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AWAY FROM HER

Creating The Look
Award-winning cinematographer Luc Montpellier first worked with Sarah Polley on her short film, I Shout Love, and worked with her again on The Shield Stories, a Canadian television series for which Polley wrote and directed one episode. 

Understanding the vital role winter plays in the story, Montpellier wanted to capture the luminescent beauty of the season instead of focusing on its harshness. "My intention was to bathe Fiona's and Grant's relationship with cool winter source light and stay away from warm, romantic clichés,” he explains. 

The cinematographer also sought to modify the filmmaking style according to the story's locations. "In Grant's and Fiona's home, the scenes play out within precisely composed frames, like a series of still photographs, letting the actors move about freely. The photographic style changes when we arrive at Meadowlake. There, the Steadicam conveys Grant's uneasiness with the place as he deals with the sorrow of what lies ahead for his wife.”

Montpellier's biggest challenge, however, was finding a way to express the shifting textures of human memory. "I shot segments on a hand-held, hand-cranked Paillard Bolex H-16 converted to Super-16,” he explains. "The Bolex's frame registration gave the images an un-fluid quality, sometimes full of clarity, and other times clouded by emotion, that I believe mirrors my experience with memory. Sarah and I then worked together on the computer to digitally manipulate the sequences to explore the look of memory.”

While Environment Canada reported that January 2006 was the mildest January in recorded history for many locations in Ontario, the first morning of principal photography at Lake of Bays near Bracebridge, Ontario began at a brisk minus 33 Celsius. "Everyone's eyelashes had crystallized,” recalls Weiss. "We were shooting on a frozen lake and it was exquisite. From the beginning, we wanted to capture rural Canada in a cinematic style. These locations, especially the exteriors, were crucial to understanding the characters and the life they set up for themselves. They made the choice to make life simpler. But life and history aren't always simple.”

Alice Munro's work is a testament to society and culture in rural and small town Ontario, Canada. For production designer Kathleen Climie, this meant revisiting locations of her youth. "Marian's house is a perfect example,” she says. "Even though the house wasn't described in the script, I felt exactly what that house was like. When we went to see it, it turned out that this was identical to the house that Sarah grew up in, same floor plan, same suburban neighborhood.”

Climie carefully considers the characters' psychologies before designing the space they inhabit. For Marian, she knew the interior should be very structured. For Fiona, her instinct told her that the cottage be decorated with a mind towards comfort. "Fiona has curtains,” explains Climie. "Marian has drapes.” 

The move to Meadowlake required a delicate shift in perspective. Says Climie, "Meadowlake, the location, was the embodiment of the transition in Fiona's life from outdoors to indoors, from reality to a memory of that reality. So we created an oversized nature mural in the facility visiting area which became a perfect metaphor for that journey.”

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