Fine art enthusiasts will appreciate these fascinating 100-year-old film clips of four of the most celebrated artists in history; Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Auguste Rodin, and Edgar Degas. In 1915, with the newly innovated film camera, a young Russian-born, French actor named Sacha Guitry captured some of France’s greatest artists and authors.
He was behind the look of films like Jean-Pierre Melville’s ‘Army of Shadows’ and Jean Eustache’s ‘The Mother and the Whore.’
Pierre Lhomme, the French cinematographer behind such films as Army of Shadows, The Mother and the Whore, Camille Claudel and Cyrano de Bergerac, has died. He was 89.
Lhomme died July 4 in Arles, France, the French Society of Cinematographers told The Hollywood Reporter.
Lhomme received a César award in 1989 for his work on Camille Claudel, which was directed by former cameraman Bruno Nuytten. He received a second César in 1991 for Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s Cyrano de Bergerac, which also won a technical prize at Cannes.
Among his 60-odd credits are films by Chris Marker (Le Joli Mai, which Lhomme co-directed, and A bientôt, j’espère), Robert Bresson (Four Nights of a Dreamer), Marguerite Duras (Les Mains Négatives, Le Navire Night), Claude Miller (This Sweet Sickness, Deadly Circuit) and Alain Cavalier (Le combat dans l’île, Pillaged).
Lhomme also shot several Merchant-Ivory features, including the James Ivory-directed Quartet, Maurice, Jefferson in Paris and Le Divorce, and Ismail Merchant’s Cotton Mary. His last feature credit was on Le Divorce, which he lensed in 2003.
Born in Boulogne-Billancourt on April 5, 1930, Lhomme studied briefly in the U.S. before trying to make it as a jazz musician in Paris in the late 1940s and early ’50s. He was then accepted into the prestigious École nationale supérieure Louis-Lumière, a highly technical film school whose alumni includes fellow cinematographers Henri Decaë (The 400 Blows), William Lubtchansky (Shoah) and Philippe Rousselot (A River Runs Through It, Big Fish) and directors like Gaspar Noé and Jean-Jacques Annaud.
Lhomme graduated from Louis-Lumière in 1953 and began working as an assistant cameraman and camera operator on films like Philippe de Broca’s The Love Game and Jean Becker’s Man Called Rocca. He also befriended several directors of the budding French New Wave, working as an operator on Eric Rohmer’s first feature, The Sign of the Lion, and co-directing Marker’s 1962 Paris-set documentary, Le Joli Mai.
His first feature credit as a cinematographer was on Robert Darène’s 1958 pirate adventure The Amorous Corporal, for which he was co-credited with Marcel Weiss.
Lhomme went on to shoot dozens of features from the 1960s up to the late 1990s. One of his most memorable early collaborations was on Jean Eustache’s sprawling 220-minute drama The Mother and the Whore, which he shot in high-contrast 16mm black-and-white.
Starring Jean-Pierre Léaud, Bernadette Lafont and Françoise Lebrun, the film was made on a tiny budget and became a minor sensation in France during the post-May ’68 years. Lhomme worked again with Eustache on the hybrid fiction-documentary A Dirty Story, starring Michael Lonsdale and Jean-Noël Picq and released theatrically in 1977.
Lhomme’s most renowned work was on Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1969 French Resistance epic Army of Shadows, starring Lino Ventura and Simone Signoret. Shot in monochrome color tones that channeled the somber, stifling atmosphere of Vichy France during the World War II, the film was a hit at home but wasn’t released in the U.S. until 2006, where it grossed more than $700,000 in theaters and was widely hailed as a masterpiece.
“It was only after Army of Shadows that I felt like a real cinematographer,” Lhomme told the French-Canadian newspaper Le Devoir in 2007. “Melville asked me to do things I’d never tried before. I remember when I messed up a shot that came out so dark, you couldn’t see anything. Melville said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll put some nice music there.’”
Along with his César awards, Lhomme received a Prix Premio Gianni di Venanzo, named after the Italian cinematographer of 8½, in 2005, and a lifetime achievement prize at the Camerimage festival in Poland in 2008. He was also crowned an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters and a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in France.
During a 12-hour interview that Lhomme gave with students at the French film school La Fémis in 2014, he summed up his approach to cinematography this way: “I never had a fixed or preconceived idea about cinema … One of the main skills of a good cameraman is to be able to pass from one director to another and adapt to their different worlds. What I loved above all else was working with talented people.”
