The International Film Festival Rotterdam presented lauded French cinematographer Hélène Louvart with the Robby Müller Award on Sunday. A collaboration between IFFR, the Netherlands Society of Cinematographers (NSC) and Andrea Müller-Schirmer, Müller’s wife, the award was founded in 2020, two years after his death, and aims to honor image-makers who have “created an authentic, credible and emotionally striking visual language throughout their oeuvre.”

To mark the special occasion, Louvart presented a masterclass at IFFR, guiding an eager audience through some of her work in films by Win Wenders, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Alice Rohrwacher. The director was also gifted a video containing loving testimonials by some of the aforementioned directors plus others such as Karim Aïnouz, Léonor Serraille and Eliza Hittman. Rohrwacher’s words were a highlight, with the filmmaker finishing her praise of Louvart by saying she loved her dear friend, with whom she collaborated in all of her films “more than cinema.”

During the masterclass, clips from eight films shot by Louvart were screened and discussed in detail, with the cinematographer dwelling on the various styles and approaches employed by her over the years. “I like working with different people as much as possible. Of course, it’s the same tools, but it’s a way to adapt and for me to understand that there isn’t only one way of doing cinema. I cannot say that one director is better than another,” she said.

The high-spirited Louvart candidly spoke about the many different ways in which directors work in collaboration with their cinematographers. “We worked together a lot. We ran scene by scene until everything was clear,” she said of working with Gyllenhaal in the actor’s directorial debut “The Lost Daughter.” “Then, when COVID restrictions were lifted, we went through every scene again. I thought it was strange that it was so, so precise. But I understood after because when we started to shoot, Maggie was concentrating on the acting. So, if she changed her mind, she trusted me, because I was responsible for all the technical parts.”

Louvart continued to praise her experience on the set of “The Lost Daughter,” particularly when it came to the quality and commitment of the cast, which includes prominent names such as Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson and Ed Harris. “I discovered another world, how to work with a cast when they are all so wonderful. They all knew their lines and everything, and I have to say it made my job slightly easier because I could make mistakes. Nobody would see it. Because when Olivia Colman is in front of you, even if the light isn’t good or the frame is not perfect, nobody sees it. So not everything is on your shoulders because they are just so good that even if I got five shadows… [laughter] No, just kidding because I’d never do five shadows!”

The final quip was received with roaring laughter by the audience, who was primed to the joke by Louvart’s repeated mentions of her greatest peeve. Speaking on the technical difficulties of shooting the dance-themed documentary “Pina” with German director Wim Wenders, the cinematographer jokingly emphasized: “Double shadows are something I cannot stand. Three, four, five shadows? Gross.”

Another recurring theme during the masterclass was the need for adaptability within cinematography. “It’s abortion. It’s a really strong subject and we only had 28 days to shoot a lot of scenes. We had to shoot very quickly, and to shoot quickly means shooting with strong decoupage, a very simple shortlist. We go directly to the goal,” said Louvart of shooting Hittman’s intimate drama “Never Rarely Sometimes Always.”

Louvart went on to discuss the film’s pivotal scene in which the young protagonist, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), undergoes an extensive questionnaire at an abortion clinic. “Eliza decided to shoot with non-actors. This was a 14-page scene, which is longer than 10 minutes, and we were shooting on super 16. We didn’t want to trap [Flanigan], but it was the most important scene in the film. We organized everything, we had very simple lighting and it was just the social worker and her, one camera on the table, not too close to the eye line, and I was sitting nearby and didn’t move. We had to do a second take for safety, but after the first one, I looked at Eliza and understood: it’s done.”

“Mother and Son” MK2 Films

The cinematographer finished the masterclass with a discussion on Serraille’s Cannes-selected “Mother and Son,” currently playing as part of the Limelight strand at IFFR. “Léonor is so shy. She had a perfect script and we spoke a lot about the shotlist and checked everything on location. Everything was prepared. I understood why afterwards. Léonor is a director who, if pushed by time to change anything, suddenly changes and has a huge intuition. I think that for her, to be so intuitive and to be in the moment, she needs to be incredibly well-prepped. The first time I met her I felt this intuition, when you work with someone so intuitive you are constantly surprised by their decisions.”

When asked if she could offer a piece of advice for the young professionals entering the field, Louvart had the answer on the tip of her tongue: “never do the same as somebody else. We have to trust what we are doing.”