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DP Yann Maritaud on Slalom

Yann Maritaud is a cinematographer known for his work on Un Triomphe, Ceasefire, and Stars by the Pound. Having previously collaborated with director Charlène Favier on a number of short films, Yann recently shot Favier’s feature film, Slalom. I spoke with Yann about his DP inspirations, collaborating with Charlène Favier, shooting on the Alexa Mini, and the use of red in Slalom.

How did you get your break in the industry? Where did you train as a cinematographer?

Before shooting my first features films, I did a lot of short films, maybe 50 or 60. That was exciting and perfect training. And such a pleasure to follow some of the shorts directors to their first features. My first steps on a feature film as a DP was a collaboration with Tom Stern on Ceasefire (Emmanuel Courcol, 2016). I also observed and trained about making light during my first jobs on sets, as electrician or gaffer.

Who are your DP heroes/inspirations?

There are so many, but the first ones whose cinematography made a strong impression on me during my studies were Darius Khondji, Nestor Almendros, Roger Deakins, Sean Bobbit, Mikhail Kirchman,…

You shot Charlène Favier's shorts Odol Gorri (2018), Omessa (2015) and Free Fall (2012) before collaborating on Slalom. How did you first get involved with Charlène? Yes, and we also shot together a music video and another short Amir & Léa. I met Charlene for Free Fall, her first short film. It was a last minute chance to collaborate together on this short, she call me one week before! I remember that I arrived and met her the day before the shooting, we did some quick locations scouting and we matched immediately!

What were your initial conversations with Charlène about the look of Slalom?

I cannot remember when and what was our initial conversations about Slalom, because she told me about the movie when it was still just an idea in her mind, many years before the shooting. But the look of Slalom is the continuity of our previous collaborations. An important step was the shooting of Odol Gorri one year before Slalom, with the same actress, Noée Abita. The film deals with the same issues, sexual abuse and consent, and it was a laboratory for us to try some cameras, lenses, light directions…

What creative references did you look at? What did these creative references inspire aesthetically for this film?

There are not main references, we pick up a lot of inspirations everywhere, but I can remember some of our best crushes, essentially for the way of filming: Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, 2011), Lore (Cate Shortland, 2012) or Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009). And there is one photographer who inspired us a lot: Todd Hido. His photographs look like paintings, often bathed in mist or capturing the emotion in the eyes of his models are very close to the way we imagined Liz in these mountain set.

Slalom was shot on the Alexa Mini. Why did you choose this camera? Was there a benefit to being able to have a more mobile build for the skiing sequences?

For this shooting I had two requirements about the camera I’d use: First, I needed a compact camera to be easy to carry in the mountain and because I had a very small (but talented) crew. Second, I needed a camera that was reliable and robust, a camera I could trust to handle snow and sub-zero temperatures. So the Alexa mini seemed to be the only option. If I have considered only the picture quality, I would have loved to shoot this film in Sony f65, but we could not have done half of Slalom’s shots with this kind of heavy camera!

Yann Maritaud behind the scenes of Slalom

How did you shoot the skiing sequences in the film?

The Alexa Mini allowed us to shoot the skiing sequences with the same camera (and the same lenses) than the rest of the film, and it was great because it was very important for us to keep the same image texture and way of filming: very close to the main character. So, we’d done a lot of tests, with snowmobile, Stab-one… and finally we find a great ski camera operator who was able to shoot it with a handheld camera. This guy was amazing and had the skills to follow the professional skiers in icy and vertiginous slopes while I drank my cup of hot chocolate sitting at the edge of the slope.

Which lenses did you use, and why?

We shot in anamorphic with the B Series by Panavision. We had the opportunity to shoot Odol Gorri with these lens and were very enthusiastic about the look of this old anamorphic lenses. I’m usually a fan of vintage lenses, especially on digital cameras with too many Kilo pixels for me, and I found here, lenses with a real personality. The characteristics of anamorphic are visible (bokeh, flares,…) , but not so much, and the texture of the skin is interesting for me: shaped and soft enough to don’t need to use diffusion filter. During Slalom’s prep, we did some lens tests with other anamorphic lenses and spherical ones, but we were still in love with the B Series.

Use of red is spellbinding in Slalom, especially as the film progresses. The poster image is a particular beauty: cold blue mountains behind a window in the background; the two lead characters (played by Renier and Abita) in red in the foreground. How did this image come about, and how did you choose to use red in this manner?

During our conversations, it became clear that it was important for us to find a way to characterise Liz universe with a strong, lively and primary colour. We appreciate to star from a visual guidelines very basics. So Fred ski club’s is in blue tones, Liz’s state of mind boils in red and between them the immaculate white of the snow (but obviously, nothing to do with the French flag!). During the film, as the coach's influence extends over his young ski champion, the red light infiltrates the image as an echo of Liz's state of mind. When she is totally lost, after being sexually abused, the red becomes completely impressionistic, as in the sequence you mention. At one point, we wondered if we were not unconsciously making a modern adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood.

Also, we used other more discreet methods to show Liz's descent into hell. For example, during the scene in the mini-bus where Fred abuses Liz for the first time, we shot this scene in a studio (it takes place on an ice driving circuit). I filmed the real set of the circuit and projected it with a video projector on the background of the mini-bus. During the two minutes that the scene takes, there is a long fade to black of the background, so at the end Liz is totally surrounded by darkness. The viewer cannot and should not realize this, but it adds a lot to the feeling of uneasiness at the end of the scene, and helps to be in emphasis with her emotions.

Check out our piece on Slalom here:

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