Understanding the Cinematography of Raoul Coutard

Raoul Coutard will always be synonymous with the French New Wave. I strongly believe his contribution to it cannot be overstated, and in this video and article I go through some of his cinematography lighting and camera techniques to help you understand his unique style.

Just to be clear: Raoul Coutard changed his style to suit the movies he shot. The goal of this video and article is to drum up enthusiasm and a yearning to learn more.

Warning: I do not claim this knowledge is 100% accurate. Just think of it as an endorsement of his work. If you want accuracy, look someplace else.

Here’s the video illuminating the cinematography style of Raoul Coutard:

Exclusive Bonus: Download your FREE list: 25 Proven DIY and Cheap Lighting Gear that actually delivers cinematic results (PDF file optimized for mobiles and tablets).

The French New Wave

If you need to catch up on the French New Wave, you might want to start by reading this Wikipedia entry.

In short, it was a group of filmmakers who questioned the classical (Hollywood) filmmaking techniques, and in popular lore, one would associate the new wave with:

  • Handheld camerawork
  • Documentary or new reportage style angles
  • Jump cuts
  • Talking about stuff
  • Less concern for the plot and more about ideas
  • Available lighting

This is what Coutard had to say about it:

“When you look back, most of these people ended up sitting in the chairs of the people they had criticized. In my opinion, the only one who truly wanted to change filmmaking, the only real revolutionary, was Jean-Luc Godard.”

How he lit

Initially there wasn’t any budget for artificial lighting. On some occasions he replaced practical bulbs but most of the early films were shot with available light.

Later on he developed the technique of the ceiling bounce, where he bounced flood lights on white or silver material off ceilings to generate a soft even light in a room. Once he got comfortable with that, he also started augmenting it with direct lights, as he did on Lola.

The faces (especially women) were mostly lit in the Paramount or Rembrandt style, and he really made them look pretty. He shot on many formats, Academy, 1.66:1, anamorphic (Franscope and Cinemascope), and so on, but really didn’t have a strong preference one way or the other.

I hope you’ve found this article useful. If I’ve stoked your interest in Raoul Coutard’s work, please watch the movies he shot and check out these links I mentioned in the video: