Bergman Island Journal — Part IV

Denis Lenoir, ASC, AFC, ASK’s updates on the making of this unique project set on Fårö, the Swedish island where Ingmar Bergman shot four features, lived, died and is buried.

Denis Lenoir, ASC, AFC, ASK

The cinematographer’s updates on the making of this unique project set on Fårö, the Swedish island where Ingmar Bergman shot four features, lived, died and is buried.

Production images courtesy of the author

Editor’s note: This production diary will unfold over the following days in multiple parts (starting here), while a more formal interview with the cinematographer can be found here.

Week 1
Monday, August 6

On Saturday night, not everyone yet arrived on the island, we had a small gathering, Sancerre and Côte du Rhône wines, delicious little canapés in the glorious setting and light of L’Albatros.

But now we are filming, finally, yeah!!! I asked for an extra half hour of prep time because it’s the first day and I’ve never worked with this crew before, but we are ready in due time, at 8 am, for a track, the first one of many in this film. We are filming outside Fårö church when Chris (Vicky Krieps) meets Hampus (Hampus Nordenson), a local who will show her the island.

At 10 am we are laying our fifth track. One fixed shot after it and we go to lunch in a meadow nearby. The food is simple, I would say minimal, particularly compared to the American catering where there is always so much choice, but good enough for me. Because the sun is out and we are not sure it will hold, we then decide to film the scene around Ingmar Bergman’s grave before the church interior.

Crazy contrast as the actors are under the trees; I’m betting that Kodak will hold everything, but still, I’m a little worried. No risk of clipping, of course, but I may lose too much color in the overexposed zones, sky, and golden fields. 

We end the day — 45 minutes ahead of schedule — in the church with two more tracks, 11 in all today. Témoudjine and his guys (actually a best girl grip and a man) are going to be the heroes of this movie. 

Tuesday, August 7
I wake up at 4:00 am thinking I should have put some black on the window behind the camera when filming the last shot inside the church yesterday, angry with myself for thinking of that 12 hours later. It is not, as it is (as it will be forever), that ugly. Actually, the light falling on Chris when she passes closer to the camera is nice, but it would have been more visually interesting.

Interior of Hampus’ car, two shots from behind the seats: I have a slider installed which allows me to move in the same shot from an angle on Chris as she is grabbing a bottle of cider, opens it, drinks from it and passes the bottle to Hampus — I then slide the camera from the left of the car to the right — to an angle on Hampus. Pleased with the result, way more interesting than the hand-held shots we would have normally done and quite satisfying to get that in one shot.

The sky turns gray, and Mia decides to change the program and film something else. Bold move, as our equipment is already scattered in three different locations, the first one we are on and the planned next two where tracks are already being laid. We go instead to the east side of the island, with long, deserted pebble beaches, where Chris is supposed to look by herself for Ingmar Bergman’s house, vague map in hand, until she gets lost and finally — we will film that another day — gets back home.

Wednesday, August 8
The day is expected to be sunny. But being cautious and secretly pretty sure that the weather (which has been abnormally sunny and dry since April) is going to change before we are done here, I suggested to Mia yesterday that we should film as much as we can today, including possible extra hours. The original schedule was all built around Chris riding her bicycle, approaching a beach, walking on the beach in search of Bergman’s house and finally discovering it. Fourteen shots with a lot of tracks, a few pans, and, a new toy for Mia, a Gator (John Deere four wheeler ATV) allowing us to film Chris when she is riding her bicycle.

We are flying, and by midmorning we are already planning to shoot three more shots which were scheduled for tomorrow (Chris on the other side of the house), knowing that if we film them today it will be under the same matching sunlight. At lunch time, we decide that if the weather holds and if we keep going fast we will add three more shots on a road of Chris and her bicycle. 

Everything happened accordingly, with a director incredibly well-prepared, a trio of close support around her — Marie, Clémentine and myself — a very small crew which can be driven like a sports car and not like an ocean liner, and, last but not least, an incredible grip and electric team, six in all (6!) but working hand-in-hand. Since I’m not lighting anything yet, the electricians have been helping the grips in their work. 

But tonight, knowing that tomorrow we will be in I.B.’s house and that, at last, he will have to light a little, Dirk was sharing with me that he was happy to be an electrician again.

Thursday, August 9
First interior of the film — Ingmar Bergman’s house, no less! I want to give the feeling that this house is beautiful but also frozen in time, (without being spooky). To achieve that, I want the light to be as if only coming from outside, with the interior sometimes bright and even sunny and sometimes dark (which is OK as long as you can feel light in the depth. It is important to show how much it is open on the outside, pines and sea, so we are using ND 1.2 on some windows. 

We are working with our usual tracks and rather precise framing so when, before lunch, we go into handheld mode (and God knows how much I love to shoot handheld) and I try to keep the frame as steady as possible I can’t help thinking this is so messy and dirty compared to what we’ve done so far. Obviously it could be Steadicam, but Mia has a genuine reluctance towards this tool.

At the end of the afternoon, I have a brief talk with Dirk, encouraging him to be more proactive, more like an American gaffer than a European chief electrician. We’ll see tomorrow if he steps up to the plate.

Friday, August 10
Dramatic change of weather — dark skies, white rolling waves, furious pines — for the first day with actor Anders Danielsen Lie, who plays Joseph. During the week, I’ve progressively discovered that Vicky belongs to the small family of actors who are at every instant totally aware of where the camera is, where she is herself in space and where the other actors are in the shot. It starts with shifting her weight on one side to allow the camera to see better another actor, it continues with doing “bananas” so as not to be too close to the camera and being hidden by a door frame, and today she went up to suggest to Mia some modifications in the blocking so the camera and the actors’ moves look more fluid. At that moment I thought, “Ah, she might direct someday…”

Sunday, August 12
Small gathering on the beach — it’s windy, cold and there are brief showers — to give a look at the fake “meduses” (jellyfish) Robin, the prop manager, has made. They look okay, but they are all more or less the same size and we don’t have enough of them. And when held in the hands close to the camera, I’m pretty sure they will look totally fake.

To be continued in Part V. Catch up with Part III here.

A more formal interview with the cinematographer can be found here.

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