Javier Aguirresarobe, AEC, ASC brings a unique sensibility to his work. A master with more than 100 narrative films and six GOYA Awards to his credit, the Basque-born cinematographer has collaborated with Pedro Almodóvar (Talk to Her), Milos Forman (Goya’s Ghosts), John Hillcoat (The Road), James Ivory (The City of Your Final Destination), and Alejandro Amenábar (The Sea Inside).
In 2007, Aguirresarobe teamed with Woody Allen on Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The collaboration clicked, and the duo recently reunited for Blue Jasmine. “Prior to Vicky Cristina Barcelona, I studied the light and camera movement in Woody’s films,” says Aguirresarobe. “I found that almost all of them distilled to a similar style and way of storytelling. I saw a preference for warm tones. All of them obey a similar visual concept.
“From my point of view, the universe of Woody Allen possesses a very definite visual aesthetic that includes not only the photography but also the wardrobe, the production design, and the color palette,” he adds. “My goal was to comply with this aesthetic universe — the one he wishes for his movies — and also to help him to mold his language in the making of shots and sequences.”
The filmmakers agreed that film was the right choice. The entire movie was shot on KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219, utilizing ARRI/ZEISS Master Prime lenses.
Aguirresarobe says that texture is a very important concept in his approach. “It’s the texture of the film, but it’s also the texture of the light that is projected on the screen,” he explains. “That is one of the main elements, and it deeply affects all the other elements. To me, texture is what makes the difference between one cinematographer and another. The texture and the material depend on the story, of course. But when the story moves you, it motivates you to add your own personality to it.
“The special texture of color provided by KODAK Film is important to me, especially for skin tones and faithful reproduction of the true colors of the scene we are shooting. Blue Jasmine went to the DI process with such a base of color and thickness that we could gain access to the definitive tones very quickly. The negative provides an enormous flexibility at the color correction stage, and it provides a wonderful image texture.”
Lead actor Cate Blanchett worked with two different treatments in makeup, wardrobe and lighting. The first was for scenes depicting flashbacks to her life in New York City, where she lived an abundant existence. The second treatment is set in San Francisco, where she is searching for a new way of living. San Francisco is the setting for conflict, and New York is the setting for opulence.
“In both ambiences, she gets light that fits a leading actress,” says Aguirresarobe. “I wanted to paint an attractive, beautiful portrait even in the most dramatic moments. This was crucial considering the expressiveness and wonderful interpretation of this great actress throughout the movie. For me, it was a complete luxury to work with her day after day — an unforgettable experience.”
The approach to lighting grew organically from the story and locations. “Like Vicky, Blue Jasmine is not a comedy,” says Aguirresarobe. “It is a movie that holds a dramatic mood, coming close to an emotional realism. That concept drove me to raise natural and believable atmospheres.”
Natural sources predominate, and contrast is controlled. Lighting fixtures included KINO FLOs, some FRESNELs, and 4K and 1,800-watt HMIs. Intense mid-day sun was controlled with large silks.
The camera lived on the STEADICAM, following the characters almost throughout and sometimes necessitating iris control during the shot. “Our collaboration was focused on solving the equation of each sequence,” says Aguirresarobe. “How to move the camera and how to organize the choreography and the movements of the actors to tell the story with the highest level of expressiveness.”
Unlike Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which used a completely photochemical post path, Blue Jasmine went through a digital intermediate at Company 3 with colorist Stefan Sonnenfeld. The colors are more neutral, less warm. Also, the aspect ratio changed from Allen’s usual 1.85:1 to the wider 2.35:1. The format was 3-perf Super 35.
“We agreed that the more panoramic format would provide us with more flexibility in telling the story, especially in shooting long scenes,” says Aguirresarobe. “Using 3-perf has two main advantages. The first is economic: we save about 25% of each roll of film. The second and more important reason is that we can shoot 25% longer with each magazine.”
The time consideration works hand in hand with the wide frame. “In principle, I think the 2.35 format is better able to integrate the action and elements that make up a scene,” he relates. “The language changes when we shoot with a more panoramic format. We can relate the scene in another way. It allows you to play with the choreography and camera movement in ways that simplify the cinematographic narration and make certain other scenes unnecessary.”
As an example, Aguirresarobe points to a long take in which Jasmine, played by Blanchett, is harassed by a dentist, played by Michael Stuhlbarg. “The sequence was practically solved with a single shot in a minimal space – the reception area of a doctor’s office,” he says. “The efficiency and expressiveness of the scene is mainly due to both actors, but the position and movements of the camera also give it a touch of authentic realism.”
On Blue Jasmine, Allen and Aguirresarobe used an on-set monitor, but access to this monitor was limited – only the two of them were allowed to view it. “This mysterious game with the image on the set, this enormous discretion, are key points in the movies of Woody Allen,” says the cinematographer. “It makes me think that film will keep on being the essential support in his movies. Shooting with film provides the appropriate texture for Woody Allen’s aesthetic universe and favors the discretion he prizes during the shooting.”
Blue Jasmine is rolling out in theaters starting in July.