Less is More: The Economical Cinematography of Nestor Almendros

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Academy-Award winner for Terrence Malick’s ‘Days of Heaven.’

Though contemporary film fans might not immediately recognize his name, they know the work of cinematographer Nestor Almendros and likely revere it. Almendros has been gone almost a quarter-century now but the films to which he contributed – Days of Heaven, Kramer v Kramer, Sophie’s Choice, The Blue Lagoon among them – have made indelible impressions on filmgoers for generations, in turn inspiring the next wave of cinematographers.

Almendros was born and raised in Spain but came of age in Cuba before moving to Europe for his higher education. He did return to Cuba briefly to begin his film career, but after two shorts he made were banned by the Communist government, he relocated to Paris and began working as a cinematographer, quickly becoming a (some would say the) favorite DP of both Francois Truffaut, for whom Almendros shot nine features including The Last Metro, The Green Room, and The Man Who Loved Women, and of Erich Rohmer, serving as cinematographer for seven of the director’s most famous features, including The Collector, Chloe in the Afternoon, and My Night at Maud’s.

Almendros’ career in Hollywood began in 1978 when Terrence Malick brought him over to shoot Days of Heaven, for which Almendros garnered his first of four Oscar nominations for Best Cinematography (the other three are mentioned in the opening paragraph), and earned his only win.

Almendros often worked on low-budget, character-driven films and as such believed in a “less is more” philosophy of cinematography, preferring naturally-lit, simple shots that lingered on their subjects and attempted to tell stories both beautifully and basically, with no unnecessary elements between the audience and the message.

In the latest Understanding Cinematography video from Sareesh Sudhakaran for wolfcrow, the elements and techniques of Almendros’ particular aesthetic are outlined and explored in customary erudite fashion, revealing the artist inside the practitioner and the form within the function of his work. If you like anything Emmanuel Lubezki has ever shot, then you need to know the name and work of Nestor Almendros, and this video is the perfect place to start your education.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist