Francophile filmgoers were already well aware of cinematographer Eric Gautier’s work long before Sean Penn enlisted him for “Into the Wild.” The Paris native is the lenser of choice for post-Nouvelle Vague auteurs such as Olivier Assayas (“Clean”) and Patrice Chereau (“Intimacy”) as well as original New Wavers Alain Resnais and Agnes Varda. But it was how Gautier photographed another road-tripping free spirit that caught Penn’s eye.
“Sean Penn called me because he loved ‘The Motorcycle Diaries,'” Gautier explains.
“Diaries” and “Wild” make ample use of wide-open vistas, but Gautier’s ability to find drama in close quarters was also key. “Both Walter Salles and Sean Penn were expecting me to bring something from the French films, something very intimate and close to the characters.”
After film school in Paris, Gautier landed a gig as a camera trainee on a Resnais film. “This experience was the most important in my life because I understood what it was to make a movie.”
Gautier shunned the camera assistant route and instead shot some 60 short films. He went on to work with some of France’s brightest stars.
Gautier insists that a desire to work with interesting filmmakers dictates his choices, not the paycheck attached. “To be a cinematographer, you have to be curious,” he says. “You have to share some part of your life with the imagination of someone else.”
Fave tool: The Aeton Camera. “It’s a very compact camera and it’s very important to be able to grab this camera very fast and shoot anytime and anywhere.”
Preferred film stock: “It’s always changing. I shot ‘Into the Wild’ entirely on Fuji, but I did ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ entirely on Kodak. I try to find the most appropriate combination between lens, laboratories, filtrations, etc.”
Inspiration: Along with the French New Wave films, Gautier cites ’70s American cinema: “All the cinematographers at that moment tried always to find an original style for each film.”
Up next: Alain Resnais’ next pic, skedded for a January start.
Rep: Sheldon Prosnit Agency