REMEMBERING THE MASTERS: RAOUL COUTARD
Since its inception the International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography CAMERIMAGE has always focused on distinguishing those brilliant filmmakers who stayed in the shade of actors, directors or screenwriters - the cinematographers. We have shown their exceptional skills and visual sensitivity. We have acknowledged their input in the art of cinema. Together with them we observed the upcoming digital revolution.
The aim of “Remembering the Masters" is to accentuate the craft of all those brilliant cinematographers who passed away, and to provoke a discussion about the cinematic possibilities given by the films which over the years set the standards for what we watch today. „Remembering the Masters” became a celebrated Camerimage section, both by the industry professionals and the participants who do not work in the world of film. Throughout the years we have presented masterpieces shot by Jerzy Lipman, John Alcott, Zygmunt Samosiuk, Néstor Almendros, Gunnar Fischer, Kurt Weber, Haskell Wexler and Vilmos Zsigmond, among others.
This year we will screen five films shot by the late Raoul Coutard, the masterful French cinematographer and one of the founding fathers of the French "New Wave." At Camerimage, you will be able to watch the following films on the big screen:
- Breathless, dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 1960
- Lola, dir. Jacques Demy, 1961
- Jules and Jim, dir. François Truffaut, 1962
- Alphaville, dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 1965
- Crazy Pete, dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 1965
Raoul Coutard (1924-2016)
Raoul Coutard was one of the two cinematographers (the other being Henri Decaë) that shaped the visual aspect of the New Wave in 1960s French cinema. In contrast to the dull theatricality of many French movies of the time, the New Wave proposed taking the camera lens closer to real life. To achieve that, its cinematographers took advantage of new technology: high-speed (B&W) film; light, hand-held cameras; etc. Previously a war reporter, Coutard was well-equipped to combine cinema with reality.
Among the almost 80 feature films that Coutard worked on from 1956 to 2001, 17 were directed by ‘the pope of the New Wave’, Jean-Luc Godard; four – excluding a segment in Love at Twenty (1961) – were directed by François Truffaut. Compared to the continuously experimenting ‘pope’, Truffaut seemed like a traditionalist to Coutard. Due to their different approaches to filmmaking, Coutard’s photography in Godard’s films tends to be innovative, while Truffaut preferred more orthodox camera work. Godard and Coutard made a principle of shooting black-and-white films in the standard aspect ratio (1.37:1) and colour films, the first being the comedy-drama A Woman Is a Woman, in the widescreen CinemaScope format (2.35:1).
Raoul Coutard was born on 16th September 1924 in Paris. He wanted to be a chemist, but abandoned chemistry studies and switched to photography. He gained experience as a war photographer during the Indochina War (1946–1954) where he worked for Life and Paris Match, among others.
He became a cinematographer due to a... misunderstanding. He was offered a job as a photographer for the movie The Devil's Pass (1958) by director Pierre Schoendoerffer. It wasn’t until he entered the set that he learnt he was supposed to shoot the film with a movie camera, something he’d never done before! Still, he lived up to the task, even though he had to shoot in colour and in widescreen. His career milestone came with Godard’s debut – the masterpiece of the French New Wave – Breathless (1960). It was there that Coutard for the first time made extensive use of the cinematographic method that became his trademark: shooting with a dynamically moving hand-held camera using natural lighting.
Coutard’s technique should not be confused with his style, however, as those well familiar with his work point out. Coutard was able to adapt the style of his photography to the screenplay and the tone of a movie. The gloomy image of the futuristic city in Godard’s Alphaville (1965) is very different from the idyllic scenery of the director's Pierrot le Fou (1965), while the visual ethereality of Jacques Demy’s Lola (1961) stands in contrast to the journalist-like aggressiveness of Z (1969) by Costa-Gavras.
Coutard went on to collaborate with Godard on The Little Soldier (1963), The Carabineers (1963), Contempt (1963), A Married Woman (1964), and Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967). Following Weekend (1967), the two stopped working with each other, but reunited later for Godard’s two famous films: Passion (1982) and First Name: Carmen (1983). Apart from the aforementioned short film Love at Twenty, Coutard assisted Truffaut in making Shoot the Piano Player (1960), Jules and Jim (1962), The Soft Skin (1964), and The Bride Wore Black (1968).
Other notable films featuring Coutard’s cinematography include a documentary by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin titled Chronicle of a Summer (1961), The 317th Platoon (1965) and The Drummer Crab (1977) by Schoendoerffer, The Sailor from Gibraltar (1967) by Tony Richardson, Max, My Love (1986) by Nagisa Ōshima, and Philippe Garrel’s Wild Innocence (2001). This last film, black-and-white and very New Wave in spirit, was Coutard’s final work. His filmography also comprises more than 30 short films and documentaries. He received numerous awards, including a BAFTA nomination (The Sailor from Gibraltar), a César Award (The Drummer Crab), a César nomination and the Technical Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival (Passion), the Technical Prize at the Venice Film Festival (First Name: Carmen), the ASC International Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Manaki Brothers International Film Camera Festival in Bitola.
Coutard also engaged in directing. The most renowned of his three feature films – Hoa Binh (1970), about the Vietnam War – was nominated for the Academy Award® for Best Foreign Language Film and won the prize for Best First Work at the Cannes Film Festival. Raoul Coutard died on 8 November 2016 in Labenne, France, aged 92.