As cinematographer Eduard Grau was seeking his next project after “The Way Back,” he wanted to work with a director whose vision was to elevate the material into something intellectually profound.
Actor Rebecca Hall, making her directing debut with “Passing,” proved to be the ideal partner. “She was already going in that direction, and focused on making a movie with visually striking poetry,” Grau says.
Hall decided the adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel would be shot in black and white. At the heart of the story are two Black women, Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga), who can “pass” as white women but choose to live on opposing sides of the color line. With colorism as a theme, alongside sexism, race, class and gender, Hall gravitated to monochrome — in particular, to remove the idea of complexion and give greater visual freedom to the storytelling.
Hall and Grau looked at a wealth of black-and-white films for inspiration but noticed the images, whether shot on film or digital, were too crisp and clean around the edges. That was something we found interesting. “So we went on a hunt for lenses that would add characteristic qualities to the frame,” Grau says.
They ended up using anamorphic Lomo lenses. “We found they gave this beautiful softness around the edges, which gave the frame a painterly quality that was almost impressionistic,” the DP explains. That approach, he says, centered the focus on the characters in the intimate close-ups that Hall wanted to use to tell the story.
Additionally, Grau boldly went against the trend of shooting in 4K, opting for a much softer 1.7K image resolution. “The loss of precision helped the audience to be imaginative and create an image of more than what was in front of them,” he says.
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