10 juin 2011

The Borgias - les lumières de la Renaissance

La première saison de The Borgias (Neil Jordan pour Showtime) vient de se terminer.
Signées par le Canadien Paul Sarossy, les images sont directement inspirées de certains tableaux de la Renaissance. L'histoire racontée inspire à Sarossy des ambiances "chiaroscuro" plutôt radicales, mais aussi des compositions toutes en pénombres, moins fortement contrastées.
C'est un vrai festin pour les yeux. J'ai retenu 46 images pour vous donner un aperçu.

Une interview intéressante de Sarossy vient de paraître sur le site de la Canadian Society of Cinematographers. J'en ai tiré un large extrait:

Eclairage à la bougie ou électrique?

"One decision Sarossy had to make was whether to shoot with real or simulated candlelight. The Italian Renaissance left so much art in its wake that the look of that art has come to represent the look of the times. It has a certain warm, dark glow to it. Sarossy had to figure out if this was indeed how the times appeared to the artists of those paintings, or is it the effect of passing centuries, or is it something else? “In those days those references were brand new, probably very colourful and bright. A famous example was the Sistine Chapel, which was restored a few years ago. Much to everyone’s surprise, it was not a monochrome and muddy looking thing. It was colourful and bright. Presumably that's what it looked like when it was new."

“This particular story and its place in the world has so much visual reference attached to it – frescoes and paintings – it is the forefront of the world of Western visual art. When we decided to shoot one scene in candlelight, I made a discovery. I thought there was some horrible problem, as the scene was getting darker and darker and I couldn’t understand what was happening. Now I get why so few films are not shot in real candlelight. We had 100 candles, and that created a huge amount of black smoke, to the point where the air was so polluted I couldn’t see through it. I guess that’s the reality of that world of candlelight, and there was a lot of smoke in the air. After a few centuries the paintings would have darkened and lost colour. With real candles the smoke is black. With movie smoke, it’s white and that’s good for seeing. That was very interesting.”

Sarossy and the rest of the creative team decided the best way to go was halfway between the world of smoke-affected canvasses and the brightness of what those objects and people must have looked like when they were fresh. “This was definitely a learning curve. The conundrum was: Do I make things look old, because that’s what the audience is expecting, or do I make it look new like it was at the time, but the audience is not used to? In the first few days of work, everything was shot clean but it didn’t look correct. Then it was decided to strike a happy balance. Things may have been relatively new at that point, but Rome is an ancient city. The clothes and ornaments would have been brand new, and those were shot as new, but the walls and windows had centuries of grime. We decided to use some artistic license to make it seem more realistic, and I guess dirty looks more real.”

Choix de la caméra

The choice of camera was determined by the fact that the production would be shot digitally. “The camera came from Munich, the best HD available at the time. Cameras are changing every six months. Whatever camera was the cat’s meow last year is on the junk heap this year. When cameras became digital they became computers with lenses on them, and computers have a very short life span. Everything is changing, upgrading and whatnot. It used to be that you had a camera for decades, but now cameras have become disposable. They have become the new film stock.”

Just for the record, the camera was the Sony F35, “which is very similar to the Panavision Genesis.” It doesn’t seem to make much difference to Sarossy anyway. “I have never been very techno oriented. I am much more intrigued with the story and the way the camera does and doesn’t see things; the way the story is supported by the camera. It doesn’t matter what the camera is, as long as it works.

Deux réalisateurs, deux méthodes de travail

With The Borgias, Sarossy had a chance to work with Neil Jordan, writer, director and Oscar nominee for best director for The Crying Game, and Jeremy Irons, an established A-list star, multiple Oscar nominee and winner for best actor in Reversal of Fortune. What was Sarossy’s experience with Neil Jordan? “It was definitely a great education. What was incredible was his ability at the last minute to figure things out. He’d arrive on set with no pre-conceived notions. He never let pre-formed ideas interfere with how a scene would evolve in front of him. He’d watch the actors play the scene a few times. He’d walk around them with the viewfinder and determine the best place to see the scene play out. He’d ask the operator (Mark Willis) and me what our thoughts were. Very quickly he figured out what was important to see and always allowed the camera to tell the story, in the most efficient yet clever way. We finished everyday with what I felt were some of the best shots I’d ever done. It was kind of mysterious but wonderful.”

Canadian Jeremy Podeswa has been a popular director on high-end American television cable series such as Boardwalk Empire, True Blood and The Pacific. He was one of the four alternate directors on The Borgias. “Jeremy is very organized and prepared. He is a very different kind of director than Neil. Neil Jordan shoots very few shots, but each one is fully committed to moving the story forward, nothing is superfluous. On the other hand, Jeremy is a director who uses coverage where he shoots a lot of the same material over and over. That allows the actors to try many different things, which gives him a wide choice of performances, but the camera moves very little.”

Jeremy Irons

But what about Jeremy Irons, the A-list actor? “As much as he is a star in the American sense, he has the work habits of a European actor. In Europe, an actor feels that they are a part of the crew and are both technicians and artists. ‘Should I stand here first? Should I walk forward? How can I help you tell the story? This is what I plan to do.’ He’s very aware that, what helps the camera helps him, so he’s just wonderful to work with.”

Interview de Paul Sarossy datant de 2004. Il avait déjà éclairé pas mal de films d'Atom Egoyan, dont le très beau "Felicia's Journey".