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Sarah Polley’s second film debut, ‘Take This Waltz’ is a fantastic romantic and erotic drama/comedy about married life: what it does to sex, love, and the images of ourselves. In the film Margot (Michelle Williams) is married to Lou (Seth Rogen), a cookbook writer. Margot and Lou’s relationship is stalling and Margot becomes extremely attracted to her neighbor, Daniel (Luke Kirby). Throughout the summer Daniel and Margot explore their erotic relationship while Lou is none the wiser.
Polley brought producer Susan Cavan and Luc Montpellier, her Director of Cinematography, with whom she worked on “Away From Her,” in after the first draft of the script. “As the project evolved, Sarah folded her key creative people into the process so her vision became a shared vision. In the case of Luc, alone, he was brought in far earlier than cinematographers are normally engaged. She is meticulous in her planning, and she and the actors had extensive rehearsals ‐ often right on the sets the scenes were to take place. That kind of comprehensive familiarity allows for improvisation, such as with the party scene which was heavily choreographed, but still had a looseness and imperfection that produced a very creative result,” said Cavan. Polley has indeed turned imperfection into an art form. “You could walk out of this film and feel quite good about yourself because you don’t know and are unsure, are imperfect and unfinished and have grafted your own experiences onto any one of the characters. It happens subtly throughout the film, and you come out breathless.”
“One of the first mandatory attributes of the film, in addition to the “bowl of fruit” motif, was that Sarah declared it be shot at the height of the summer in sweaty, hot downtown Toronto,” said Montpellier. And after two consecutive summers of cool and wet weather, the jet stream shifted north, allowing warm air from the Gulf to flow at record‐breaking levels. Muggy, soaring temperatures were capped off by Hurricane Earl, which made landfall in Nova Scotia, the film’s second location, just after 35 days of principal photography wrapped.
In an effort to create a visual language for the film, Polley and Montpellier, with the contribution from a graphic artist, Jessica Reid, began trading images among themselves. “There were a lot of summer city images, paintings with a tremendous amount of chromain them, a lot of primary colors and night images. On a subconscious level, we always picked images with some kind of wetness to them where you could feel the heat within the frames,” recalled Montpellier. “In the end, this is what the film ended up having which is quite a victory when your original intention is actually reflected in the film.”
All the creative and visual decisions came from the characters, an organic design strategy which is a function of bringing the creative team in early in the process. “Margot and Lou live together in a wonderful life,” Montpellier continued, “but there is something slightly missing in their relationship. So the world of color and warmth is a celebration of uneasiness as well as satisfaction and every frame needed to tell that story without words.” By using a tremendous saturation of color and working primarily with source light (sunlight) coming in through windows, intruding into interior spaces, which in turn would bounce off objects, floors and ceilings in frame and then washing over the actors, everything appears honest and true to itself instead of looking artificially lit.
Light and heat coming into Margot’s home and life is a metaphor for what takes place throughout the story and Montpellier strove to duplicate the poetry of the screenplay on the canvas of his cinematography. The backlighting of Lou during ‘the Storm’ scene reflects the emotion of what is happening to Lou at that moment. “All you need is a clear idea to start and for me, for the production designers, for costume design, for all of us, it is the dramatic point of view from which we all work. Story informed everything.”
The rest of this article can be read in Part 2.
Image Courtesy of Take This Waltz