Magazine article American Cinematographer

Shattered Past

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Shattered Past

Article excerpt

A suicide bombing turns very personal in the Lebanese drama The Attack, shot by Tommaso Fiorilli, SBC.

The long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict serves as the backdrop of the potent Lebanese drama The Attack, which focuses on the personal journey of a prominent Palestinian surgeon in the wake of a suicide bombing. Bom in the West Bank town of Nablus, Dr. Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) has lived and worked in Tel Aviv for years. A self-described secular Muslim, he is happily married to Siham (Reymonde Amsellem), a Palestinian Christian. As the film opens, Jaafari is preparing to accept the Israeli medical establishment's highest honor. Later that day, a suicide bomber blows up a restaurant, and Jaafari and his colleagues work through the night trying to save lives. His horror turns to disbelief, however, when he is told that the bomber was his wife.

The Attack was shot in Tel Aviv, Nablus and Belgium. Director of photography Tommaso Fiorilli, SBC, who was bom in Italy and lives in France, had never met Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri {WestBeirut, Lila Says), but was familiar with his work, and knew the director had started out in the camera department. Doueiri attended film school in the United States and was a focus puller and camera operator on U.S. productions before he transitioned to writing and directing. (He served as a first camera assistant on Quentin Tarantinos Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Four Rooms and Jackie Brown.)

The filmmakers decided to shoot The Attack digitally with an Arri Alexa Plus, but Doueiri "had never used digital, and was very nervous that it would have the look of video from 10 years ago," says Fiorilli. "He was especially worried that everything in the frame would be in sharp focus, which was not the look he wanted. If we could have afforded it, he would have chosen to shoot 35mm with Panavision anamorphic lenses, but that wasn't possible. The feet that we had to download dailies from the Internet didn't help! The first time I saw him truly happy about the image was the day we started grading. He said, It looks great! It doesn't look like video!'

"Ziad is very sensitive to image quality because of his background as a cameraman," he adds. "Many European directors care more about working with the actors, but Ziad had specific ideas about how he wanted to shoot his scenes. He wanted a beautiful movie."

The Attack marked Fiorilli s first experience operating an Alexa Plus. "We shot ProRes 4:4:4 [to SxS cards] because at the time, you could only record Arri Raw to an external Codex box, which posed a problem for us given all the handheld and Steadicam work we wanted to do," says the cinematographer. "On top of that, we couldn't afford the Codex!"

Most of the production's equipment was provided by Utopia Camera Services, Ltd., in Tel Aviv. Fiorilli chose Cooke S4 prime lenses, a Cooke 25-250mm zoom, a Fujinon Alura 45-250mm zoom and a 300mm Canon. "With digital, I like Cookes much better than [Zeiss] Ultra Primes," he explains. "The Alexa image is a bit too sharp for me, and I wanted to remove some of the hardness without using diffusion. Also, I think lens filters would have been too hard to handle because of the very bright backgrounds we often encountered on this production; they would have caused doubling in the image and unattractive flares that would be difficult to cut working with Steadicam or handheld. The Cookes have a special kind of softness and render beautiful flares. Had I shot | film, I wouldn't have used any diffusion, either."

Douieri wanted the image to be "very contrasty but also very natural," continues Fiorilli. "He wanted to get away from the common imagery in so many films set in the Middle East shafts of light and smoke. He kept using the word 'crisp.m However, the director also wanted to suggest a kind of emotional haze separating Jaafari from the outside world as he struggles to comprehend his wife's actions. To suggest the shock, guilt and sense of betrayal that swirl around him, the filmmakers frame him in a close-up or tight medium shot against a slightly out-of-focus background. …

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