Cannes 2014 – Freeform Filmmaking

thefilmbook by Benjamin BThis post continues my impressions of the 2014 Cannes International Film Festival.


The Cannes Film Festival offers a unique view of the current state of world cinema. In 2014 I was struck by the cinematic forms of the films offered.

Farewell to Language -thefilmbook-

Farewell to Language by Jean-Luc Godard



all-digital projection

Cannes’ Director Thierry Frémeaux confirmed that, for the first time in the Festival’s history, all the films in competition were being projected digitally from DCPs. The only exception, said he, was a special screening of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction — with cinematography by Andrzej Sekuła — which won the Palme d’Or twenty years ago, and which was projected in 35mm at Tarantino’s request. Pulp Fiction changed the form of narrative film by introducing non-linear storytelling and lengthy, street-smart monologues.

Quentin Tarantino press conference3 -thefilmbook

Writer/director Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino hates digital projection and stated in his press conference that “digital projection and DCPs is the death of cinema as I know it”, describing it as merely “television in public”. The director went on to hope that the next generation will appreciate what was lost, and that, like vinyl audio records, film will make a comeback.

I disagree and believe that a page of cinema has turned, and 35mm prints will not be coming back. However, for now at least, film negative remains a shooting alternative alongside digital, which gives today’s filmmakers the widest, richest range of possible cinematic forms in the history of cinema. And it was great to see the distinctive movies in Cannes exploit these possibilities in both digital and film.


Tarantino on Leone’s innovations

Tarantino has always been devoted to reworking cinema history, and it was fitting to see him introduce the Festival’s closing film: Sergio Leone’s 1964 classic Fistful of Dollars, with cinematography by Massimo Dallamano. The movie was the first of the Spaghetti Western genre.

The Dollars Trilogy - Sergio Leone -thefilmbook-

The “Dollars Trilogy” by Sergio Leone

Tarantino presented Sergio Leone as a pioneer of “genre kinetic action cinema”, and emphasized that the Italian director was the first to bring music to the foreground instead of the background. Leone, said Tarantino, was also the first director to commonly edit to the musical beat, and therefore a grandfather of sorts of MTV.

Sergio Leone was indeed a great innovator who developed new cinematic forms with deep-frame compositions, extreme close-ups, swooping camera movements, editing of action, and “foreground music”. All of these elements are apparent in the duel scene from Once Upon A Time in the West, with cinematography by the great Tonino delli Colli, AIC, and music by the great Ennio Morricone:

The duel scene in Once Upon a Time in the West by Sergio Leone, with cinematography by Tonino delli Colli and music by Ennio Morricone
watch on YouTube

Sergio Leone’s westerns were shot in 2-Perf, with half the film-stock cost of normal 4-Perf. 2-Perf also facilitated a wide-screen 2.35:1 format. It’s great to see that, fifty years later, the wide-screen ratio is alive and kicking. Indeed it was very common among the films screened in Cannes. So prints have disappeared but the forms of the screen have remained with us.


1:1 in 35mm

Xavier Dolan is a French-Canadian wunderkind who directed his first film, I Killed My Mother, at the age of twenty; it was screened in the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight program. His second film, Heartbeats, and third film, Laurence Anyways, were in the Un Certain Regard sidebar in Cannes in 2010 and 2012. Now twenty-five, Dolan presented his fifth film, Mommy, in this year’s Main Competition.

Xavier Dolan -thefilmbook-

Writer/director Xavier Dolan

The young gay filmmaker is an intriguing figure. He cited Titanic as a major inspiration for his arthouse movies, along with director Paul Thomas Anderson, but feels closest “visually and humanly” to Gus van Sant, admiring his “formal freedom” and ability to “not always be linear in his narrative structure”.

Mommy is mostly composed in a unique, square “1:1” ratio. Dolan recalled that this was suggested by his cinematographer André Turpin, CSC, a leading French-Canadian DP who also directs. In an interview with Brigitte Barbier for the AFC, Turpin admits: “it’s a very restrictive format… you have to be ready to reframe at any moment, the actor doesn’t have much room! … These frames refer to photographic portraits.”

Trailer for Mommy by Xavier Dolan, shot in 1:1 by André Turpin
watch on YouTube

Dolan and Turpin shot Mommy in 3-Perf 35mm film. Turpin says that this allowed him “the possibility to make extreme images, in the highlights and in colorimetry. Technically, one can say that you have a better image digitally, with more latitude, but the result is less pleasing in overexposure.” Some criticize Mommy‘s length and extensive use of musical montages, but most critics acknowledge Dolan’s exuberant and inventive exploration of cinematic forms.


the elastic frame

There are a few great examples of 35mm films that include different aspect ratios. Biutiful by Alejandro Inarritu with cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, superbly combines 1.85 and anamorphic lenses and frame sizes. But I feel that it is digital projection that has facilitated a variety of aspect ratios, just as DI has enabled more experiments in looks.

In the past the choices of formats were dictated by the limited options available on the film projector. A 1.85:1 film required a 1.85 aperture plate in the projector, whereas 2.39:1 implied an anamorphic lens on the projector. The aspect ratio is now emerging as another aesthetic decision.

Dolan’s film demonstrates that, with digital projection, there is no longer a technical reason to frame in 1.33, 1.85 or 2.39. It’s now simply a matter of tradition. Filmmakers are now free to change the aspect ratio freely, going from one to the other, or opting for new proportions. The cinema frame has become elastic.


bad 3D

Godard’s Farewell to Language (Adieu au langage) can be described as a 3D video art home movie. The film is a grab bag of philosophical puns and quotes, excerpts from film classics, a man and woman actor, and, colorized footage of Godard’s neighborhood in Switzerland and, mostly, his dog Roxie.

French trailer for Farewell to Language by Jean-Luc Godard
watch on YouTube

What I found most fun was the playful use of “bad 3D“, the kind that can give you a headache. Upon several occasions, the right-eye camera pans while the left-eye camera remains stationary, notably ending up with a naked woman in one eye and a naked man in the other, creating a visual and cognitive dissonance.



Jane Campion’s jury awarded the Festival’s Jury Prize jointly to Xavier Dolan and Jean-Luc Godard, the youngest and oldest filmmakers in the Competition. Campion mentioned the debt that filmmakers owe to Godard, so the prize was partly to thank the older filmmaker for his New Wave films, starting with Breathless in 1960, which offered new cinematic forms, including newsreel-style handheld camera, real locations and jump cuts.

But the prize was also I think a way for the jury to salute the formal inventiveness shared by the young prodigy and his wise-cracking elder. The Jury Prize acknowledged their approach to cinematic forms without traditional constraints, a kind of freeform cinema.

Here’s to continuing the formal innovations of filmmakers like Sergio Leone, Jean-Luc Godard, Quentin Tarantino and Xavier Dolan.

Hello new language!.


Cannes Festival -thefilmbook-

Cannes Festival before a screening (photo by Benjamin B).



Festival de Cannes: website
(select from 1 of 8 languages on upper right)

YouTube: Quentin Tarantino Press Conference

Wikipedia: Sergio Leone
YouTube: Interview with Clint Eastwood about Fistful of Dollars

American Cinematographer: article on Biutiful by Alejandro Iñarritu with DP Rodrigo Prieto

Wikipedia: Xavier Dolan
YouTube: Mommy Cannes Press Conference
AFC website: Conversation with André Turpin about Mommy, directed by Xavier Dolan
Variety: Mommy Review by Peter Debruge

YouTube: Excerpt from Mommy
YouTube: Colorblind by Counting Crows

Variety: review of Godard’s Goodbye to Language by Scott Foundas

thefilmbook blog: Cannes 2013 – The Gay Palme
thefilmbook blog: Cannes 2014 – Women Filmmakers


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About Benjamin B

Benjamin B

Benjamin B (a.k.a. Benjamin Bergery) is a journalist, teacher and media artist. He is a European correspondent for American Cinematographer and the author of the book Reflections: 21 Cinematographers at Work. He produces seminars and workshops on the art and technology of cinema; his teaching experience includes posts at MIT and USC. He is the founding editor of Lumières, published by the AFC (French society of cinematographers). He lives in Paris. Email: