Benoit Delhomme cinematographer and painter
The 1960’s. I spend the first ten years of my life in Sarcelles, a northern suburb of Paris built in emergency to give dwellings to thousands of French expatriates fleeing Algeria at the end of the Algerian war and to populations from West and Equatorial Africa as France finally declared the real end of its main colonies in 1960. Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Dahomey, Sudan, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Chad, Congo, Gabon, Cameroon: the mix of north African and black African worlds living in Sarcelles makes the strongest impression on the child I am. I visit my first exhibition: Alexander Calder at the Maeght Foundation in St Paul de Vence with my parents.
The 1970’s. My father who has finished his surgeon’s studies moves our family to Cherbourg, Normandy where our life seems to go back to the middle of the 1950’s era. A world of doctors and naval officers. I am discouraged by the way art is taught in French education and feel completely inhibited to draw or paint both at school or at home. I become more conscious that talking to people scares me. As a teenager I discover black and white photography and I realize I can make « images » with my everyday life.
The 1980’s. I move back to Paris as a film student at the University of Sorbonne Nouvelle and then at Ecole Louis Lumière to specialize in cinematography. I feel I have been made to observe the world silently through the eye-piece of a camera. Framing and composing are my first obsessions but during film school I discover that creating artificial light on a film set or making artificial light look real on film is a fascinating process. I do one year in the French Army. I do a very short cure with a psychoanalyst. I start to work as a camera assistant and as a cinematographer on short movies. I direct a few experimental short movies. I work as a still life photographer for some French magazines.
The 1990’s. I shoot my first feature film as a director of photography for the Vietnamese director Tran Ahn Hung: « The Scent of Green Papaya ». As we are scouting locations in Ho Chi Minh City I discover the work of contemporary Vietnamese painters and the apparent simplicity of their paintings shows me the possibility to unbury an ancient and inhibited desire to paint. The constant painterly attention to visual details developed by Tran Ahn Hung inspires my cinematography and as the film is shot totally on stage in Paris it gives me complete control of the colours and lighting. We talk a lot about Chinese and Japanese painters but our main inspiration finally comes from Henri Matisse. Later the film wins many international awards including the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Festival, and a nomination for the Oscar for best foreign film.
I start to paint secretly, hiding my work when family and friends visit me. My second film with Tran Ahn Hung, « Cyclo », shot entirely in Vietnam wins the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. I work with the French director Cedric Klapisch on two films: « When The Cat’s Away » and Family Resemblances ». I get a nomination for the Cesar Award for best cinematography for my work on « Artemisia » a film about the Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. I start an international career as a cinematographer. I work with Mike Figgis on « The Loss of Sexual Innocence » and with David Mamet on « The Winslow Boy ». Birth of my daughter Dune.
The 2000’s. I keep painting less secretly between films shoots. I rent a painting studio in a Le Corbusier house called Maison Planeix in the 13th arrondissement of Paris. I switch from acrylics to oil. I shoot a film in Taiwan with Tsai Ming Liang : « What Time Is it There ». I work with the French director Benoit Jacquot on two films, « Sade » and « Adolphe ». I shoot an adaptation of Shakespeare ’s « Merchant of Venice » for Michael’s Radford starring Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons. I shoot « Breaking and Entering » for Anthony Minghella. The film is starring Juliette Binoche, Jude Law and Robin Wright. I shoot the Australian western « The Proposition » directed by John Hillcoat from a Nick Cave’s Script. I shoot music videos for Nick Cave’s Grinderman album with John Hillcoat.
the 2010’s , I keep painting between films in my Paris Le Corbusier studio. I am surrounded by all my paintings as I chose to not show them or sell them. With the release of the Ipad I start to paint digitally and create moving paintings: so I can keep doing images in planes and on trains. Al Pacino asks me to shoot his experimental adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s « Salome » starring Jessica Chastain. I shoot another movie for John Hillcoat:
« Lawless » starring Tom Hardy, Shia Laboeuf and Jessica Chastain. Terrence Malick asks me to shoot a scene for his « Tree of Life » on my own in Versailles. I shoot a « Most Wanted Man » for Anton Corbijn and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. I shoot « The Theory of Everything » a biopic of Stephen Hawking directed by James Marsh and Eddie Redmayne wins the Oscar for his performance. I shoot « The Free State of Jones » a Civil War movie starring Matthew McConaughey. I feel like a wounded soldier who needs to take a long break from shooting to paint.