“The Girl on the Bridge” might not have been a box office smash in its homeland, but France’s notoriously hard-line critics did lavish this timeless love story with ample praise. Its sumptuous black-and-white photography earned Jean-Marie Dreujou a Cesar Awards cinematography nomination as well as rave reviews on this side of the pond.
According to Dreujou, “Bridge” director Patrice Leconte found inspiration for his moody monochrome images from Gallic directors of the ’30s and ’40s like Jean Gremillion, Jean Renoir and Julien Duvivier. As such, he aimed for an aura that would amplify the sexual angst between wanting knife-thrower Gabor (Daniel Auteuil) and his tantalizing target Adele (Vanessa Paradis).
“Shooting in black-and-white is a fantastic experience for a cinematographer because that look doesn’t exist in the real world,” raves the 41-year-old Dreujou.
“Patrice and I wanted to magnify the characters’ emotions. To make that emotional statement, I used lots of full backlight when lighting the actors and only exposed for the eyes,” he says. “Getting to the emotions when doing a tight close-up is not the same in black-and-white as it is with color. The framing is different. In black-and-white, you cannot get as close because the atmosphere lies within the frame itself.”
From the age of 14, Dreujou knew that his destiny was in film photography. He spent his younger years working as a projectionist’s assistant at a small cinema in his hometown of Tours, and recalls being particularly taken with Bertolucci’s “Last Tango in Paris” and Ettore Scola’s “A Special Day.”
Completing a two-year program at the Paris-based ESEC film school in 1979, Dreujou began his career assisting such cinematographers as Ricardo Aronovich, Robert Fraisse and Eduardo Serra. He started working as focus puller for Leconte on the caper film “Tango” (1993). Since the director prefers to compose his own shots, the two collaborated quite closely, and continued to do so in the years leading up to “The Girl on the Bridge.”
He and Leconte recently wrapped up post-production on their latest collaboration, “Felix and Lola.” Set solely within an amusement park, it’s yet another love story with a magical ambiance — albeit one done in hyper-real hues created in a collage of contrasting warm and cold color temperatures.
“It’s in color, but the color is bizarre. I say ‘bizarre’ because it’s not the way one typically sees color used in a movie,” says Dreujou. “An amusement park already has so many bright colors everywhere because of all the different types of lights. But Patrice didn’t like that reality, so we had to find our own atmosphere.”