What makes great cinematography? Is it colorful lighting? Is it long tracking shots?
Well, while those things do help create a visually intriguing experience, what ultimately makes great cinematography is its ability to act as a form of storytelling. It is up to the camera to try and translate the words that aren’t written in the script. That is what cinematographer Helene Louvart does in spades with her work in Beach Rats.
Beach Rats deals with a young Brooklyn male named Frankie (Harris Dickinson) who spends his days vaping and hanging with his juvenile friends on the beach. But at nighttime, he chats with older men online to engage in sexual activity, questioning his sexuality in the process.
The constant duality that Frankie wrestles with is perfectly demonstrated by Helene Louvart’s camera lens. In the scenes that take place at nighttime, the camera is always closing in on Frankie, capturing the feeling of him being in a tight, dark closet to demonstrate how he’s “in the closet.” But during the scenes that take place during the day on the beach, the camera is much farther apart and gives Frankie more room to breathe. Yet the bright daytime sequences prove how Frankie’s life out in the open betrays his confused, inner self that is trapped inside a dark closet.
Even though colorful lighting doesn’t always define great cinematography, there is one key scene where color becomes integral. When Frankie engages in physical intimacy with another male, the scene is shot with red lighting. The red captures the fiery sensuality of that one scene while also signaling the conflict between him and everybody else around him. Particularly, his friends who he fears may not accept him and his girlfriend.
Compare that to the work by Roger Deakins who is the likely frontrunner to win Best Cinematography for Blade Runner 2049. That film is very colorful to watch and makes the nearly 3-hour film impossible to look away from. But, without any disrespect to Roger Deakins who is a titan amongst cinematographers, all those colors being shown just make bright colors without much meaning behind them. He may be likely to finally win his overdue Oscar after losing 13 times but Helene Louvart’s work should be a challenger to his.
A nomination for Helene Louvart would also mean a great deal because in the Academy’s soon-to-be 90 year history, she would be the first woman ever to be nominated for Best Cinematography. When it comes to women being represented behind the camera, the conversation is often dominated by the gender divide between male and female directors and understandably so. But female cinematographers never get proper credit either. Even when there have been legitimate cases for female DP’s to get nominated like Maryse Alberti for both Creed and The Wrestler, Natasha Braier for The Neon Demon, and even Charlotte Bruus Christensen for The Hunt, they sadly never had a chance to enter the Oscar conversation.
Out of the cinematography from this year, Helene Louvart’s work is easily the best and also the most lyrical and she is deserving of historical Oscar recognition.