The Dreamlife of Angels, a feature debut from French director Erick Zonca, creates a rare empathy with its two lead characters, Isa (Elodie Bouchez) and Marie (Natacha Regnier), young women adrift in the gray northern town of Lille. Zonca and cinematographer Agnes Godard wanted a sense of intimacy between the two women and the audience. "I knew that the main landscape of the film would be the faces," says Godard. "I thought we should be quite close to them, in the middle of their intimacy, like a human eye."
With that in mind, the DP kept away from any lens shorter than 25mm. With Zonca's blessings, she also decided to shoot in Super 16. "We made tests, and Erick found 35mm too beautiful," says Godard. "He said he wanted something rougher. Also, when I saw the main sets, I realized they were going to be quite small, so I thought it was more convenient to shoot in Super 16."
The entire movie was filmed on wintertime Lille locations, including an apartment-sit that Isa and Marie temporarily share. "When I first arrived at the location, I saw that it was really representative of the mood Erick was looking for," the DP says. "I looked for something that could work for daylight and night, and that could easily change from one to another. We were very dependent on natural light because the windows were large; I wanted something that could quickly adapt to the quantity of light."
Godard set 1.2k, 2.5k, and 4k HMIs above the windows, along with china balls in strategic locations. "They were used as reflecting light, not direct," she says of the HMIs, which were shone on bounce board. "With the size of the room, it was too rude to be used directly." The walls of the apartment were painted in heavily saturated colors--orange, blue, pinkish red--that contribute to the film's vibrancy, but gave the DP some difficulties. "The light reflected the color of the walls onto their faces. We were shooting with Kodak Vision high-speed film, which is so sensitive that it catches this detail of color."
The solution was to stop down. "My stop was always 2.8 or 4," says Godard, who used the Vision high-speed stock throughout the movie, including exteriors. "I wanted the saturated colors, and I wanted to have the same texture for the whole film," she explains. "Also, outside it was wintertime, and sometimes we were shooting quite early in the morning--the quantity of light was not high. There is a sharpness with the stock that is too much for me, but I knew that this was going to be softened by the blowup to 35."
Godard, whose other DP credits include Agnes Varda's Jacquot de Nantes, and Claire Denis films such as I Can't Sleep and Nenette et Boni, was picked out of France's National Film School by no less a personage than the great cinematographer Henri Alekan, who hired her as focus puller on Wim Wenders' State of Things. She went on to operate for Sacha Vierny, Denis Lenoir, Darius Khondji, and for Alekan on Wings of Desire. "When I look through the camera," she says, "what I look for is, do I believe what I see? Is it true? I think it's because I was beside Henri for several films."
The Dreamlife of Angels was released by Sony Pictures Classics last month.