The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents January 2011 Return to Table of Contents
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Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC
Short Takes
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Irritu on Method

I don’t know if I’m a masochist, but I hate soundstages, and not only because I think that they will never represent reality correctly. There’s something about the texture, the reality of walls, the smell, the story of them, the vibe. Even if the builder creates sets exactly the same, the sets don’t have soul. I think reality can never be matched in that sense. The other reason I shoot all my films on location is that there’s something uncomfortable about locations that, in a way, helps everybody feel they are in real territory and not making a film. I like that, and I think it’s a very effective psychological environment.

You know, I’m not interested in reality; I’m interested in the truth of the universe that I try to portray. Like many others, I am obsessive, meticulous, a perfectionist, and as an exquisite neurotic I can be unbearable as a director because I demand whatever number of takes to get what I, the character and the film need. (You can ask the actors. Ha, ha!)

I wanted to shoot Biutiful in chronological order because that not only helps the actors travel correctly, but also helps me and Rodrigo and the rest of the crew really understand where we are in time and space, which is what a film is really made of. Film, for me, is made of the tension and rhythm that one image creates against another, and if all of us are traveling in time and space with the characters, we suddenly begin to be affected by the film. And I have to tell you that after three months of shooting, we were completely invested. We were living the experience, and that made a big difference in the final result.

It’s very difficult to describe Biutiful because in it, I played with elements that are new for me. It’s a film that explores a timeless question — Where do we go when we die? — in the very specific and complex time we are all living. It is close to a tragedy in the classical sense, but it also has a metaphysical element, and we don’t know exactly the division between reality and illusion. Visually, that was an element of the film that was very difficult to find the right balance for; I wanted to create a perfume of the metaphysical element, but I didn’t want to take the film into another territory.

If I use musical analogies, I would say that Amores Perros is rock ’n’ roll, 21 Grams is jazz, Babel is operatic, and Biutiful is a requiem. The visual grammar of this film was very delicate and sophisticated because it had to combine the social, the physical, the metaphysical and a hyper-realistic approach. To me, Biutiful is by far Rodrigo’s most lyrical and poetic work. Realistically and metaphorically, he found light in the darkest places possible.

Over the years, Rodrigo and I have developed a communication level that is not only effective and very productive, but also very profound. We skip all those things that you normally have to go through when you start collaborating with someone. We just go straight to the DNA. 


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