Dufaux, Arcand reunite on Barbarian Invasions

‘It’s not a sequel in the usual sense of the word,’ says Montreal director of photography Guy Dufaux of The Barbarian Invasions (aka Les Invasions barbares), his latest collaboration with screenwriter/director Denys Arcand. The Cinemaginaire-produced feature will be the third Arcand film – all lensed by Dufaux – to serve as TIFF’s opening night gala.

Distributed by Alliance Atlantis Vivafilm in Quebec and Odeon Films in English Canada (opening Nov. 21), the new film is a follow-up to Arcand’s Oscar-nominated The Decline of the American Empire (1986). Invasions was Canada’s only entry in the Official Competition at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, garnering Arcand a best screenwriting award along with a best actress nod for Marie-Josee Croze.

‘Invasions is a continuation of a character we saw in Decline, 20 years later. It’s not the same story, just the same character who is now older and looks at life in a different way,’ Dufaux explains. ‘A [viewer] can watch Invasions without having seen Decline.’

Cast reunion

Invasions reunites the original cast 17 years later to reveal Remy (Remy Girard) in his early 50s, divorced and in the hospital dying of cancer. His son Sebastien (Stephane Rousseau), a successful businessman living in London, returns to be at his father’s side, using any means necessary to lighten up Remy’s life and reduce his suffering. Relatives and friends also gather at Remy’s bedside, ultimately leading them to reflect upon their own lives.

Dufaux was the obvious choice to lens Invasions, having shot most of Arcand’s films starting with Decline, including the Genie Award-winning Jesus of Montreal (1989) and Stardom (2000), the first Canadian film ever to close the Cannes Film Festival.

‘I’m attracted to [a film's] script, and for me it is very stimulating to work with a good screenwriter such as Denys. As a director, he is very focused on what he has to do, but still remains open-minded and ready for input,’ says Dufaux. ‘It is delightful working with him.’

Dufaux has also worked with the likes of Jean-Claude Lauzon, Robert Lepage and Deepa Mehta, but says he doesn’t like to compare directors.

‘Every director has his or her own character and way of doing things. It’s much like real life, since no two people are alike,’ he says. ‘The main thing I look for is vision, and it doesn’t matter if it’s esthetic or technical. A young director with vision is more interesting than an experienced one without.’

When the director and DOP initially discussed the style for Invasions, it was clear that the original look of Decline would not be emulated.

‘It’s another world. The mood on Decline was more on the social, comedy side,’ explains Dufaux. ‘For me, Invasions is a tragedy. It takes place in a hospital, and a location such as this dictates a style all by itself.’

The crew had a 50-day shooting schedule, starting in September 2002 and wrapping in mid-November, filming most of Invasions in and around Montreal, with some scenes done in London. An old, vacant hospital in Lachine, QC outside of Montreal served as the location for the hospital scenes.

Dufaux found the pace of production comfortable. He says that Arcand could have shot in 30 days if he had wanted to, but the director is always mindful of the actors.

‘Denys wants time for the actors on set and doesn’t want to push them. Sometimes he could decide to rehearse two hours with the actors without actually shooting,’ recalls the DOP. ‘But when we shoot, it’s very easy, because with him we have time, which is a luxury.’

Preproduction was comprised of informal meetings with Dufaux, Arcand and production designer Francois Seguin.

‘We confronted each other with ideas, visited locations and talked about visual style. Sometimes [Arcand] has specific ideas on what he’s looking for, but often Denys will tell me, for example, that he’d like to travel from the kitchen to the living room. Thus we’d discuss blocking together but would never talk about lighting,’ Dufaux explains.

The most challenging scenes for the cinematographer were in the hospital.

‘Every person at one time or another has been to a hospital,’ he says. ‘People know what a hospital looks like, so I had to find a way to make the hospital visually interesting yet realistic. I have no recipe for that, but you have to work on it.’

Dufaux and Arcand decided on splitting the visual style in the hospital into two parts.

‘We agreed almost immediately that in the opening of Invasions, where Remy is confronting his sickness, his environment should look depressing and cool,’ the DOP says. Dufaux used fluorescent fixtures and the natural green color of the hospital to capture the sombre mood.

‘The second part of the film is warmer and more lively, thus much easier to light,’ Dufaux continues. ‘When Remy is in his new room in the hospital, it’s bright, and I made use of the natural sunlight coming through the window. It’s much easier making something look nice than the other way around.’

The crew had two lighting packages at its disposal, consisting of an Arriflex HMI kit for daylight and tungsten lights for night scenes. The film stocks Dufaux used included Kodak Vision Expression 5284 500T and Vision 5274 200T.

Virtually the whole film was shot with a Steadicam to facilitate continuous filming and intimate close-ups. Dufaux says Arcand first experimented with Steadicam on Stardom.

‘He loved it. So I suggested we use it on Invasions, because it gives much more freedom to the actors and it’s less technical than a dolly,’ Dufaux explains. Arcand called upon Francois Daignault, Steadicam operator on Stardom, to assume the same role on Invasions. The operator shot with a Moviecam.

Invasions was shot in a Super 35mm three-perforation format, with post-production done entirely in the digital domain by Los Angeles-based Technique, owned by Technicolor. While four-perf is the norm for 35mm, the production opted for the three-perf pull-down approach to save on stock, processing and transfer costs. The neg was digitized at 2K resolution onto a digital source master, where color grading, F/X and titles were added. The image was then transferred with an Arri laser recorder onto four-perf anamorphic film negative for printing.

Great post experience

The DOP says it was the most time he had ever spent in post, and that it was a great experience.

‘We did it this way because we had enough money [the film's budget was about $6 million] and because this process offers so many possibilities in terms of color correction and other effects,’ he explains.

Dufaux, who recently turned 60, was born in Lille, France and immigrated to Canada after completing fine arts studies at Beaux-Arts de Marseille. His impressive resume includes such projects as the Haven miniseries (2001), which won him a Gemini, and the late Jean-Claude Lauzon features Leolo (1992) and Un Zoo la Nuit (1987), the latter, along with Jesus of Montreal, garnering him a Genie. He is also the recipient of a CSC Kodak New Century Award for outstanding contribution to the art of cinematography.

Dufaux is currently working on the MOW Bad Apple in Montreal.