Despite amassing more than 70 credits, this year’s recipient of the Camerimage Lifetime Achievement Award, Philippe Rousselot, shows no signs of stopping. As he tells Variety from his house in Brittany, he just can’t.
“Once you have piled up enough films, the decision is made. They needed to give this award to someone and I am very glad to accommodate,” he jokes. “Other people want us to retire, but it’s never a personal decision among DPs. We never stop working. We can’t get enough of it!”
Counting a BAFTA and two Césars among his many accolades, Rousselot was also nominated for an Academy Award three times, winning for Robert Redford’s “A River Runs Through It” in 1992.
“I was at the Oscar ceremony when ‘Hope and Glory’ was nominated. Of course we didn’t win. I asked John Boorman: ‘What is the importance of this award? Within a year from now, nobody will remember who got it.’ He looked at me and said: ‘Everyone will forget. Except for your agent.’”
Rousselot’s next film, Stefano Sollima’s take on Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse,” starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell, will see a Navy SEAL desperate to avenge his wife’s murder.
“Stefano is a very interesting director, even an excellent one, I would say. I was expecting him to be a catch-whatever-you-can kind of guy. And then on the first day, he said: ‘I don’t want any handheld shots.’ I am not a fan of them either, because when I walk, the landscape doesn’t move up and down all the time,” jokes Rousselot. “You just need to think about the story, you know? Sometimes you describe action much better in a static shot.”
Acclaimed for his work on “Dangerous Liaisons,” “Queen Margot” and “Interview with the Vampire,” he still claims he doesn’t have a style.
“The thing is, I don’t know where to find it! You start a film and you run into a huge wall of problems that you have to solve. Sometimes they are easy; we are not flying rockets to distant planets. But style is not a tool. It’s not something you can use. Read the script, find out what the solutions are and that’s it. Trying to forge some ‘style’ that will set you apart from other DPs, that’s just bullshit,” he says, recounting the time when he didn’t follow his own advice.
“Long time ago, I shot a film in France and there was a scene with a young girl going to the office and looking for some papers. It looked nice, but it was way too dark. That girl would never find anything! You have to solve narrative problems with light, with the camera, with composition,” he says. “I remember the feeling I had when I saw the set of ‘Mary Reilly.’ It was so clever – you could shoot the story from all these different points of view. And that came about because [British production designer] Stuart Craig has read the script! He understood it better than anyone else.”
Although he has repeatedly worked with such directors as Tim Burton, on “Planet of the Apes,” “Big Fish” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Neil Jordan and Boorman, as far as on-set communication is concerned, the rules change every time.
“I have been working with directors that don’t talk to you. Not because they don’t want to, but because they don’t need to. Tim Burton is a good example of that,” he says. “He doesn’t say much, but once you see his set, you go: ‘I get it, this is Tim Burton.’ Patrice Chéreau asked me to be there for all the rehearsals with the actors. Which is a good thing, but there was never any rehearsal. It was a huge lecture on the meaning of the script and nobody talked, except for Patrice,” he laughs.
Mentioning Jean Cocteau’s “Beauty and the Beast” as an important inspiration (“I wanted to be in that world. I wanted to be in the movie, inside of the frame!”), Rousselot has embraced technological developments. Switching to digital for “The Nice Guys” and following it with effects-heavy “Fantastic Beasts” franchise.
“I was doing some work with [colorist] Yvan Lucas and he screened the test that was done for ‘Hugo,’ which was shot on Alexa. He said: ‘This is the end of film.’ It was not quite the end of it, thank God, but when something new comes along, and it’s good, why not use it?,” he says.
“For the first 10 or 15 years of your career you just learn, and then you can apply this knowledge for the rest of your life. That’s one way to do it. Or you can start every film knowing nothing. I am ready to dump everything I have no use for – I don’t even use bloody Chinese lanterns anymore! Nothing is sacred.”