IFFR 2023: winner of the Robbie Müller Prize Hélène Louvart
Helen Louvart. Photo: IFFR
Cinematographer Hélène Louvart has an impressive track record and is one of the hardest working professionals in the film world. She is the fourth recipient of the Robbie Müller Prize. “The most important thing is that I work on films that I support.”
French cameraman Hélène Louvart (1964) will receive the Robbie Müller Award this year. At the IFFR she receives the prize, she gives a Talk and she plays it A little brother (2022) projected. The second feature film by Leonor Serraille is about an Ivorian family that emigrated to France at the end of the eighties.
At the end of the 1980s, Louvart (1964), fresh out of the École nationale supérieure Louis-Lumière, embarked on a career that would lead him, among other things, to collaborations with Agnès Varda (Agnès’ beaches2007) and Wim Wenders (pina, 2011). In Italy, Louvart made three films with Alice Rohrwacher (Celestial body2011; The meraviglie2014 ; Lazzaro Felice2018) and in the United States, she works with Eliza Hittman on beach rats (2017) and Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020).
La Française now has more than sixty feature films to her credit. She is undeniably one of the most prolific directors of photography. In the lobby of the Hilton Hotel in Rotterdam, she talks enthusiastically about her work and her pace of work. “I’m a hard worker. Most projects come to mind, sometimes I have to choose. But with many directors, I work multiple times. There’s always something to do, and then another project gets postponed. Sometimes it’s chaos, but I like to make three films a year, sometimes four.
So there are many filmmakers who would like to work with you. Besides the fact that you excel in your craft, do you have other qualities that filmmakers appreciate? “No idea. I just try to do my best. And as soon as a filmmaker is satisfied, I get asked for more. This list of filmmakers continues to grow, although I also continue to forge new collaborations. The most important is that I work on films that I support.
You can also adapt well to the way a filmmaker works. For example, we know that Alice Rohrwacher works intuitively and Mia Hansen-Løve, with whom you Maya (2018) directed, precisely with a well-defined filming schedule. “That’s the job, as a director of photography, you have to constantly adapt to better understand the wishes of the director.”
Don’t have a preference for digital or analog filming? “It depends on the money anyway. I never make that choice myself. Nevertheless, I enjoy working with super 16mm, 35mm and digital. For example, I like the fact that you can use other assistive tools when shooting digitally. It’s important what a director wants: if you’re filming in digital and the director suddenly wants to go to super 16mm, that’s a problem. Although of course you can film digitally in a way that looks very organic, analog.
In the past, you have regularly insisted on the importance of the preparation phase, during which you discuss the film with the director. “I think about thirty to forty percent of the work is preparation. In this phase, we determine what we are going to do, given time and budget, and why we are going to do it. If all goes well, I can help the director get what he wants. The other about fifty percent is filming, and then you have about ten percent color correction. When we reach this last stage, the film is already finished.
You described your role on set as an “invisible force”. “You’re a little behind, but at the same time you’re completely there: if you have to move the camera, even if you’re sitting on a trolley, then you react adequately. It reminds me of when I saw Robbie Müller’s work again a few years ago. He is totally invisible but totally present. And he tasted good. I can’t think of a film of his in which the lighting was disappointing. Never. It’s no surprise that directors such as Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch and Lars von Trier enjoyed working with him.
It is sometimes said of Müller that he exposed almost every film in a different way. This is also your case. That’s how it comes A little brothera film that takes place from the late eighties to the present, such as the polished way you play the black characters. “I had no choice but to do it like that. I also insist on the atmosphere which changes over the years. We thus depict the mother of the family at the beginning, when she is still young, from way more frivolous than later in the film. And with a black face, you can play with shadows just like with a white face. For example, at one point, we only see the face of one of the sons of the family half in frame, and this shadow again plays a symbolic role in the story.
You choose a new approach each time from the start. You’ve also said in interviews that you don’t have an emphatic style. “Actually, I don’t have that. Maybe you can say that me, for example, with Alice [Rohrwacher, OL] developed a style. However, I also try to do something different with her with each film. Once we started with the camera on the shoulder, moved on to tracking shots, then we started putting the camera on a tripod more often or shooting from higher heights. We never thought of a style. You can achieve a certain style when two people are on the same page about a movie. We have that when we work together in our little universe of lighting ideas, filming locations and a wardrobe, it’s part of our style. I can’t share the style I have with Alice with anyone else. So we have to think of something else. As in my work with the Spaniard Jaime Rosales [Girasoles silvestres, 2022]. It almost feels like the opposite of my films with Rohrwacher.
Do you read a stack of scripts between your film projects? “I get a lot of it. If I don’t like a script, I don’t do the movie. Not even for the money. Never for the money. Of course the money is important, I have children , with money you can pay for your house. In this sense, what I do is not a dream but a job. But I use my intuition to choose new projects. In addition, the people who who approach me already know my work well. They write to me because they have seen my work elsewhere. I hardly ever receive bad scripts.
You say what you’re doing isn’t a dream, but sometimes it’s a dream job? “When I started this work, I had no idea what it would entail. But cinema is an extension of our dreams. Sometimes as a way of escaping reality, although reality constantly returns to our We try to make dreams come true; we make it real. Producers ensure there is a budget, we build the dream. And sometimes they are very strange dreams. When Alice makes a film, she is filming her own dream. That’s what I help filmmakers: make their dreams come true on the big screen.
On January 29, Hélène Louvart will receive the Robbie Müller Prize at De Doelen in Rotterdam for “an image maker who has created an authentic, believable and emotionally compelling visual language in the mind of Robbie Müller throughout his work”. This afternoon at 4 p.m., Louvart will also give a long conference at the festival.
“Bacon trailblazer. Certified coffee maven. Zombie lover. Tv specialist. Freelance communicator.”