Shot in 2-perf on Kodak 35mm film by French cinematographer Eric Gautier AFC, director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth (La Vérité) explores the fabric of contemporary family relationships through the stormy reunion between a daughter and her actress mother. Starring Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche, the bittersweet and highly-acclaimed movie is Kore-eda's first film set outside Japan and not in his native language. Its successful realization called on implicit trust between cast and crew, along with resolute faith in celluloid, to deliver the desired result.
The narrative centers on Fabienne (Deneuve), one of the greatest and most revered stars of French cinema. However, the ageing celebrity has a problematic relationship with her daughter Lumir (Binoche), a budding screenwriter who lives in New York. When Lumir and her actor husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) return to Paris with their young daughter (Clémentine Grenier) to celebrate the publication of her mother’s new memoir, things rapidly come to a head. As autumn turns to winter, their reunion quickly turns confrontational when truths and untruths are revealed, and feelings about love and resentment spill over.
The Truth, which had a budget of around €6M Euros, was selected as the opening film at the 76th Venice International Film Festival, where it premiered on August 28, 2019 and garnered a host of positive reviews. It is set for worldwide release in spring 2020.
Kore-eda is a multi-award-winning director, producer, screenwriter and editor, with more than a dozen feature films shot on 16mm and 35mm film to his credit. These include Nobody Knows (2004), Still Walking (2008) and After the Storm (2016). He won the Jury Prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival for Like Father, Like Son and won the Palme d'Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival for Shoplifters.
Principal photography on The Truth took place across 43 shooting days from October 4 to December 12, 2018, in the Montparnasse and Denfert-Rochereau districts of Paris’ 14th arrondissement. Sets were also built at Epinay Studios in northern Paris. Communication between Kore-eda and key collaborators, including Gautier, was via a translator, physically-motioned instruction and watercolor storyboards, ably sketched by the director.
“Kore-eda is a master storyteller, and his narrative was imbued with sensitivity and emotional intelligence,” says Gautier, whose own celluloid credits include The Motorcycle Diaries (dir. Walter Salles), Into the Wild (dir. Sean Penn), Intimacy (dir. Patrice Chéreau), and the opening episodes of the forthcoming Netflix jazz series The Eddy (dir. Damien Chazelle).
“As we discussed the script, it rapidly became clear that while the story is a tragic tale in which strong, biting emotions run deep within the characters, Kore-eda wanted the visuals to be softly and gently rendered – for the audience to feel a natural sense of glamour, ageing beauty, costume and the locations through the texture of the filmed image.”
He adds, “It was also very important to Kore-eda to feel the progression of the story through different seasons, from golden fall to frosty winter, in the final result. We were both on the same page in our shared belief that only celluloid film would be the right format to capturing those vital visual ingredients. Like many of the best directors do, he gently guided the actors and myself as to what he wanted, rather than being absolutely precise, and gave us complete trust and freedom to create his vision.”
Gautier framed The Truth in 1.85:1 aspect ratio using ARRICAM ST and LT 35mm cameras, and with Leitz Summilux prime lenses ranging, most of the time, between 25mm to 40mm in focal length. In keeping with Kore-eda’s renowned style, camera movement was kept simple, straightforward and discreet from either the tripod or the dolly.
“Using slightly wider angled lenses for this film delivered an on-screen proximity to the actors that is more like the real-life experience of our human eyes,” Gautier explains, “The Leitz lenses brought a nice level of contrast and accuracy to the image that looked natural, but never harsh, on our actors, especially our female leads.”
Embracing Kore-eda’s desire for a sense of texture in the image, Gautier elected to shoot The Truth in 2-perf, shooting KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 uncorrected for all day/night and interior/exterior scenes.
“I initially thought about shooting in Super 16mm but felt the larger 2-perf 35mm frame would give the best balance between texture and the faithful rendition of skin tones, costume, location and change-of-season,” he remarks. “Also, shooting 2-perf 35mm means the run-time of the magazine is doubled, so it is amazingly cost-effective in terms of stock and processing.
“I wanted to keep things very simple stock-wise, so I settled on shooting The Truth with just the 5219 500T. Paris can be quite dark, especially at the time of year we were shooting, and the 500T as it is an extremely versatile filmstock for all manner of day/night and interior/exterior situations. It has a wonderful wide latitude that lets you see into the deepest shadows and produces highlights that never looked clipped – all while maintaining beautiful grain structure and color rendition.”
The 35mm camera negative was developed in the film processing baths of Hiventy before the circle takes were given a 4K scan. The final color grade was performed at Ike No Koi in Paris, where Gautier worked in collaboration with color grader Isabelle Julien.
“Celluloid remains much more visually interesting and pleasing than digital, and it was perfectly brilliant for this production,” Gautier concludes. “Film is always so good for the intimacy of a close-up, the rendition of skin tones and the depiction of natural subtleties.
“And, by its nature as a precious resource, film brings collaborators together in an atmosphere of mutual trust and determination. Unlike the dysfunctional family we see on-screen, and despite the language barrier for Kore-eda with the cast and crew, we created a spirit of togetherness on set that was incredible to be part of. I am very happy with the result that is so beautiful to behold and brutal to contemplate.”