10 Cinematographers to Watch: Manuel Alberto Claro

Role models: Harris Savides and Anthony Dod Mantle.
Film or digital: “It is a great time right now, you have the choice, and soon film will be gone. In the industry high visual quality has been equaled with high resolution for the last many years. I find this very limited. I miss a broader approach to what is a good look. If it is shot on film or digital is not important.”
Favorite tool: “I like pencils. I wish I knew how to draw.”
Representation: Rebecca Fayyad, Sheldon Prosnit Agency

When Danish enfant terrible Lars von Trier turned his attention to the end of the world in “Melancholia,” he found a perfect collaborator in the Chilean-born Danish cinemato-grapher Manuel Alberto Claro, who brought an austere formalism to the apocalypse, making it all the more terrifying for its total lack of visual hysteria.

The d.p. terms his approach on “Melancholia” — which won cinematography honors at the European Film Awards — and such other films as “Reconstruction” (which won the Camera d’Or in Cannes 2003), “Dark Horse,” “Allegro” and “Everything Will Be Fine,” as “expressive naturalism, meaning that I like things to feel real, but with a strong visual attitude.”

“As a d.p. I believe you are obliged to visually create the necessary emotional space and impact for the specific moment. Unfortunately, I feel many films suffer from spineless cinematography.”

Surprisingly, the 41-year-old discovered cinematography relatively late in life. “I thought I was going to be a still photographer, but it didn’t really work out for me,” he recalls. In his late 20s he saw an ad for the National Film School of Denmark, applied on a whim and was accepted.

“Still photography is an amazing discipline, which I think is much closer to being a director than a d.p.,” he says. “In film school I found out that I felt much more comfortable as a helper and interpreter than being the guy with the big vision.”

Even so, his first love informs his work. “I use still photography every day to pre-visualize, discuss and share lighting and mood ideas with director and crew,” he says. “Coming from a more strict discipline, I have enjoyed having to learn to loosen up.”

Still based in Copenhagen, Claro is working on the HBO pilot of Jonathan Franzen’s book “The Corrections,” directed by Noah Baumbach.

Trailer: “Melancholia”

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