Chriss Alejandro warns Grimm and Galo Olivares for discoloration!
It’s different with each project. Blackcoat’s Daughter started with me asking where I was in my life, what was important to me, and what I wanted to see more of in movies. As facile as it sounds, that movie grew out of the location. I forced myself to commit to the concept of a horror movie in a school, and then kind of like a crossword puzzle, I used that one answer to start figuring out the rest.
Gretel and Hansel came to me as a script based on beautiful, classical material, and what turned me on about that was how faithful it was to the Brothers Grimm.
Really? The finished film seems to be doing its own thing, especially in terms of aesthetics.
Well, what I wanted to be faithful to was the notion of fairy tales being self-contained, and not contingent on any context. In “Little Red Riding Hood,” it hardly matters what time or country this is supposed to take place in. It exists outside of time and place. Stories like that work because they’re a set of markers that don’t correspond to one metaphorical or allegorical reading. I did my own thing by leaning all the way into the metaphorical, fitting the archetypes into it.
That’s why we shot it the way we did. There are barely any two-shots. Everyone’s got the frame to themselves. We settled on a formalist bent once it was clear this movie would be self-contained like that, and it allowed us to pull from all styles and tastes and epochs. Brutalist stuff, Soviet design stuff, [Alejandro] Jodorowsky stuff, magic-book stuff — I filled up my shopping cart with everything that interested me.
How did the conversations with your cinematographer, Galo Olivares, go as you were figuring out the look of the film, particularly in the early sequences in the woods?
We started thinking of the film as having a prologue and the body of the movie, and we talked about what would be expected for the first section. Probably square formatting, not quite sepia, but some kind of Instagram discoloration that looks like it came from your phone. We wanted to avoid all this. We don’t want to do something that anyone could do on an app. So we shot in widescreen, almost looking like the extreme wide shots you’d see in Westerns, and made the rest of the film — the “present” — squarer in its aspect ratio… Basically, you marry yourself to someone who you hope has a taste compatible with yours, and I got really lucky with Galo. The fact that we literally speak different languages allowed us to find a new grammar rooted in the visual. What he was thinking and what I was thinking were often the same thing, but sometimes it was a surprise to both of us what the other person meant.
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