How the new movie ‘Spencer’ kept Kristen Stewart’s Diana in focus

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Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer” gives off “The Shining” vibes long before we see two women in matching outfits walking down a corridor. So eat Kubrickian symmetry, the oppressive environment, the suffocating presence of others, the ritual, the duty, everything is there in Larraín’s imaginary shot of Princess Diana Christmas from hell. On the other hand, the moment involving two maids is so far-fetched that it could also be a nothing, a ghost. He wouldn’t be the only ghost lurking in the halls of this movie.
It’s both hackneyed and an understatement to say that the royal family has never looked like this before. Larrain’s horror-inflected film bills itself as a “fable of true tragedy,” imagining three days on Queen Sandringham’s estate in 1991. Diana and Charles’s marriage is on the rocks and “The signature“He’s waiting for her to fix the boat at a Christmas party or two. She understandably has other ideas, haunted by women who have come before her (in more ways than one).

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.”

Like “Spencer”, Mathon’s films “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” “Atlantic“and the next”Petite maman“They all feature intimate female portraits (coincidentally, they all include paranormal elements as well). However, none have put her as close and personal with her subject as this.
Mathon, Stewart and Larrain on set.

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."

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 Pablo Larrain's "Spencer."

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

LOOK: Lady in the lake“(1947)
Robert Montgomery “singularly strange“The adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel could have been like any other noir of the time, only he chose to shoot it from the protagonist’s perspective and turn it into a true first-person narrative. Montgomery, who also plays the famous Philip Marlowe of Chandler, appears in mirrors and occasionally addresses the audience (Studio MGM forced him to film a prologue), but otherwise it’s like we’re seeing through Marlowe’s eyes.
Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film starring Toshiro Mifune makes a complete plot of subjectivity. When telling a story of rape and murder, its characters tell the same story three times, each version contradicting the next. The camera presents its evidence as fact, forcing the audience to separate the truth from the lies and deception. Kurosawa’s film lives in the firmament of pop culture (even receiving the ultimate tribute in a “Simpsons joke) and continues to inspire today, the format rears its head in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi“and this year”The last duel. ”
LOOK: Son of saul“(2015)

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.

LOOK: Cameraman“(2016)
Kirsten Johnson shot other people’s movies long before breaking through as a director in her own right. Before she did “Dick johnson is dead, she made “Cameraperson”, a documentary that recalibrates our understanding of what it means to be behind the camera. The film is comprised of images from previous projects for other directors (Johnson has operated cameras for Michael Moore and Laura Poitras) as well as homemade footage, edited into a visual memory. Johnson questions the ethics of documenting life through a lens, while providing ample evidence of the deep human connection that the medium offers. It is a thoughtful and compelling manifesto.

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