Winning six 2023 César Awards, including Best Film, director Dominik Moll’s “The Night of the 12th” is a superb crime thriller that follows the long and tedious work of investigators from the Grenoble Criminal Investigation Department. Nominated in the Best Photography category at the Césars, cinematographer Patrick Ghiringhelli talked to ARRI about the technical and aesthetic choices he made to build the pure images of this subtle film, for which he relied on the ALEXA Mini LF camera and ARRI Master Anamorphic lenses.
How did you approach the project of “The Night of the 12th” with Dominik Moll?
This was the third time I shot with Dominik. We worked together for the first time on “Eden,” a miniseries about migrants for Arte. We then went on to work on “Only the Animals” and later “The Night of the 12th.” There is a mutual understanding that has developed between us, a confidence on his part in my work. Among the visual references, Dominik suggested that I revisit the films of Spanish director Rodrigo Sorogoyen, in particular “The Realm,” “May God Save Us,” and the series “Riot Police.” We both like his work very much, especially his marked use of the wide-angle lens, which brings realism and, at the same time, stylizes the image. He is not afraid to use short focal lengths at the limit of distortion. We were very interested in this, especially for the police station set, which was quite cramped. The real difficulty for me on “The Night of the 12th” was to create a police genre movie without falling into the usual type of images for this kind of film. I wanted to make the story visually interesting, with a designed image, while remaining accurate. It had to be realistic, but at the same time slightly out of sync. Later in the movie, there are beautiful settings and magnificent mountain landscapes that contribute a lot to the atmosphere of the film.
The film is bathed in dazzling sunlight. How did you manage this during the shoot?
We were very lucky with the weather. It contributed a lot to the photography of the film. When Dominik sent me the script, I was on vacation in Savoie where my grandparents are from. He had specified the film’s locations on Google Street View, so I went there. I arrived near Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne with gray weather, rain, and some snow still in the grass. There was a very strong atmosphere that seemed to fit the screenplay. In the end, the opposite happened. We shot in October and had Indian summer in the Alps, with sunshine all the time. So, we adapted to make the most of it. I had a great collaboration with Thierry Verrier, Dominik’s first assistant, who, as far as possible, was able to adjust the shooting schedule according to the weather and the camera axes. We moved sequences between morning and evening to take advantage of the sun, which quickly disappeared behind the mountains to reappear a little later in the day. It was quite complicated to manage. We also did a lot of tracking work, using the Sun Seeker app which allowed us to know when the sun arrived at a certain place at a certain time. The sequence in the sunlit canteen was shot in the style of Edward Hopper’s famous painting, with no additional light other than a little reflection. We shot in the late afternoon, with the sun on the other side. 30 seconds after finishing the last wide shot, the sun was behind the mountains. Taking Dominik’s direction, it was the beauty of the set, the actors' talent, and the responsiveness of the whole team that made it possible to create a moment of grace like this one.
Why did you shoot “The Night of the 12th” with the ALEXA Mini LF and ARRI Master Anamorphic lenses?
Choosing the equipment is always an important step. Between the camera and the optics, it gives a real identity to the film. I like to involve the director in this choice. As we had shot “Only the Animals” and the series “Eden” with the ALEXA Mini, the idea was to stay with this continuity, but with a more powerful camera like the ALEXA Mini LF. I invited the director to join me at ARRI France to compare different lenses. We liked the Master Anamorphics right away. They worked well with the Mini LF. We had more field with the same focal length. This allowed us to shoot at 35 mm and still have the field of view of a 28 mm. It is very interesting, because you almost gain a focal length this way. Shooting at wide angle was the direction that Dominik Moll and myself wanted to take, in the spirit of Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s films.
“The Night of the 12th” was shot in 1:85 format. However, you worked with Master Anamorphics. Why this unusual choice?
Dominik and I had made “Only the Animals” in 2:35 and I thought he would want to continue with this format. But as soon as we were preparing “The Night of the 12th,” he had this desire to make the film in 1:85. As we were shooting in steep valleys, this format allowed us to include the tips of the mountains in the image. This would have been more complicated with a wide format. The fact that we shot in 1:85 with scope lenses was a bit of a trick for me. I liked the look of the Master Anamorphics. There was this idea of material in the image. I thought they worked well with the Mini LF sensor, which we used mostly for height. With the 1:85, all the vignetting of the scope on the sides stays out of the frame. The choice of an optic is a matter of sensations, a feeling for the image. I can’t explain it very well. You try it, and then you see if it works. In the same spirit, I exposed the camera to 1600 ISO to have more substance in the image.
The scenes in the police station are also very good. How did you work on them?
We shot the police station scenes in the last two weeks of production in the Paris region. The set was located on the second floor of a building in Ivry-sur-Seine. The set design team did a great job, but it was a bit complicated for the camera crew. We were not allowed to install a tower or gondolas in the courtyard so as not to block the access to professional activities on the first floor. We used the flat roof of the building to build an offset structure that covered the second floor for about 20 meters. Chief electrician Virgile Reboul installed motorized projectors that he controlled from a tablet. This allowed us to quickly adjust the light by panning the projectors, either to bring in rays of sunlight or to create something wider. While the actors were setting up, we could do the lighting without disturbing anyone and be ready to shoot quickly. Everything else in the film was done in natural settings. For the night scenes in the street where the assassination takes place, I had additional streetlamps installed, which I got from the town hall. We equipped them with 500W dimmable floods, controllable from a tablet. The idea was to put a light in place that could be used and, at the same time, re-light some specific places, by making spots of light to highlight or hide specific characters. What’s good about working with Dominik Moll is that you can let yourself be carried away by the story. I always try to stay as close as possible to what he is trying to tell viewers, without adding too many artifices.