At the Berlin Film Festival where she presented her documentary “Varda by Agnès”, New Wave filmmaker Agnès Varda said she was “slowing down” and “getting ready to say goodbye”. She announced that she would no longer lecture or interview one-on-one.
A movie to say goodbye
“I’ve done a lot of lectures everywhere, at universities, film schools, all kinds of places, festivals, even small film clubs, and I thought I should do a movie now that’s like a conference, “she explained. This film is “a way to say goodbye, because I do not want to talk about my films anymore”, added the director, stating that “now, she would not accept to lecture anymore” or “to give interviews in head-to-head”.
“Women have conquered the field of cinema”
Jeune femme’ subverts conventions with its flawed title character
A millennial malaise has swept popular culture, as less refined protagonists are taking centre-stage. New York has Obvious Child; London has Fleabag; and now Paris has Jeune femme. In her debut feature film, Léonor Serraille set out to “invent a female character we don’t see in French cinema; someone who isn’t too perfect, too heroic”.
Her lively script draws on her experiences in Montparnasse as a young adult, a period defined by urban loneliness. Broken after the demise of her 10-year romance, Paula (Laetitia Dosch) pieces herself back together by mending damaged relationships and forging new ones. From the outset, Jeune femme grapples with the struggles of Generation Y, showing Paula’s desperation when she head-butts her ex-boyfriend’s door and spews a furious monologue to camera.
“Léonor wanted the audience to feel really bored by this woman at the beginning,” says Dosch in her French-tipped English. “Will she shut up? Will she calm down? And then get used to her and discover her and get over our prejudices. What is beautiful about this film is that she could really become homeless, she could really become crazy, but she climbs back, little by little.”
The comedy was rapturously received at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Caméra d’Or (the equivalent of the Palme d’Or for the first-time film-maker). “We were so lucky that it happened because it changed the destiny of Jeune femme,” says Dosch. “The awards are on TV so people wanted to see the film after that. We were gasping next to Joaquin Phoenix onstage and Will Smith was there saying hello. That was very weird. Completely crazy.”
Dosch – who is known in France for her 80-character one-woman show – was recognised for her explosive performance as Paula at the Césars (akin to the Oscars), where she was nominated for Best New Actress. How did she prepare for this career-changing role? “For me it was like having a freer little sister. I walked down the street in character, talking to myself, to see how people looked at me as a misfit. I loved doing that. Paula’s situation is very typical of her time.”
This timeliness is also apparent in Jeune femme’s presentation of sexual consent. In one scene, Paula disarms a stranger who complains he “doesn’t like sleeping alone” with the deadpan quip: “Me neither, maybe you should get a teddy bear?” Later on, the narrative takes a more sinister turn when she scrambles to escape from her former partner who, ignoring her cries, prises off her clothes. The voyeurism of the top shot makes for uncomfortable viewing, encouraging empathy towards Paula. Serraille’s evaluation of this theme chimes with Hollywood’s #MeToo movement.
Despite its near-unanimous support in the Anglophone world, Time’s Up has been viewed with more suspicion in France – even though its home-grown stars Léa Seydoux, Florence Darel and Judith Godrèche have all accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct. In January, 100 Frenchwomen penned an open letter for Le Monde, condemning the way #MeToo has “prevented men from practising their profession as punishment, when the only thing they did wrong was touch a knee, try to steal a kiss or speak about ‘intimate’ things at a work dinner”. The missive also criticises the country’s #BalanceTonPorc hashtag (translated as #OutYourPig) for expressing “an enthusiasm for sending pigs to the slaughter”. Laetitia Dosch is hesitant to come down strongly on either side of the argument. “You have women saying, ‘We can’t treat men this way!’ because now they’re getting scared of us,” she says, carefully. “I can understand their points. It’s time to think and not get too impulsive because these are complicated questions and it’s difficult to make law about this.”
It’s not just #MeToo that has divided the French film industry, the community was similarly polarised by Jeune femme upon its release. Dosch admits to being “deeply upset” by negative reviews on the French radio programme Le Masque et la Plume (The Mask and the Pen), where the male critics lambasted her character’s “selfishness” and “poor childcare skills”.
“Characters are too formulaic in France,” she claps back. “They’re definitely very prim and proper. Either you’re a little crazy, or you’re sweet and vulnerable, or you’re a very serious lawyer. I think we have a big fight ahead for women characters in art. There is a tendency to oversimplify their behaviour, but I do hope things are evolving.”