DE KEYZER, BSC
Benjamin B: The film is shot with anamorphic lenses. What equipment did you use, and what stock?
Bruno de Keyzer: We shot the film with Panavision’s new G series lenses. They’re very good quality, and they're light, which was important because Chris Squires our operator shot a lot of Steadicam. When shooting anamorphic, I like to get a 4 or 4.5 stop in day interiors; you want both actors to be in focus on a two-shot!
I used Fuji 500 daylight stock. It's close to the sensibility of your eyes. At my age I know the stop for interiors by heart, outside it's more difficult.
DAY INTERIOR - “I want to write”
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In the study room, Marie tries to persuade her tutor, the count, to teach her how to write.
The count finally agrees to teach her, "tomorrow".
The princess says "No, today, please",
and smiles as the count consents.
A cuisine without recipes
BB: What was the lighting set-up for this scene, where the princess asks to learn to write?
BDK: The location was on the third floor. I put a 12K HMI far away outside on a cherry picker, and a few HMI Jokers inside with chimeras. We had a 200W Joker with a chimera above the window for backlight and 2 more on the floor for fill. The fire is a movie fire with a gas pipe -- the sound guys don't like real logs. To add to the candle I may have used a Mizar [300-500W tungsten fresnel].
But, you know, the details don’t really matter, lighting is like cooking, you don’t think about it when you put in a diffusion, or when you take it out, you just do it until it feels right. I don’t have lighting recipes. My lighting concept is: the less the better! If you can do without any lighting at all, it's great. If you use too much light, you create a style, and in the end you make everything too beautiful and you lose the atmosphere. So you need to be courageous; sometimes after a rehearsal I switch off a light or two.
Lighting the emotion
BB: Can you talk about her close-up?
BDK: What's important for me, especially in a chiaroscuro image, is to always catch something in the eyes, because if we don't see the actor's eyes, we lose the emotion. Sometimes I use a Kisslite ring light around the lens, but in this film I would often use a small 1x1 LitePanel LED to get a sparkle in the actor's eyes. I never use diffusion, again it’s a matter of taste: I like the blacks black and the whites white.
BB: Say more about not losing the emotion...
BDK: We are not lighting sets, we're lighting actors. That is what is important: to light the emotion. Lighting isn't about painting, it's about psychology. The lighting should help the story or the emotion. Here I think the lighting fits the scene.
In this film the camera is very close to the actors, and we decided not to emphasize the background. So the background is often dark or over-exposed, it's more abstract. Also, with anamorphic lenses, you have less depth of field, so you concentrate on the foreground.
Living with smoke
BB: The film has a soft texture, especially the interiors.
BDK: Normally, I do expressionistic lighting. My usual references are film noir, in black and white. In this film I ended up creating a more naturalistic lighting because we had light sources that are true to the period: daylight, candles and chimney fire.
I remember the first time we started to shoot with candles: after three rehearsals the set was full of smoke. In general I hate to use smoke, because it kills what I love, a very beautiful dark image with nice contrast. But I realized very quickly that it was impossible to fight the smoke. I couldn’t ask to open the windows and clear the smoke after every take; Tavernier would have killed me! So I decided to live with the smoke, and sometimes even added smoke to match one shot with the other. It was not an artistic choice.
The Sfumato style
BB: You don't always see the smoke but you can feel it.
BDK: Over time I discovered that with smoke the contrast was lower, the outlines were less sharp, and also the colors mixed together a little. In the study we have a mix between the winter daylight, a little bluish, and the candle and fire inside. We don't really see the smoke, but it's there, and this yellow smoke mixes the colors a little.
In fact the smoke creates a style. It lowers the contrast and desaturates the colors and also mixes them. The image looks like what was called Sfumato in Renaissance art. We started out trying to escape from an arty image, from the Renaissance, but because the film respects the way these people lived we ended up with the Renaissance after all! I imagine it was the same for the painters of the time, there must have been smoke when they did their portraits, and that may be why they invented Sfumato…
DAY EXTERIOR – Chabannes declares his love to Marie –
The princess questions the count. He blurts out: "Madame, I love you" and exits frame. The princess composes herself, then tells him to remember his place. She advances towards him, telling him they will never speak of this again, as he looks away. The conversation turns to poetry, and we cut, for the first time in the scene, after the count turns to face the princess.
BB: The first part of this scene is shot in one continuous take.
BDK: This scene is more about the camera work than lighting. Our operator, Chris Squires, is very talented with the Steadicam. Tavernier wanted to create a choreography between the camera and the actors. Sometimes the camera is moving towards the actor, sometimes the actor comes close to the camera. The camera is another character, perhaps the eye of the director.
Shooting a period film this way gives more life; you believe in the emotion and the passion of the actor because the camera is among them. Also when you are close to the actors, and you keep one long take, you don’t break the emotions. When you cut, you also cut the emotion
BB: Chris Squires does a wonderful job composing the scene, going back and forth between singles and two-shots, all in one take.
BDK: What I like about widescreen is that it forces you to make a strong decision about the framing. A close-up is perfect, a two-shot is perfect and a wide shot is perfect.
But in fact you don't really have any choices in between, it just doesn't look good. In the end this limitation creates a kind of style, because there aren't really any other widescreen options.
A little lighting
BB: Did you add any lighting?
BDK: I didn’t have much room. I remember putting one light on a small 2 meter scaffold, a 4k chimera to lower the contrast a little bit without making a shadow. Also, one of my electricians was following her with a small, 1x1 LitePanel LED -- you can change its color balance color and brightness.
It was mostly overcast, which helped a lot. Sometimes we stopped because it was raining. We shot 6-7 hours for 2 continuous minutes on screen. It was difficult to match, I had to adjust the lighting between takes and shots, and also I was lucky.
DAY EXTERIOR – The battle –
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BB: The battle scene is stunning, it has a very modern quality. How did you prepare for it?
BDK: The action was choreographed in Paris. We had 60 professional stunt people and a 3 or 4 day rehearsal on location with local people also.
BB: Chris Squires did a wonderful job operating, he makes it feel real.
BDK: We shot it like a newsreel, as if the camera arrived in the middle of a battle. Tavernier didn't want any establishing shots, he said: 'I want to be in the middle of the battle with all the people around the camera'.
BB: Did you do any lighting at all?
BDK: We shot it in 2 days, there was no time to place a light. We used the weather in a way, it rained all day. When we finished it started to snow!
BB: The rain and mist help, but also the fires and the smoke add a great texture to the image.
BDK: There was smoke from the explosions, and we added smoke and fires. We decided with the special effects people to put black smoke in the background to try darken the sky a little bit, and I was also telling them to add some black or gray smoke here and there.
BB: So the smoke not only lowered the contrast but also acted as a kind of negative fill?
BDK: L'absence de lumière est toujours création de lumière
BB: ”The absence of light is always creation of light.”
imdb Bruno de Keyzer
Chris Squires web site
imdb Princess cast & crew
Panavision G series anamorphic lenses
Fuji Reala 500D negative
K5600 Joker HMI
Gekko Kisslite LED ringlight
LitePanel 1x1 LED
The Sfumato painting style
The Mona Lisa, an example of Sfumato
photo of Bruno de Keyzer by Benjamin B
Images & video courtesy of IFC Films & Fredell Pogodin
Princess PART 1: The story
Princess PART 3: The director, Bertrand Tavernier