Mar. 8, 2021

Hélène Louvart AFC shoots with ARRI cameras on both Super 16 and digital

On the acclaimed movie “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” French cinematographer Hélène Louvart shot with ARRIFLEX 416 film cameras, while for other projects she has chosen the ALEXA Mini.

Mar. 8, 2021

Having already won the Silver Bear at the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is currently nominated for seven Film Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Feature, Best Director for Eliza Hittman, and Best Cinematography for Hélène Louvart AFC. While she shot with ARRIFLEX 416 cameras on this and other projects, Louvart has also embraced digital with ALEX Mini cameras on movies such as “Rocks” and “The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão,” and is happy working interchangeably between these formats.

How did you come to work with Eliza Hittman on “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”?

I had already shot “Beach Rats” with Eliza – a totally different summer film, set in a very masculine universe. By contrast, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is a winter film, centered on female characters. That winter world was very important to Eliza. She wanted to prevent the trip these two young girls take to New York from turning into a vacation – they don't go there for leisure; they are not fulfilling a dream of visiting Manhattan. At the same time, Eliza didn't want an overly realistic feel, so it was a challenge, visually. We always had to stay on the borderline, being real, but also visually elevating environments that were a little too banal. I did not hesitate to give touches of color to the backgrounds. I also used LED lighting to soften things as much as possible and prevent the light from being too harsh on the faces.

What were your camera equipment choices on this project?

I shot the film entirely in Super 16 with an ARRIFLEX 416 and Ultra Prime lenses. I always use the 416 when shooting in 16 mm. It is the only camera that has a sufficiently bright viewfinder and decent monitor feed for the director. There is also a practical aspect, as I work a lot abroad, and the ARRIFLEX 416 is available almost everywhere in the world. Regarding the Ultra Primes, I find them to be ideal for Super 16 because they have the focus qualities I need when shooting, and their sharpness is just right for 16 mm – neither too much nor too little – while in digital I find them too harsh. They are also lightweight and perform very well, so they make a good combination with the 416.

How did you manage to get so little grain in the image?

I shot with Kodak 7219 500 ASA film, which I had developed in fine grain whenever I could. In postproduction we also reduced the grain a bit when needed, particularly scenes that take place in clinics. The grain should not interfere with the light, and in these scenes it would have blurred the perception of the character. In “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” the Super 16 brings a poetic touch to the image. We didn't want the result to be too documentary; it is a fiction film and Super 16 provides that cinematic aspect. It allowed us to find moments of happiness and magic in this somewhat harsh story: when they sing; when they travel on the bus; or in the bowling scene with its unrealistic blue light. The Super 16 helped the story to be less realistic.

But you are also happy to work in digital?

I work interchangeably in Super 16 and digital. It depends on the director's wishes, but also on the financial realities, which always tend to prevail. When I did “The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão,” which is a period film, director Karim Aïnouz wanted to shoot on film. But for financial and practical reasons – there is no photochemical lab in Brazil and the cost of transport would have been exorbitant – we worked in digital with the ALEXA Mini. Karim took the opportunity to have fun with digital technology, to explore new things. We looked for less conventional lenses and opted for Lomos, with all their flaws. I mounted filters on the camera to get some flare. I also used a lot of underexposure to generate almost irreversible grain surges. As the film progressed, we added more and more color, to brighten the digital world, but also to reflect Eurídice's mood. We essentially tried to break the medium to get the image Karim wanted.

What were your choices on “Rocks,” directed by Sarah Gavron?

It is a very different image from “The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão.” However, I used the same camera: the ALEXA Mini. We wanted “Rocks” to be a film full of energy, matching the energy of these teenage girls going back to school at the end of the holidays. It's a late summer film with lively colors and the weather is still nice. Digital technology lent itself well to this. Since there were some group scenes, especially in the classes, I used up to three ALEXA Minis so I could film all their reactions spontaneously. This camera was perfect for having the simplest possible device. It is very good both on a tripod or handheld. On the optical side I chose Cooke Mini S4 lenses, which bring an obvious softness to the image. I also filtered a lot in order to mitigate the harsher and sharper aspects of digital.

You work regularly with Alice Rohrwacher, whose films have a unique style. Does she prefer certain formats or mediums?

From her first film, Alice always shot on Super 16. On “Happy as Lazzaro,” “The Wonders,” and “Corpo Celeste,” I used the ARRIFLEX 416 with Kodak 7219 and 7205 film stocks. However, last year I shot two episodes of the series “My Brilliant Friend” with her, using the ALEXA Mini. It was the first time she had filmed in digital, and I think she realized that she could make the medium her own.

What is coming up for you?

Last summer I finished “Viens je t'emmène” (“Come, I Will Take You There”), directed by Alain Guiraudie. It's a winter film, with a lot of interiors and night scenes where I could control the light. I used an ALEXA Mini and Cooke S4 lenses. Previously, I shot Chloé Mazlo’s “Skies of Lebanon” in Super 16 with an ARRIFLEX 416. Most recently I have been in Greece, working with the American director Maggie Gyllenhaal on her feature debut: “The Lost Daughter,” adapted from the book by Elena Ferrante. We wanted to shoot in Super 16, but digital ultimately prevailed, so again I filmed with the ALEXA Mini and Cooke S4s.