August 14, 2013

Film Review. An analysis of the cinematography of The Master by Paul Thomas Anderson.

Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia, Boogie Nights...) directed The Master, the first film to be shot entirely on 65mm using Panavision's System 65 camera, in more than 16 years, which at a time where digital rules is quite challenging.

The plot. Freddy Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) returns from navy service in World War II with mental disturbs. After struggling to reinsert himself in the society, he ends up in a cult getting involved with them and starting a peculiar relationship with his leader.

Cinematography: Mihai Malaimare Jr.
Camera: Panavision 65 HR Camera, Panavision Panaflex Millenium XL2, Panavision Panaflex System 65
Lenses: Panavision Ultra Speed Z-series MKII, Hasselblad, Kowa, Zeiss Jena
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Format: 65mm, 35mm
Film Stock: Kodak 5203 50D, Kodak 5207 250D, Kodak 5213 200T,  Kodak 5219 500T

Surprisingly, Paul Thomas Anderson doesn't rely on his habitual cinematographer for The Master; instead he offered Mihai Malaimare the job, who DP'd last three Coppola's features, all of them shot in digital. Anyway, Malaimare wasn't totally new to film: as he said in an interview, in Romania (his country) they still learn shooting on film. Initially, the cinematographer chose to shoot on 35mm and using 65mm for some portraits; but, after reviewing the first dailies, Anderson and Malaimare were just excited with the look of 65mm and decided to shoot the entire film with large format. The choice suits perfectly the story which develops in the years after WWII, recreating the same feeling of photographies of that time, most of them taken on Medium Format. He decided though, to shoot on 35mm some scenes, the more intimates ones, like the conversation between the two main actors on the boat. To minimize the change from one format to the other, Malaimare used Zeiss Jena lenses which smoothed a lot the transition although a difference in grain structure can be noticed. To get a  crispier look he used Hasselblad lenses which were modified to fit the Panavision camera. Depth of field, organic feel, details, clarity... All the characteristics of a 65mm film are present,  but what I miss is the potential it can offer: using a 65mm film for a movie full of medium and close shots is fair but reductive.
All of Anderson´s film are full of camera movements; well, everyone of them except The Master. The camera barely moves and the shots are quite long offering the actors all the time they need to do their job. The few camera movements are remarkable tough.
Light is natural and minimalist, always justified and soft, mostly bounced and coming from the ceilings. Sometimes the light sources are in the frame creating a nice great contrast, like the scene of the boat approaching the bridge at sunset. I like the way Malaimare played with colour temperature in some scenes: he created a contrast between the ambient light with bluish tones and the characters bathed in a soft orange light.
The Master is a film that remains too distant and cold, actors do a good job but they really never connect with the audience; it looks like Anderson didn't have anything to say and the story never hooks. Unfortunately the cinematography reflects these lacks: The Master is wonderfully lit but the light rarely transmits something.

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