For American audiences, the arrival in 1997 of the Dutch film, “Karakter,” was the sign that there was life in the Netherlands film industry. For director Philip Kaufman, the arrival of the picture, which won the Oscar for best foreign film, meant the discovery of gifted cinematographer Rogier Stoffers. “He showed a capacity for rich, portentous colors and shades in a period film,” Kaufman observes, “and I realized that here was the man to film ‘Quills.”‘
Kaufman’s adaptation of Doug Wright’s play about the last, rebellious days of the Marquis De Sade was designed with a thoroughgoing study of European painting, from the dramatic French Revolution imagery of David to the still-lifes and flesh-colored backgrounds of Chardin. “We looked at so much work,” Stoffers says, “that I can’t even recall all the painters. It was a matter of drinking in all these images.”
Perhaps more impressive for Stoffers was how Kaufman’s filmmaking practice contrasted with the way he was used to working in Holland. The graduate of the Amsterdam Film School made several successful student films, which landed him work in Dutch television, including a children’s series, a Dutch version of the German epic, “Heimat,” titled “Tijd van leven,” and a hit lawyer series, “Pleidooi,” or “Call to the Bar.”
“We always aimed to make movie-quality work for television, and since the budgets in Holland are about the same for both features and TV, there isn’t much of a difference in the work. So when I made ‘Karakter’ as my first 35mm feature, it wasn’t a great leap. What Philip did differently is that he wanted to shoot in the interests of the actors, since he viewed this as an acting film. This meant filming almost entirely in continuity, which is quite unusual, and shooting quite a lot in master shots. In Holland, we tend to shoot this face, then that face, and back again, but filming in masters is a big challenge for the cinematographer, since you have to take everything into account, and light every aspect. I found it allowed us far greater freedom, and you end up with something very interesting.
“We also wanted the walls of the Marquis’ prison to change, grow dirtier, and shrink, and while we didn’t get everything we tried for, we created something that has really changed the way I view my work.”