May 22, 2013

Film review. An analysis of the Cinematography of Tomboy by Céline Sciamma

This week I've seen Tomboy, a film written and directed by Céline Sciamma, which finally arrives to cinemas two years after the première in France. It's a little gem of the independent film industry shot in only 20 days with a crew of 14 people (!!!).

The plot. A 10 year old girl moves with her family to a new neighbourhood. Because of her look she is mistaken for a boy and she goes along with it. But the lie can't last forever. The film focus on the transgender identity problem following the main character experiences and difficulties in the relationship with her new friends.

Cinematography: Crystel Fournier
Camera: Canon Eos 7D
Lenses: Zeiss
Aspect ratio:1.85:1
Format: mov
Film Stock: -

Crystel Fournier chose a Canon Eos 7D to shoot Tomboy. I'm not sure if that choice was made for aesthetic reasons  rather than for budget ones. We have to remember that the movie was shot in a very short period of time and with a super reduced crew, the one you normally employ for the making of a music video. Furthermore the 7D was announced less than one year before the shooting and Black Swan had just been partly shot with this camera. Anyway, Fournier tried to make the best use of it.

The first thing we notice is that the image is not that hard as a DSLR camera normally records it: he added some kind of diffusion, probably using the old trick of the stockings in front of the lenses. The look Fournier created works well with the story: a warm tone creates a sense of proximity between the character and the viewer, the style he moves the camera with reminds the one of a docu film, the camera is always placed at the children height, helping with the connections with the characters, lights always illuminate from the top, a set-up that adds realism to the film, even if in some scenes the rim lighting (which endows volume to subjects separating them from the background) is not as subtle as it should be, breaking the atmosphere of reality.

The low budget is strongly noticed with the light employed. The luminance of indoor scenes, where fluorescent light banks have been used, is very low, forcing Fournier to shoot with very big apertures which create a deep of field too much shallow, an aesthetic that became very fashionable after the first video recording DSLRs  were launched, but it definitely does not always help cinematography. In Tomboy it ruins the sense of realism declared by the chosen style. It is more evident in the external locations where Fournier keeps the aperture wide open and rarely closes it even with harsh light. The shallow depth of field also caused some focus problems to the focus puller. 
The lack of  latitude of the 7D is well compensated by Fournier who always diffused the sun light to reduce the contrast and taking the most from the Eos sensor ( in these scenes we find the best looking images of the film) even though when he had to shoot in full sunlight the sensor shows its limitations and some areas of the frame are blown,  which not always goes with the mood of the scene.
Fournier doesn't give up side dolly movements in his cinematography, causing rolling shutter problem, typical of a DSLR CMOS sensor; but, for once, the wide open aperture helped him: the blurred backgrounds made the rolling shutter less noticeable.

Tomboy is a well directed and impressive film, its cinematography could have been better but surely low budget problems didn't help. Considered this and the fact it was shot in solely 20 days and with children (which is not easy), it is a film worth watching and enjoying.


  1. Fournier is a woman, not a man.

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