From Brooklyn to Big Little Lies, we take a look at six films lensed by Yves Bélanger that left a lasting impression, ahead of our Creator Talk with The Mule’s cinematographer and camera operator Stephen Campanelli on January 19.
1. Dallas Buyers Club
Directed by fellow French-Canadian filmmaker and frequent collaborator, Jean-Marc Vallée, Dallas Buyers Club tells the true story of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a Texan electrician and rodeo gambler who tests positive for HIV in 1985. The film won the award for best cinematography at the Rome International Film Festival and three Oscars in 2014.
“Dallas Buyers Club was shot with the Alexa [camera]: no lighting and a lot of times underexposed. The format was not ArriRAW but ProRes. It had kind of a grain. It was noise, but our guy found a way to make it look like grain, like hidden grain. But I discovered that with the Alexa, when you don’t light, when you don’t use any artificial light, it looks like film. The curves and the way it overexposes and the colour, the skin tones.”
– Yves Bélanger speaking to Movie Maker
Based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about a woman (played by Reese Witherspoon) hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Wild, which reteamed director Jean-Marc Vallée and Bélanger after their Dallas Buyers Club collaboration — was filmed using available light, on location, mostly in Portland, Ore. — on a brisk 35-day production schedule (which Bélanger told The Hollywood Reporter was a “luxury” after having just 23 days for Dallas Buyers Club). Bélanger became well-versed in the art of natural lighting and developed a penchant for it, applying this practice to Brooklyn by always starting to light from a place of practicality.
When it came to shooting Brooklyn, the story of a young woman’s journey from Ireland to America in the early 1950s, Bélanger had to adapt a slightly different aesthetic.
“We wanted a mix of both worlds, like practical cinema, but something modern, too. There was a lot of lighting in the movie, but the lights were always coming from real places with logical reasons—a window, a streetlight.” The only added touch, which gave the film a bit of 1950s movie magic, was the use of a soft round light from a Chinese lantern used specifically to highlight young starlet Saoirse Ronan.
– Yves Bélanger speaking to Deadline
4. Big Little Lies
Bélanger reunited with Jean-Marc Vallée to frame the wealthy world and murder mystery of Liane Moriarty’s best selling novel, Big Little Lies. The show was a ratings hit, earning 16 Emmy nomination, including a nomination for cinematography for Bélanger, and taking home eight awards at the 2017 awards show.
The miniseries was mostly lensed at California locations, including Malibu and Monterey. However, despite a heavy focus on the area’s dramatic coastlines along the Pacific, Bélanger admits he had to change his normal routine of shooting strictly on location with natural light and in-frame practicals when forced to work on sets in Southern California and recreate the location lighting from Monterey.
5. Sharp Objects
Following the sucess of season one of Big Little Lies, Bélanger worked with Jean-Marc Vallée again in 2018 for a HBO miniseries tailored from Gillian Flynn’s southern gothic mystery novel. Starring Amy Adams, Sharp Objects is a troubling study of reporter Camille, who returns home to both investigate a small-town murder and confront her haunted past.
According to Bélanger, the show only used natural and handheld light to illuminate scenes, adding to the cloying hyper-reality of Camille’s surroundings. Together, Vallée and Bélanger conjured an intoxicating world with a potent, sticky, oppressive sense of horror.
6. Indian Horse
Winner of the Super Channel People’s Choice Award at VIFF 2017, Indian Horse was Bélanger’s first collaboration with Canadian director Stephen Campanelli, who he has been friends with since the early eighties when they went to film school together at Concordia University.
The big-screen adaptation of Richard Wagamese’s novel sheds light on the dark history of Canada’s Residential Schools and the indomitable spirit of Indigenous people.
Battling against the seasons and short hours of daylight in Northern Canada, the team triumphed to find wild beauty in both rural and urban environments, using anamorphic lenses from the 1960s and natural light where available, for the feel of a widescreen epic.
The duo went on to work together (Campanelli as a camera operator) on Clint Eastwood’s recent crime drama The Mule – the case study focus of our upcoming Creator Talk on January 19, which will bring Bélanger and Campanelli to VIFF’s Vancity Theatre to talk about the collaborative style and artistic vision they employed in order to earn The Mule rave reviews, box office success and assertions that it’s one of the finest films in Eastwood’s legendary oeuvre.
Creator Talk: Case Study – Yves Bélanger & Stephen Campanelli, The Mule
Saturday, January 19, 3PM
VIFF Vancity Theatre
Hosted by Greg Middleton, cinematographer, Game of Thrones
Presented in partnership with Panavision Canada.
Tickets: $25 Adult/ $20 (Senior/Student)