Before shooting David Lowery’s medieval fantasy “The Green Knight,” which screens this week at EnergaCamerimage Film Festival, cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo watched every King Arthur movie he could find, he tells Variety.
“To me, these films always tend to be gray, desaturated. But we wanted to make something modern, also when it comes to the casting of Dev Patel as the lead.”
As Gawain leaves Camelot, forced to uphold his end of the challenge, Droz Palermo turned to “Apocalypse Now” for inspiration, finding some similarities between his ordeal and that of Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard.
“He also loses his mind over the course of this journey. We wanted it to be a bit hallucinatory, a bit psychedelic. I don’t think this film goes to extreme lengths in that respect, but it does get stranger and stranger. We kept wondering: ‘Will people think he has died?,’ ” he says, mentioning Vittorio Storaro’s use of color and lighting.
“You can feel the heat of the jungle. When Willard meets Colonel Kurtz, he is covered in sweat. I really wanted some of this feeling by the end of this movie.”
“The Green Knight” marks the second collaboration for Droz Palermo and Lowery after “A Ghost Story,” which gained notoriety thanks to its several-minute sequence of Rooney Mara devouring a pie following her lover’s tragic passing.
“I understood the value of that shot in ‘A Ghost Story.’ You can really go somewhere with her grief,” he says.
“This time, there was one shot of Gawain leaving Camelot on his horse, children running behind him, that I’ve questioned David on a couple of times. I didn’t see the value of its length. He was very firm about it, however. ‘Nope – it’s staying.’ Eventually, I noticed the subtleties in Dev’s performance. You can see his pride wearing away.”
Fluidity of time was another common thread between the two films.
“In ‘A Ghost Story’ time would accelerate, there could be a hundred years between the shots. Here, when Gawain finally gets to the Green Chapel, he imagines the future: he gets crowned, fathers a baby, sees it grow into a toddler. That felt very similar and it’s my favorite part. I love how much is said without a single word.”
Gawain’s many surprise encounters on his way to meet his match posed a tonal challenge, says Droz Palermo, admitting that originally, the film was supposed to be more comedic.
“It was going to open with Dev going down a spiral staircase, church bells ringing, it would be Christmas and he would throw up. Then, and we even shot it, he would look directly into the lens and wink. He is a wretch, a real piece of shit, but he just thinks he’s so charming,” he says.
“When he meets the Lord and the Lady [played by Joel Edgerton and Alicia Vikander], it really teetered on comedy. In the film, the scene of their farewell is quite aggressive. Joel grabs Dev’s face and kisses him, and it feels like it could get violent. Earlier, we were having a blast, but it just wasn’t landing. I really appreciate working with a writer-director who is willing to admit when something isn’t right and willing to admit that he is not exactly sure why. That’s such a gift.”
Despite its medieval setting, ecology also added a “nice layer” to the movie, says Droz Palermo, mentioning images of deforested areas and people felling trees.
“It’s modernity at its worst,” he notes.
“It was something we talked about: ‘How can we make Camelot grayer?’ There is nothing living within it and even King Arthur is rotting, he is at the end of his reign. But in the very first frame you see a bit of green creeping in. It’s still going to come, no matter how much you are trying to push it back.”
But it was the magical aspect of Gawain’s story that really captured his attention, granting him more freedom.
“When there is magic present, anything goes. That’s a fun place to be,” he says, praising the work of production designer Jade Healy and Małgosia Turzańska, the costume designer who tasked herself with making all the costumes out of vegan materials.
“I get to paint within the world they have already created.”