Emmanuel Lubezki is a master cinematographer. Allow me to do the hipster thing and say: I liked him before The Tree of Life (more on that later). The underrated reason is called A Little Princess (1995). I’m probably biased in this. The film made a huge impression on me when I was a child, and I discovered at the ripe age of 20 that it had a similar effect on many of my friends– it’s pure magic. So we re-watched it and realized that, beyond a great story, the movie is visually stunning.
“…takes your breath away with its mystery, emotion, color, life, and intensity.” –IMDB
Best online example, I could think of–
[If you don’t know Pogo yet, there’s your introduction!]
A Little Princess is my example of the perfect mix of content (story) and aesthetic quality in a film. Emanual Lubezki is the controlled variable in this analysis.
My next example from his archive of award-winning work is Y Tu Mamá También (2001). It’s a unique kind of story, told on a “micro”-budget. The whole film is on YouTube and streaming on Netflix, and I highly recommend it.
The audio cuts awkwardly throughout the movie, nearly everything is handheld, and the film looks decdedly ungraded and bland. At first, all of this made me want to turn off the movie. It looked like home video. I stuck with it only because it was recommended by a good friend, and I’m glad I did. The story Y Tu Mamá También tells lives up to the hype (it went on to win numerous awards).
By the end I realized the “homevideo” feel I had (though to Lubezki’s credit, it is not quite that bad) was absolutely appropriate. It functioned the way visuals should. Instead of feeling like the window-observer of a world not my own, as I did in A Little Princess, the camera provided a very intimate connection to the story. It felt authentic, as in Murmuration (see Part I). Watch the movie and see if you agree.
The Tree of Life(2011): One of the most difficult narratives to follow in recent years. It’s been compared to classics such as 2001: A Space Odessey, and The Seventh Seal. Everyone seems to have a different opinion on whether it is “good” or “bad,” but it’s hard to deny it is masterfully crafted– that includes aesthetics and content. Consider this film my example of aesthetics over content. The value in Tree of Life‘s story is its narrative structure. Not to say the story is lacking, but, due to the way it’s structured, the content relies heavily on the visuals to tell the story and elicit emotion. Beautiful visuals they were, too.
The same cinematographer created the lush visuals of A Little Princess, the bland Y Tu Mamá También, and the gorgeous Tree of Life. Each film tells a completely different story; Lubezki therefore created the appropriately unique look required to communicate the content. Just because Y Tu Mamá También looks like it was shot on an iPhone, doesn’t mean it lacks visual potency. I’d argue just the opposite– entertainment value aside, I much preferred it to The Tree of Life.