According to “La Vie en rose” helmer Olivier Dahan, Tetsuo Nagata likes wide shots without a lot of movement. So lensing the most distinctive sequence in the biopic, a dreamlike scene that closely follows Edith Piaf though several rooms of her apartment in a single take, “was a complete nightmare for him,” Dahan says. The hallucinatory scene centers on the moment when Piaf, played by Marion Cotillard, finds out her lover has died in a plane crash.
“(Nagata) had to hide all of his lighting equipment because the camera was rotating around and moving throughout the apartment,” Dahan explains. “It was a real challenge.”
The contrast between the darkened halls and the sun-drenched kitchen of the flat is particularly striking, as if following the surreal movements of a madwoman. “It wasn’t my idea to do the scene in one cut,” says Nagata, one of Variety’s 10 Cinematographers to Watch. “I don’t think it was perfect, but Marion’s performance was so amazing that nobody noticed.”
The whole film, in fact, projects a dreamlike, impressionistic quality through nonchronological sequences. Scenes of grimy city streets and smoky drinking halls of Paris in the ’30s and ’40s lent themselves to Nagata’s painterly aesthetic.
Awards pedigree: Cesar for “La Chambre des officiers.”
Visual aids: “I learned about Edith Piaf’s life by watching a few documentary films and looking at old pictures. Most of them were black-and-white and very bad quality, but at the same time so real and so emotional for me. Edith Piaf’s music and the pictures on her record jackets were also a real inspiration.”
Mentor/inspiration: “For ‘La vie en rose,’ I wanted to work with colors and very deep and dark shadows. The collaboration with the set designer Olivier Raoux and costume designer Marit Allen was of capital importance. They supported my visual and artistic feeling.”
Favorite tools: “Silk mousseline and dark (black) cloths, (and) Primo lenses. The contour between the sharpness and the out-of-focus on the Primo lenses is excellent!”