Great Cinematographers, Part 11: Raoul Coutard

After an eight-month hiatus I am happy to resume my series on notable cinematographers with the legendary Raoul Coutard (b. 1924). Most famous for his work with Jean-Luc Godard, the French cameraman also photographed films by Pierre Schoendoerffer, François Truffaut, Jacques Demy, Raoul Lévy, Tony Richardson, Costa-Gavras, Édouard Molinaro, Christine Pascal, Nagisa Ôshima and Philippe Garrel.

Breathless (1960, dir. Jean-Luc Godard) – Before Godard, most audiences would have thought that jump cuts were mistakes in the way the film was cut. Besides the editing, the cinematography plays an intriguing role in this scene: Coutard’s camera is focused on the back and sides of Jean Seberg’s head. This is a stylistic choice that Godard would later use in the opening scene of Vivre Sa Vie (1962), introducing us to the back of Anna Karina’s head before we see her face.

Lola (1961, dir. Jacques Demy) – Demy’s debut feature film looks wonderful on the big screen thanks to its luminous cinematography. Coutard captured light and shadow so beautifully. In this scene, in which a young girl spends a brief amount of time with an American sailor, there’s a terrific slow-motion sequence.

A Woman Is a Woman (1961, dir. Jean-Luc Godard) – Godard’s deconstruction of the American movie musical uses sound in a unique way, incorporating music in places where you expect a song to start and then removing the music when characters actually do sing. Fittingly, the story was filmed in vibrant and sometimes unusual colors. Here Anna Karina sings at her strip club workplace, the camera showing the mostly empty room from her viewpoint and bathing her in eerie blue and purple spotlights. Coutard played with color by maintaining a fun and engaging style.

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