Thursday, May 30, 2019

Top 10 Benoît Debie Films

Audiences are guaranteed something every time they watch a film shot by cinematographer Benoît Debie: no matter what the film is about or how good it is, you can guarantee it will look great. Debie has mastered cinematography-as-character; when his work is at its best, Debie’s camera acts as its own character, fully immersing you into the film. Here’s a look at some of the finest work he’s captured yet.

10. The Runaways (2010)
The Runaways may not be the best film listed here, but the grainy, 16mm stock Debie shot the film with really helps establish the movie’s ‘70s LA punk rock setting. And Debie’s trademark neon-infused, inverted nightmare camerawork is especially effective during Cherie Currie’s (Dakota Fanning) downfall in the film.

9. One More Time with Feeling (2016)
Andrew Dominik, Nick Cave, Benoît Debie – what’s not to like about One More Time with Feeling? The film’s gorgeous, black and white, 3D photography is an absolute marvel, and makes this documentary a must watch. As if it wasn’t already.

8. The Sisters Brothers (2018)
I didn’t know much about The Sisters Brothers when I saw it last year, but during the film’s opening scene, in which an outdoor gunfight is lit only by gun flashes and a slight blue hue on the horizon, I knew I was watching a film shot by Benoît Debie, and therefore was in very fine hands.

7. Lost River (2014)
I appreciate Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, Lost River, and I’m excited to see what he does next as a filmmaker, but the primary strength of this movie is Debie’s cinematography. I’m honestly not sure the movie would work without Debie’s contribution to it, but thankfully Debie’s compositions help carry the film to its unique place of dread.

6. The Beach Bum (2019)
In his recent GQ profile, writer/director/enfant terrible maestro, Harmony Korine, said that The Beach Bum is, “A cosmic America. It’s an energy that kind of travels through.” With Debie’s help, Korine’s film definitely achieves an otherworldly look and feel. The camera rarely ponders, choosing instead to float around and capture this line here, and that scene there. The camera never seems set, but it is always positioned in the exact proper place. Such is the magic of a Korine/Debie collaboration.

5. Spring Breakers (2012)
The best work Debie and Korine have done together is the liquid narrative modern masterpiece, Spring Breakers. Debie creates a neon-soaked nightmare full of rich aesthetics and astounding visual set pieces (the restaurant robbery, captured entirely in one take from a moving car outside of the building, is the scene). The look of this movie is so confident and singular that it will remain one of the best-shot films of this decade.

4. Irréversible (2002)
Irréversible is one of the finest examples of Debie using the camera as a character. The first portion of the film is intentionally nauseating. As the characters descend into hell, their confusion and frustration is mirrored by Debie’s ceaselessly moving camera. Midway through the movie, Debie and director, Gaspar Noé, choose to rest the camera on the ground, forcing us to be a voyeur to one of the most brutal scenes in cinema history. We watch in horror, and then we continue, ultimately ending with a visually poetic conclusion reminiscent of a Terrence Malick sequence. Throughout Irréversible, the camera acts as a reflection of how the characters are feeling. Whether they’re frantic, trapped, or serine, Debie’s camera echoes the characters’ mood in full.

3. Climax (2018)
For that opening dance sequence alone, Climax deserves any and all praise for its breathtaking cinematography. Gaspar Noé and Benoît Debie have a very interesting way of working together. Debie lights and blocks the scene, but Noé actually operates the camera himself. That’s interesting because a director has say over the entire production of a film, but the cinematographer (also known as the director of photography) has say over the camera operator. So, Noé directs Debie’s cinematography, but Debie directs Noé’s camera operation. Either way, they make it work damn well. I mean look, any film that can pull off a 10-minute inverted camera shot deserves to be applauded as often as possible.

2. Love (2015)
I first saw Gaspar Noé’s Love at a sold out 3D showing in Santa Monica, and it quickly became one of the most memorable movie going experiences I’ve ever had. Once I accepted the immediate shock of the content, I was able to settle into Debie’s flawless, still, 3D compositions. I cannot speak highly enough about the visual appeal of this film. The camera is never flashy; it typically allows for little-to-no-movement, instead imploring the audience to watch intently, and cherish the film’s gorgeous palette. Without hesitation, I can say that Love contains the best use of 3D cinematography that I have ever seen. It is a shame that some of this appeal is lost when you watch the movie at home, but the strength of Love’s look goes far beyond an additional dimension.

1. Enter the Void (2009)
I am completely obsessed with cinematography. I study it constantly, practice it as often as I can in my own work, and watch it intently. If I can’t figure out how a shot was done in a movie, I’ll try to figure out what rigs, stabilizers, and digital effects (if any) were used to accomplish the shot. After dedicating some thought and research to it, I will rarely be stumped by a shot. Such is a gift of obsession.

However, I say all of this to note that I have no idea how the fuck Benoît Debie shot most of Enter the Void. This film, both in story and visual style, cannot be replicated. It is a singular, patience-testing headtrip that I have, and will continue to, study endlessly. Gaspar Noé and Benoît Debie have shot four feature films together, and those movies take up the top four spots on this list. Needless to say, I hope these two work together forever.

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  1. So far, I haven't seen One More Time with Feeling, The Sister Brothers (currently available at my local library), The Beach Bum, and Climax. Yet, there is no question the man knows how to shoot and is probably the most exciting photography right now. Plus, I think his usage of colors kind of presents a challenge to what Christopher Doyle has done with the films of Wong Kar-Wai.

    His photography in Enter the Void was unlike anything as I was unprepared for what was to happen and it blew me away.

    1. Oh man, I cannot wait to hear your thoughts on Climax. That thing is still by long and far the best film (or show, or miniseries, or whatever) I've seen so far this year. And I totally agree about the Doyle/Kar-Wai comparison. Two great sets of collaborators there.

  2. IveI only seen 10, 5, & 1. The Runaways oozed 70s. Great call there. And I even enjoyed the overall film. I'm absolutely in love with everything about Spring Breakers. The look of it is supremely important to how it comes off. The same can be said for Enter the Void. Unfortunately, the look and the overall movie were a few steps too far for me. Whenever I think of that movie I think of headaches and seizures.

    1. Ha! And that's fair enough. Enter the Void is something I have to ease into with some mental preparation. Because, yeah, it's sensory overload. I'm so happy people enjoy the look of The Runaways. I've never heard anyone really talk about that movie before, but you're right, it just oozes a '70s vibe.

  3. I keep meaning to see The Runaways, but I haven't yet. Otherwise I've see Enter The Void, Spring Breakers, The Sister Brothers and The Lost River. I agree with you on Void, I have no idea how that was accomplished, it's such a different film. Lost River really benefited from his lens too, like you said. That film had some amazing shots.

    1. "Benefited from his lens..." I love that. So so true! I have watched every single special feature I can get my hands on for Enter the Void, and I still have no idea how they did it. That thing is an absolute beast.

  4. Oh I had no idea all these were shot by the same person! I love the cinematography in the Runaways, it's probably the best part of the movie. Lost River is hugely underrated. It has some weird, unnecessary gory moments but the ambiance and the performances, especially Mendelshon, are great

    1. More Runaways love, I dig it! I'm with you on Lost River. I did like much of it, but that Matt Smith character, my god. That is some goddamn convincing acting right there. I'm overdue for a rewatch of that movie actually.

  5. I've admired Debie since I saw Enter the Void and set out to learn as much as I could about how they achieved those shots. He elevates even middling films but his work with Noe is really something else. I didn't know that he and Noe divided the work up like that. Makes sense, though, given how dominant the visuals are in the telling of those stories.

    1. I'm so happy you're a fan. And it's so funny to see Debie and Noe being interviewed, because they are such quiet and humble people. Definitely not the personality type you'd expect from their movies.