Cinematography is a branch of photographic practice in which women are woefully under-represented. Though the number of women working as Directors of Photography has been rising since the 1990s, it remains very much a male-dominated field.
Diane Baratier’s choice of career was perhaps inevitable. Born in 1963 to director Jacques Baratier and editor Néna Baratier, she spent much of her childhood on set; in one snapshot, the infant Baratier pushes cinematographer Georges Barsky around the set of Piège, ou la peur d’être volé (1969). Aged twenty-four, she enrolled at the Louis Lumière school, before landing a job as an assistant on Guillaume Nicloux’s short film La piste aux etoiles (1988). It was not long before she began working with Éric Rohmer, taking the role of Director of Photography on The Tree, The Mayor and the Mediatheque (1993). This was the beginning of a long collaboration: Baratier went on to work on nine of Rohmer’s projects.
For Baratier, working with Rohmer was an education: ‘Everything really started with Rohmer. I framed and lit six feature films by Rohmer and three short films – in short, all of his films since our first meeting for The Tree, The Mayor and the Mediatheque. Rohmer taught me the technique and my profession.’ Though most of the films Baratier worked on adhered to Rohmer’s typical visual style – naturalistic, with few close-ups and minimal artificial lighting – she also shot the highly stylised L’Anglaise et le Duc (2001), which experimented with video and CGI. For Baratier, facilitating the director’s vision is paramount : ‘for me, [the role] is to understand what the director wants and enable them to make their film.’
Baratier shot Rohmer’s romantic portmanteau on 16mm stock, which was later blown up to 35mm. This was not Rohmer’s first foray into 16mm: early in his career, he began adopting the film as a cheap and less cumbersome alternative to 35mm. Filmed largely in the rain-soaked streets of Paris, Rendez-vous has a naturalist appearance but features bright pops of red and blue throughout, lending it a visual cohesion in spite of its fragmented narrative.
Conte d’automne (Éric Rohmer, 1998)
The last of Rohmer’s Four Seasons cycle – and the second Baratier worked on – Conte d’automne has been aptly described as a work of ‘magic realism.’ Like so many of Rohmer’s films, the visuals are almost banal; despite the title, the film is not bathed in saturated autumnal colours, nor is it crammed with clichéd shots of leaves falling. The landscape and the characters are presented seemingly without grand stylistic gestures; they are beautiful, but they stand alone.
L’Anglaise et le Duc (Éric Rohmer, 2001)
This French Revolution tale was a relatively rare foray into period drama for Rohmer. Based on Ma Vie Sous La Révolution (1859), the memoirs of Grace Elliott, it centres on a Scottish aristocrat who is trapped in Paris during the revolution. Though receiving mixed reviews on its release, L’Anglaise et la Duc is an undeniably bold visual experiment. Indeed, Baratier called the project an ‘adventure.’ Filmed on video, it uses a combination of CGI and backdrops to emulate the effect of eighteenth century paintings. The result is strangely artificial, as though one is watching a pop-up book in motion, and a world away from the gentle simplicity Rohmer usually favours.
Les Amours d’Astrée et de Céladon (Éric Rohmer, 2007)
Baratier returned to 16mm for Les Amours d’Astrée et de Céladon, a 5th Century pastoral romance based on Honoré d’Urfé’s novel L’Astrée (c.1607-1627). Visually, Rohmer’s final film sits somewhere between the studied stylisation of L’Anglaise et le Duc and the fresh pastorals of Conte d’automne. The Gallic countryside is lush, green and populated by characters draped in crisp white robes; this is a picturesque, classical world, but it is not so strikingly theatrical as L’Anglaise.
Cardullo, B., Interviews with Éric Rohmer, 2014.