Behind the Lens

Celine Bozon: Crossing Borders

Celine Bozon: Crossing Borders

Courtesy of Ariane Damain Vergallo and shot on Leica M + M-PL adapter + 100mm Summicron-C cine lens.

Way back when, the guidance counselor at her high-school in Lyon told  her, in no uncertain terms, that “one should not choose photography as a profession because it [was] tantamount to choosing a life with no work, no money and no prospect.” In short, the life of a gypsy.

That certainly disconcerted 14-year-old Celine Bozon.

Hadn’t her parents – student protesters in the lote ’60s, but now both teachers – always told her the exact opposite: “Do whatever you want, whatever you are passionate about”?

Neither side, however, had imagined that within ten years, the profession of photo printer the teenager was so eager to practice would be a  thing of  the post and that Celine Bozon would finally choose cinema, Paris, freedom and the Femis Film Institute.

This passion for silver halide photography came to her when she joined her high school photo club and soon became an obsession, leading her to spend every second of her spare time there, including breaks between classes. Her ardor was such that she convinced the headmaster to let her print all the school year group photos, in block and white.

To this day, she still wonders whether, to her schoolmates, that was not more a curse than a blessing, as the prints may have faded over time, thus forever depriving them of their high school memories.

Recently, returning to her first love, Celine Bozon treated herself to a silver film-based Leica R3, a delightful fusion of mechanics and lenses, a still-camera dream, pure and simple.

No, she is definitely NOT giving up on silver film stock.

A few months ago, her brother, director Serge Bozon, asked her to design the lights for his next film, Madame Hyde. Starring Isabelle Huppert and Romain Duris, it is, of course, inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel, The Strange Case of Doclor Jeky/1 and Mr Hyde. To meet her brother’s (and the novel’s) challenge, Celine Bozon immediately chose to shoot in 35 mm and to get her hands on an old stock of Fuji film.

Only 60,000 feet of Daylight “Vivid” 250 Aso were available.

So, for the very end of the film, she chose  another stock  of  Tungsten  “Eterna” 250 Asa which turned out to be of  a  lower  quality:  too soft,  with  a  limited range of colors and a sensitivity of 80 Asa.

Last summer, just before principal photography was scheduled to start, Celine Bozon was on vacation, yet impatiently waiting for the phone call that would finally let her know the Leica Summilux-C series was now available and could be used for Madame Hyde.

 “I was happy”.

The stakes were high. Shooting with such an immense actress as Isabelle Huppert is a double-edged sword: it is definitely a pleasure,  but  it also requires extra-double attention from  the  cinematographer, as  the actress  is – to put it mildly – extra-cautious about her image.

“Nothing to say, really, against the 35mm stock in combination with the Summilux-Cs. The skins look absolutely wonderful. Smooth and soft, but with contrast. I loved the Summilux-Cs.”

And so, come the fall of 2016, Madame Hydes principal photography brought Celine Bozon back to Lyon, a city of prime importance to her family’s history.

During WW2, her Jewish grandparents ran a clothes store there. In 1945, they were anonymously reported to the Nazi occupant and forced to flee to Switzerland. Despite the fact that her grandmother was pregnant (with Celine’s uncle), they crossed the border on foot and  managed  to settle  in Switzerland until the end of the war. Then they returned to France but never went  back to Lyon –  the  memories were too painful. lnstead, they decided  to settle in Annecy… not far from the Swiss border.

On the other hand, Celine Bozon’s parents both studied in Lyon; they met and fell in love there, thus opening a new – and happy – chapter on the very premises that held such dark memories for her grandparents.

Later, in a deliberate pro-Palestinian transgression, her parents  would constantly – yet peacefully – clash with her grandparents about the lsraeli­ Palestinian conflict. Those endless family discussions triggered a specific curiosity in the young woman about the Middle East and the crazy complexity of that “Hundred Years War”.

The idea that one can, overnight, leave everything  behind  deeply affected Celine Bozon, giving her both  an  enormous  energy and  a yen for embarking on a journey on the spur of the moment – because, she says, “the journey is as engrossing as the DP’s job.”

Barely graduated from the Femis Institute and just 24 years old, she lit her first feature film, Jean-Paul Civeyrac’s Fanlomes (2001 ). Merely two years later, director Tony Gatlif entrusted her with Exiles. Along with her first major public success, the film brought her recognition from the  entire  profession  (Exils got the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival.)

Her meeting with Tony Gatlif is that of two instinctive, impulsive individuals. Tony Gatlif is the “wily, resourceful, smart cookie”: the son of a Kabyle and a Gypsy woman, at the age of 13, he fled from Algeria, “crossing the border” to ovoid a preordained destiny – namely a forced marriage.

In France – call it a metamorphosis – he turned into that flamboyant director who, to everyone’s surprise, chose a young cinematographer for his most autobiographical film, Exils, and took her to his native country, Algeria, to revisit h is post.

“The real twists of  my life are  all film-related. Some encounters  just make you  feel more olive.”

That first trip to Algeria with Tony Gatlif was followed by many others, almost all to the Middle East or North Africa, except for Alain Gomis’s Felicite (2017) which allowed her to discover Congo.

In 2006, she went to Israel to shoot Pork and Milk, a documentary directed by Valerie Mrejen. Israel and sudden violence. Two buses exploded during the shoot, causing over a hundred casualties.

The following year, she went to Lebanon and Jordan with  Danielle Abird  and, in the midst of production, the crew had to be evacuated as a matter of emergency. “I’m a bit irresponsible, I’ll just accept any movie.”

Selected by the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival, A lost Man is a beautiful work made by two women  filming  two men. Magnificently. To wit, the long hand-held traveling shot  in which actors Melvil Poupaud  and Alexander Siddig, profile against profile (low angle), stand  out, slightly  back­ lit, against a sunset background. That shot alone will attest to Celine Bozon’s uniqueness as a cinematographer with an exquisite sense of tempo.

In 2013, Celine Bozon returned to Algeria with Nassim Amaouche for Des Apaches, a key film in her career. And recently, she went back to Lebanon with Michel Kammoun to shoot Beirutholdem, which they just wrapped.

Consider this – 30 features, shot by Celine Bozon in less than 18 years – and wonder whether what, early on, might have been brushed aside  as  “sheer luck” was in fact an unwavering sense of commitment, a loyalty to her childhood’s passion, a pure talent that will know no restraint.

lt is unclear whether all her travels allowed her to openly take sides on the lsraeli-Palestinian conflict which spearheaded many family debates over three generations.

One way or the other, the fourth generation – lto and James, 9 and 4 (“Yes, I allowed myself the luxury of having two kids”) – is far too young to have or voice an opinion and, hopefully, they may never have to.

written by Ariane Domain Vergallo

Leitz Cine