Bruno Nuytten - Writer

Cinematographer and Director. Nationality: French. Born: Melun, 28 August 1945. Family: A son, Barnabe, by the actress Isabelle Adjani. Career: 1968—first film as cinematographer; 1989—first film as director, 1984—hosted TV programme Photographie et cinema . Awards: César awards for Tchao Pantin, 1984; Camille Claudel , 1988.

Films as Cinematographer:


Joseph ou comment petit-on être Vosgien? (Béraud—short)


Marie Perrault (Dion—short)


L'Espace vital (Leconte—short); La Loi du coeur (Baudry); Une Regression exemplaire (Béraud—short)


La Quille, bon dieu (Zingg—short); Alice Babar et les 40 nénuphars (Berthomier), La Poule (Béraud—short); La Mort de Janis Joplin (Kane—short); Les Machines de l'existence (Dion—short)


L'Audition (Dion—short); Fleurs de Jones (Berthomier—short); Nichna (Charlin—short); Le Maire (Béraud—short)


Tristan et Iseult (Legrange—short); L'Attente (Legrange—short); Ce que savait Morgan (Béraud—short); Music on the streets (Combe—short); Le Jeu des preuves (Béraud—short)


Les Valseuses ( Going Places ) (Blier); La Femme du Gange (Duras); Le Photographe Lassine (Marconnier—short); Fantaisie blanche (co, Parrain—short)


India Song (Duras); Souvenirs d'en France (Téchiné); Les Vécés étaient fermés de l'intérieur (Leconte); L'Assassin musicien (Jacquot); Mon Coeur est rouge (Rosier)


Barocco (Téchiné); La Meilleure Façon de marcher ( The Best Way to Get Along ) (Miller); Son nom de Vénise dans Calcultta désert (Duras)


Le Camion (Duras); La Nuit tous les chats vent gris (Zingg); L'Exercice du pouvoir (Galland)


La Tortue sur le dos (Béraud); Zoo Zero (A. Fleischer); Les Soeurs Bronte (Téchiné)


French Postcards (Huyck)


Brubaker (Rosenberg); Un Assassin qui passe ( A Passing Killer ) (Vianey)


Possession (Zulawski); Garde à vue (Miller); Hôtel des Amériques (Téchiné)


L'Invitation au voyage (Del Monte); Retour d'Allemagne (Berthomier)


La Vie est un roman ( Life is a Bed of Roses ) (Resnais); Tchao Pantin (Berri)


Fort Saganne (Alain Corneau); La Pirate (Doillon); Les Enfants (Duras)


Détective (Godard)


Jean de Florette (Berri); Manon des sources ( Manon of the Spring ) (Berri)

Films as Director:


Camille Claudel (+ co-sc)


Albert Souffre (+ sc)


Passionnément ( Passionately ) (+ sc)


By NUYTTEN: articles—

Cinématographe , no. 23, January 1977; no. 70, September 1981; no. 88, April 1983; no. 101, June 1984.

Cahiers du Cinéma , no. 289, June 1978; nos. 371/372, May 1985; no. 501, April 1996.

Technicien du Film , no. 324, April 1984.

Première , no. 141, December 1988.

Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1996.

On NUYTTEN: articles—

Cinéma no. 212, 1976.

Télérama , no. 1570, February 1980.

Premiere , vol. 3, no. 7, March 1990.

Film Dope , no. 48, July 1992.

Mensuel du Cinéma , April 1993.

Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April 1996.

Film Français , no. 1665, February 1997; no. 1937, March 1993; no. 2982, March 1984; no. 2026, March 1985; no. 2131, 1 March 1987.

Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), April 1998.

* * *

After studying cinematography under Ghislain Cloquet at the Belgian film school INSAS, Bruno Nuytten gained valuable experience as assistant to Ricardo Aronovitch and Claude Lecomte, but his most influential mentor was Cloquet who introduced him into the world of Marguerite Duras with Jaune le soleil (1971) and Nathalie Granger (1972). In the early seventies he also made short films with the rising generation of filmmakers, notably Luc Béraud ( La Poule , 1971), and Yvan Lagrange for whom he provided the lyrical images of Tristan et Iseult (1973). A brief spell in publicity films conditioned him against elaborate preparation and pleonastic camera work.

From the mid-seventies Nuytten worked with successive directors whose methods and budgets varied considerably, from the spare style of Duras or Jacquot to the lavish wide-screen productions of Berri or Corneau, or the expressionist excesses of Zulwaski ( Possession , 1981). He served established directors like Godard and Resnais, and collaborated in the experimental approaches of Alain Fleischer ( Zoo zero , 1978) and Peter Del Monte ( L'Invitation au voyage , 1982). In the late seventies his association with Andre Téchiné saw continued experimentation with various styles, while a period in America brought Willard Huyck's French Postcards (1979) and Rosenberg's disturbingly graphic exposure of prison brutality in Brubaker (1980).

