Éponine Momenceau was the cinematographer on Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan.”
We met after the CST reception for Aaton, Angenieux, K5600, Transvideo last Thursday in Cannes. I was invited to lunch by AFFECT, Aaton and Transvideo President Jacques Delacoux, CST President Pierre-William Glenn, AFC, and Angenieux President Pierre Andurand. Pierre-William led the way to his favorite restaurant, Astoux & Brun (depuis 1953). Apparently he goes there almost every day during the festival. It’s well deserved. Pierre-William supervises all the projections and technical details of the Cannes Festival.
Pierre-William, Pierre Andurand, Jacques Delacoux all advised: “Interview Éponine.” They knew something the critics at Cannes didn’t know. “Dheepan” would win the coveted Palme D’Or two days later — first prize at Cannes.
The story unfolds like an ethics class, or like a screening of the “Battle of Algiers. Your sympathies sway. Dheepan was a Tamil Tiger in Sri Lanka. The battle lost, he arrives in France, pretending to be married to a woman with a little girl. He finds work in a housing project in a tough banlieu, and one cannot overlook the fact that director Audiard’s original intent was a remake of Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs.” It was a total surprise to all the critics that “Dheepan” won — but obviously not a surprise to Glenn, Andurand, and Delacoux.
Eponine Momonceaux graduated from La Femis film school in Paris 4 years ago. That was followed by a rather eclectic series of jobs. She did two features as camera assistant and then directed a film that won prizes and were screened in museums. That opened doors to other directing jobs. That attracted Audiard’s attention, and she was hired as DP on “Dheepan.”
“Dheepan” was shot with a Sony F55 from Panavision Paris.Eponine said, “I like the fact that it is a lightweight, comfortable, shoulder resting camera. We did tests in advance, and I thought it had the best colors for faces, with the best color gamut, and color space. We shot in spherical widescreen with Cooke S3 lenses, Angenieux Optimo 28-76 mm zoom and occasionally 24-290. In India it was Cooke S4, but for the majority of the shooting it was S3.
“In the beginning I tested with the F65 but it was too big and heavy for all the handheld we wanted to do. So we went with the F55 and its RAW recorder.”
Cinematographer Eponine Momenceau discusses her work on Jacques Audiard’s film “Dheepan”
Tuesday 26 May 2015
For his seventh feature film, Dheepan, which is in the Official Competition of the 68th Cannes Film Festival, Jacques Audiard chose an unknown aspiring actor to play the lead role. The story is about a former rebel soldier, a young woman, and a little girl who pretend to be a family in order to be evacuated from their war-torn country. Upon arrival in France, they have to adapt to a new life in a violent housing project. It is there that this imaginary family will, over the course of time and the events they face together, learn to form a “real” family.
A graduate of La fémis’ Image Department in 2011, Eponine Momenceau directed an experimental film screened at the Palais de Tokyo in 2013 and a film for Arte, Jungle, as part of the Atelier Ludwigsburg-Paris – La fémis. She was the director of photography for several short films and then one day Jacques Audiard called. He saw her film Waves Become Wings at the Palais de Tokyo, and he wanted to offer her the job of director of photography on his next film, because he was interested in combining cinema and contemporary art. A few days later, she was asked to do tests for the film.
Eponine Momenceau felt that over the course of their conversations, Jacques Audiard reconsidered his concept of the screenplay and its visual style. Then he called to confirm that he wanted to work with her, he wanted a new direction for his movies, he didn’t like the feeling like he’s just sailing forward.
During the search for the location of the home, one of sets of the film, she filmed images that could potentially be used in the film. These images will not end up in Dheepan but Eponine said, “It allowed us to get to know one another better.”
She thinks that Jacques appreciated how she filmed her short films. Their discussions about the film’s visuals were exciting, sometimes destabilizing, and a source of many questions, because “it was a bit like getting dizzy faced with the number of possibilities, we had discussions regarding the shape of the film but nothing concrete really came out of it before we really started shooting. “
The heavy lifting, from preparations to shooting.
“We thought we’d shoot a lot of the scenes on a tripod and we ended up shooting a lot of them from the shoulder. As we weren’t dealing with professional actors, they first had to get comfortable with the scene. I watched how they would use the space, I had a viewfinder with a zoom and I would look for the right angle.
“Sometimes, when we reread the notes regarding editing we had taken during the preparatory readings of the script, we would indicate a choice of scenes or camera movements. There were lots of scenes where we moved from one place inside to the outdoors and we used a Steadicam for those scenes.”
Lighting a Jacques Audiard film.
“He often wanted to be able to use all 360° of a set with the lighting set up before shooting with as few adjustments as possible. But of course adjustments were needed between shots.”
About the style.
“Jacques wanted us to feel the exotic gaze of the Tamil newcomers to Paris. For example, he didn’t want the housing project to be too grey. It’s hard to make a grey housing project not look grey on the screen… How do you do it without making it look artificial? All of the indoor locations where the Indians lived were decorated in Indian style, with neons, cyans, and colors.”
Eponine said she had great support from Michel Barthélémy, the production designer, who was always thinking of the lighting for each set, he would choose very appropriate wallpapers and colours for the walls. She said she got a lot of help by her crew, Marianne Lamour, the gaffer, and Edwin Broyer, the key grip.
Eponine used the most powerful lights in Sri Lanka. There, she used Molebeams, placed far in the distance in order to light the jetty which was completely in the dark. She also used 18 kWs on a crane, the only light coming in through a window, in order to obtain high contrast.
She also used a Ring Light, especially at night, for frontal lighting, but she never used them on the lenses. She also used boxes set up with Kino Flo bulbs, created by Pierre Michaud, the gaffer.
She tested the Sony F55 and found that it did a very good job rendering skin tone and other colors. It was fortunate that she chose this compact and lightweight camera because a lot of the scenes ended up being filmed from the shoulder. Eponine opted for Cooke S3 series lenses, which she likes because of their vintage “flaws”: they have a tendency to vignette or to flare, which “breaks up the digital effect.” She often used them without “matte boxes” and without a filter, in order to be able to handle the camera however she pleased.
Otherwise, she also used the Angenieux Optimo 28-76 zoom. She also used a Mitchell filter to reduce the sharpness.
“Not being able to watch the dailies together because the shooting took up all of our time. Suddenly, we discovered the film during color timing on the big screen. Then we had to readdress the subject of the visuals, make adjustments and rebalance the colors, all while moving as fast as possible because of Cannes.” Stressful…
On shooting her first feature film with Jacques Audiard.
“That’s a great first question: how do you propose another technique of filming when the one he already used in his past films is extremely interesting?
“It means being reactive. Not setting up too much in advance (generally speaking), having good instincts and making lots of suggestions. Being receptive to unforeseen circumstances and be flexible because Jacques Audiard doesn’t like feeling that things have been predetermined, and that the actors can’t move because there are marks all over the place. Putting as much lighting as possible off set.
“Learning about his method of directing the actors. He lets them make suggestions and adjusts their acting and their movements in function of what they say. The set and the acting get constructed simultaneously, little by little. The actors guide the form, the sets, and the lighting, and not the other way round.”
- Focus Puller: Nicolas Eveilleau
- Gaffer: Marianne Lamour
- Key Grip: Edwin Broyer
- Postproduction: Digimage
- Color Timer: Charles Fréville
Camera, grip, lighting equipment: Panavision (Sony F55, Cooke S3 Series, AngénieuxOptimo zoom) and Transpalux