Kristen Stewart plays Princess Diana in “Spencer.” Credit: Claire Mathon / STX Films
Kristen Stewart as Diana seems poised for a long and possibly fruitful awards season, but doing her performance justice required the careful attention of Claire Mathon, one of the most popular cinematographers working right now.
Larrain approached the French cinematographer after seeing her César Award-winning work on “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” Mathon told CNN. In his initial talks on “Spencer,” Mathon said the director was interested in “something much bigger and (more) timeless” than Christmas with royalty: an exploration of what lies behind life-changing decisions.
“She said from the beginning, it is a fairy tale (backwards). It is a princess who makes the decision not to be a princess anymore,” she explained. “It’s more of a deconstruction and less of a story.”
Up close and personal
Visually, Larrain was inspired by Kubrick, Mathon said. She and Larrain watched William Thackeray’s adaptation of Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” and a sequence from “A Clockwork Orange” in preparation for “Spencer,” and also studied vintage photographs. But the film would not be tied to the story or the biographical convention.
Larrain’s staging “is very far from naturalism,” Mathon said. “It’s a very choreographed movie, I think, where music is important. It’s a movie where we move a lot (and) feel a lot.”
Mathon, Stewart and Larrain on set. Credit: Frederic Batier / STX
Working with 16mm film, Mathon’s camera engages in an elaborate dance with Stewart, capturing her every gesture, but also the world as Diana sees it, beset by demons (both flesh and fantasy) and few faces worthy of. confidence.
“It was Pablo’s idea, this very, very close proximity,” Mathon said. “It is more than intimacy, it is almost interiority.”
Some takes were impromptu, some were not, he said. The method leans towards the meta-theatrical, as the paparazzi stalked the real Diana, camera in hand.
“I’ve never been so close to an actress with a camera. I was even scared to touch her,” Mathon said. “But I think her performance played with the camera … It’s one of the themes of the film: (Diana’s) relationship between hiding and locking herself in, while at the same time being in constant view, too much seen. reveals to itself (is) how it remains free. “
Diana faced the press in “Spencer”. Credit: NEON
As if to bring home the subjective perspective of the film, even when not in the foreground, Diana is still the center of attention. During a tense dinner, Mathon captures events with such a shallow depth of field that it renders Diana’s royals irrelevant. Instead, our eyes are drawn to Stewart’s aching face, the soup in front of him, and a pearl necklace (the same one given to Camilla, Diana suspects) that weighs like an anvil around her neck. Jonny Greenwood’s jazz-inspired score grinds against the stuffy room scoop, and the film’s claustrophobia turns into wild, exciting, and disturbing fantasy in equal measure.
Mathon said the scene was among his favorites. “The music came even before the scene,” he explained. “The idea of the progression of this scene really comes from this sumptuous candlelight dinner with an orchestra … little by little, it harmonizes and transforms, becomes dissonant.”
“We always run with (Diana), but the question is how to feel these looks; the tension of the (real) traditions. For me, visually (this) was a challenge.”
Dinner on Christmas Eve at “Spencer” by Pablo Larraín. Credit: NEON
Mathon had nothing but praise for Stewart (“both very beautiful but also quite amazing”), his director (“I had a lot of fun working with Pablo”) and also the movie version of the princess. “I really liked the fact that there are many facets (to her), that there is something very complex about this character,” he said.
“At the end of the day, being around (Diana) is sincere and ultimately very simple.”
“Spencer” opens in theaters on November 5.
Add to queue: the subjective lens
László Nemes’ heartbreaking film takes on the opposite touch to Montgomery’s, in the sense that the camera barely moves away from the protagonist’s face. Nemes’ first feature film, about a Hungarian Jew at Auschwitz forced to dispose of bodies and clean the camp’s gas chambers, is shot in a square ratio of the Academy, forcing the audience to focus on Saul (played by Géza Röhrig). Filmed close-up and often in strict focus, we process events through Saul’s reaction to them, shielded to some extent from visual horrors but not from their emotional impact.
Just as cinema can have a subjective view of events, so can film history. Helen O’Hara’s book does a fantastic job of undoing the erasure of film’s pioneering women, reclaiming the narrative on their behalf. Filled with revealing anecdotes from the days of Old Hollywood, O’Hara stands up for these women, marginalized by studies and history books, without whom we would not have cinema as we know it.