His work for Duras represented an unusual challenge in that the director privileged sound over image, using the temporal disjunction of voice and image to explore perception and memory. After La Femme du Gange (1974), characterized by long fixed takes, India Song (1975) deploys slow tracking shots in a series of languid tableaux, but achieves striking emphasis through the juxtaposition of colourful gardens and arresting close-ups of remembered objects: a bicycle; a bouquet of fading roses; joss sticks on a piano. The spare, contemplative visual style is further extended in Son nom de Vénise dans Calcutta désert (1976) with long fixed takes and slow pan shots exploring abandoned rooms in half-light before focusing on memory-charged details. Le Camion (1977) takes the minimalism much further. Duras and Depardieu are filmed reading the script of the potential film with intercut shots of the eponymous heavy lorry crossing ugly industrial suburbs.

In complete contrast are lavish eighties super productions, particularly for Alain Corneau and Claude Berri. For Corneau's epic adventure story, Fort Saganne (1984) with locations in France, Tunisia and Mauritania, Nuytten overcame the problems of filming in the desert to produce superb wide-screen colour cinematography. After his brilliantly created tonality of evil in Berri's darkly atmospheric murder investigation, Tchao Pantin (1983) with its dimly lit streets and shadowy passageways, he then provided the director with luxuriant colour images for Jean de Florette and Manon des sources (1986). Once more overcoming difficulties of filming in harsh natural light, Nuytten used his highly mobile camera to produce stunning cinemascope images of bone-dry Provence under the August sun.

His work for Téchiné also enjoyed high production values. After the non-naturalist sets and lighting of Souvenirs d'en France (1975), which explores subjectivity and the march of history, came the highly referential Barroco (1976). Nuytten's interest in German expressionist lighting is apparent in his oneiric Amsterdam rendered in gray-blue tones through long travelling shots. In the painterly Les Soeurs Bronte (1978), which exploits color thematically, claustrophobic interiors are set against bare, desolate landscapes registered through slow forward travelling shots, while Hôtel des Amériques (1981), with its cars and rain-soaked streets is shot effectively in film noir style.

Nuytten's flexibity and wilingness to experiment was recognized by Resnais and Godard. For La Vie est un roman (1983) Resnais required predominantly very flat lighting except for emotionally charged moments, and to achieve this contrast, Nuytten experimented with various film emulsions. The differently textured images, some resplendent with colour, create the surreal qualities Resnais sought in his complex tripartite narrative set in a castle at different historical moments. In Détective (1985), Godard's constant reshaping of Sarde's script about murderous events in a hotel created problems particularly in lighting continuity, but Nuytten nevertheless achieved some telling compositions, notably the close-ups of dead white mice and pamphlets on a breakfast tray.

For Claude Miller there were contrastive undertakings. If La Meilleure façon de marcher (1976) required location shooting in the Auvergne as well as theatrical interiors for the costume ball, Garde à vue (1981), set largely in the interrogation roon of a police station required a different approach. Although presented with a storyboard, Nuytten visually ignored it as symptomatic of the overpreparation he abhorred.

In two quite different films Nuytten's use of searching close-ups is particularly marked. In Béraud's debut feature, La Tortue sur le dos (1978), the romanticised vision of the tortured writer is exposed in a head-on shooting style in which the protagonist seems imprisoned within the frame, while in Doillon's intimate study of a female relationship, La Pirate (1984), Nuytten used frequent zooms to capture the faces of the two protagonists. Shot in black and white, the film also conveys both the dull grayness of the hotel and the translucent beauty of the North sea.

In 1988, with the encouragement of Isabelle Adjani, Nuytten made a remarkable directorial debut with Camille Claudel. In a handsome period production, telling the turbulent life-story of the vulnerable sculptress, Nuytten conveys with a fresh immediacy the triumphs and tribulations of artistic creation. His second film, Albert Souffre (1992), most notable for a strident sound track, focuses on the frenetic activities of the emotionally demanding protagonist.

In his association with directors whether established or emerging, Nuytten involved himself in every aspect of the cinematography from framing and lighting to choice of film stock. Each film, whether notable for an idiosyncratic use of zooms, close-ups, mobile camera work or expressionist lighting, represents no more than a formative stage in a continuously evolving cinematic style. Nuytten's incarnation as a director deprives other filmmakers of a talented, innovative cinematographer but opens up exciting prospects for French filmmaking in the nineties.

—R. F. Cousins

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