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Amsterdam, 2020-04-27 - Freek Zonderland
ONDERHUIDS (UNDER THE SKIN)
Director: Emma Branderhorst
Cinematographer: Michel Rosendaal
The 20 minute short film screened at the Berlinale earlier this year.
Three friends are training for a synchronized swimming competition, executing rhythmic turns in the water in the same unison with which they bully other girls in the changing room. Yet beneath the surface, turmoil is brewing. Gestures and glances exchanged in atmospheric scenes gradually condense into a narrative of intrigue and jealousy, the young athletes‘ forced competition-ready smiles starkly emblematic of their friendships.
This is a conversation with Michel Rosendaal about his work on Onderhuids.
“We were really trying to get close and intimate with our main character Keesje, played by first time actor Isis Braam. To get a real sense of who she is, that vulnerable yet honest look in her eyes. This way we tried to get the viewer in her head without too many words or dialogue.
During prep Emma and I invested a lot of time to go to all the swimming rehealsels, apart from all the general rehearsals with the girls, to create a circle of trust between us as well. Hoping this would translate to the screen in the end. This is really important for me, because it makes me understand the characters better and drives creative decisions later on. This translates into a unique look and feel for that specific movie and character.
That is how we came up with the dynamic camera movements, working from the perspective of Keesje. Physically close to her with wide angle lenses.
We shot on Alexa XT with Kowa spherical lenses and a Cooke Classic 25-250 for some zoom shots. For the underwater scenes we used an Alexa Mini with Zeiss SuperSpeeds. I’m a huge fan of the soft, organic character of the Kowa lenses and their gorgeous flares.
During the film Keesje becomes more and more isolated because of the choices she makes. She wants to be the best in her team, but is also trying to be liked by Lize. With her actions she is putting her other friendships at risk, leading to her being rejected by the group. I think you can interpret the final scene of the film as a step to independence, maybe Keesje now realizes who she really wants to be.
I’ve tried to visualize this “suffocating” arc of the film by increasingly locking Keesje in the frame as the story develops. By zooming in at certain points and giving frames a lot of negative space. This leads to the final scene being told in one long shot.
One of our big inspirations was photographer Ryan McGinley. His work focuses on free souls and rashness. We found that energy to be very fitting to this coming-of-age story.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW - AFTER SEVEN PICTURES FROM RYAN MCGINLEY
What I love about the movie is how the subject matter, bullying in a group of girls, connects to the hobby of the girls. The toxic behavior is almost invisible at the surface, but it can really hurt someone.
With synchronized swimming there is a similar contrast, it’s gorgeous above the surface but quite brutal underwater.
There is one shot where these two things really come together. Keesje jumps into the pool and swims towards the group. We see how hard the group has to work underwater to create the dance. When Keesje is out of sync with the rest of the group the performance falls apart, bringing the underlying bullying to the surface as well.
Bas Andries, the underwater operator, took care of the logistics and technical aspects of that scene. That worked out really well because this allowed me to keep communicating with Emma (director) and gaffer Amit Kumar.
Shooting underwater costs a lot of time. Changing a lens takes about 30 minutes, setting up a shot is also slower. On top of that it’s also physically challenging for the actors. Keeping everyone focused (in a humid pool) is very challenging. Because of that there is less room for improvisation and discovering what a scene offers, you need to have a “waterproof” plan.
The pool that we used had gorgeous warm practicals, we tried to stay as close to this atmosphere as possible with our additional soft tungsten sources. I wanted to stay away from the styril and modern feeling that a lot of pools have these days. It had to be a place where Keesje felt at home.
The final scene of the movie takes place during the performance they have been working towards during the entire film. Here we did embrace a cooler look to create a more urgent feeling. All eyes are on them.
This by times technically challenging project wouldn’t have been possible without the crew.”
1st ac’s: Dorotea Pace, Marjoke Haagsma, Peter Krijgsman
Gaffers: Amit Kumar, David Koster
Underwater Operator: Bas Andries
Grip: Mick Durlacher, Olaf Robberse
Erik Demeris: Colorist
Producers: Eva Schaaf, Patou ten Cate
Director: Emma Branderhorst
Gear: Camera Rentals