By Trevor Jones
Director Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest effort, The Favourite, employs risky cinematography techniques that ultimately distinguish the period piece from almost all other films.
In an interview with IndieWire, DP Robbie Ryan claimed that he was merely “a glorified camera operator.” Many of the photographic decisions were apparently made by Lanthimos, as he had a very specific vision for the film. Similar to The Revenant (2015), The Favourite was completely dependent on natural light. Luckily the royal estate that they shot at included massive windows that allowed heaps of light to pour in. This light really juxtaposed the dark tones of the castle’s tapestry and that made the actors pop in the frame. According to Ryan, the film’s luscious tones were in part realized by the 35mm Kodak stocks used on set. In the night scenes, candles were the sole sources of light, which sometimes led to the audience only seeing the characters’ faces amidst voids of negative space.
Lanthimos also favored wide lenses (10mm) and went to the greatest extreme to prove that: a 6mm fisheye lens. This decision makes sense because the beautiful production design begged to be indulged. It would be a waste to include such meticulous Victorian decor if it didn’t get any screen time. The Greek director is famous for the quirks in his films, but that usually refers to the dialogue and the characters (think Wes Anderson). In The Favourite, we see those quirks from a technical perspective, which is something I appreciate a lot.
An example of the 6mm fisheye lens. See the distortion in the left side of the frame?
Today, I feel that fewer filmmakers are taking risks when it comes to their film’s cinematography. Movies like Kill Bill, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), and Moonrise Kingdom are such memorable films because they creatively manipulate the camera. I hope to see Ryan and Lanthimos work together again because The Favourite revealed their willingness to be unconventional, and that’s a characteristic that will push cinema toward greater feats.