Vil­leneuve and Deakins talk light and dark in ‘Si­cario’

The China Post - - ARTS - BY JAKE COYLE

“The Prince of Dark­ness” was the nick­name of cin­e­matog­ra­pher leg­end Gor­don Wil­lis, but Roger Deakins, too, has shown a kingly com­mand of shad­ows.

Re­call the sleek Shang­hai sky­scraper scene of “Sky­fall,” the des­per­ate moon­lit horse ride of “True Grit,” or the early dawn dog chase of “No Coun­try for Old Men.” In De­nis Vil­leneuve’s drug war thriller “Si­cario,” Deakins adds to his night­time reel with a mem­o­rable bor­der tun­nel pur­suit, seen through night vi­sion and in­frared per­spec­tives.

“Si­cario,” which ex­pands na­tion­wide Fri­day, could be the film that fi­nally rights one of cin­ema’s great­est wrongs, and lands the 66-year-old Bri­tish cin­e­matog­ra­pher his first Os­car. Deakins has been nom­i­nated 12 times and is gen­er­ally ac­knowl­edged as one of the movies’ great­est vis­ual minds.

The reg­u­lar di­rec­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy for the Coen broth­ers, Deakins is less likely to speak of an im­pres­sive shot than about how the pho­tog­ra­phy is al­ways in the ser­vice of char­ac­ter, script and cir­cum­stances. “Si­cario,” his sec­ond film with the Que­be­cois di­rec­tor Vil­leneuve fol­low­ing “Pris­on­ers,” has its grim dark­ness, but much of it — like a shootout in bumperto-bumper traf­fic — takes place un­der the harsh desert light of the Mex­i­can bor­der.

He and Vil­leneuve, who may col­lab­o­rate again on a planned “Blade Run­ner” se­quel, re­cently spoke about mak­ing “Si­cario,” for which Deakins drew in­spi­ra­tion from the French film­maker Jean-Pierre Melville. Vil­leneuve was com­ing from wrap­ping his next film, “Story of Your Life,” and Deakins from a short hol­i­day at home where he spent 14-hour days on his boat fish­ing. “It’s a bit harsher than work­ing on a movie,” he chuck­led.

AP: What makes the two of you fit well to­gether?

Vil­leneuve: It’s strange. It’s like two to­tally dif­fer­ent an­i­mals that can com­mu­ni­cate to­gether. We are from to­tally dif­fer­ent back­grounds. ... just shot with Brad­ford Young. ... As much as I loved work­ing with Brad­ford, I re­al­ized how much I learned work­ing with Roger. I was say­ing to my­self, “It’s the only movie I’ve made with two cin­e­matog­ra­phers.” Be­cause I al­ways had you in my mind say­ing, “Don’t put the cam­era there. Don’t do that. Move faster.” Deakins: Nag, nag, nag. Vil­leneuve: Peo­ple are al­ways ask­ing what is your big­gest in­flu­ence from other film­mak­ers? It’s al­ways Roger for me. Hon­estly, it’s a mas­sive priv­i­lege for me. I’m miss­ing you a lot, sir.

Deakins: I’m miss­ing you, too. We did hit it off straight away, didn’t we? The first time we met we seemed to hit it off. We’re both very hon­est with each other, which is good. De­nis has got such a sen­si­tive take on the script, on the sub­ject, such a per­sonal point of view.

AP: What was your ap­proach to shoot­ing in the desert?

Vil­leneuve: There was the idea to em­brace na­ture, to in­spire our­selves from the desert, to work with the bru­tal­ity of the sun. We were work­ing with a tight sched­ule and I was aware Roger would have to shoot some­times in bad light, not hav­ing the lux­ury to shoot in per­fect light. I re­mem­ber say­ing should we try to em­brace that, to have ac­tors with shad­ows, to have sil­hou­ettes in the sun. There was a pho­tog­ra­pher that Roger loves, Alex Webb, that was an in­spi­ra­tion in the color of Mexico.

Deakins: That script on “Pris­on­ers,” it could have be­come so melo­dra­matic. But it was a mat­ter of strip­ping it down and get­ting to the sense of it. To me, the whole film ends up be­ing about: How far do you go? What is right? To me, “Si­cario” re­lates to so much more than just drug traf­fick­ing. It re­lates to Guan­tanamo Bay and the whole bit.

Vil­leneuve: We re­ally in­sisted, Roger and I, to shoot in Mexico. We didn’t want to recre­ate the Mex­i­can cul­ture in the United States — we thought that would be im­pos­si­ble. Luck­ily, we were able through time and a lot of meet­ings to con­vince them. Deakins: A LOT of meet­ings. Vil­leneuve: I re­mem­ber Roger (slams hand on the ta­ble): “What are we talk­ing about? We’re talk­ing about Mexico. Let’s shoot in Mexico!”

Deakins: You can talk so much, but in the end, you have to say, “No, there’s noth­ing else we can do. It’s in the script.”

AP: Was it chal­leng­ing to shoot in low-light sit­u­a­tions like the tun­nel scene?

Deakins: Night­mare to shoot. End­less days in prep, end­less nights stay­ing awake won­der­ing: “How the hell am I go­ing to do that?” That’s part of the fun, isn’t it? I love the chal­lenge. What I love about film­mak­ing, there’s the in­tel­lec­tual chal­lenge, but there’s also a tech­ni­cal chal­lenge which is much more me­thod­i­cal, see­ing how you’re go­ing to do some­thing. Nuts and bolts. I love the com­bi­na­tion of those things. One’s artsy-fartsy, the other’s down to Earth.

Vil­leneuve: You need to bring some chal­lenge to the man! Oth­er­wise he gets bored.


(Right) This photo pro­vided by Lion­s­gate shows, from rear left, Daniel Kalu­uya as Reg­gie Wayne, Phil Coop­ers as Hank Roger­son, Vic­tor Gar­ber as Dave Jen­nings and Emily Blunt as Kate Macer in a scene from the film, “Si­cario.”

(Left) In this im­age re­leased by Lion­s­gate, di­rec­tor De­nis Vil­leneuve ap­pears dur­ing the film­ing of “Si­cario.”

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