Water and Sugar: Carlo Di Palma, the Colours of Life

Review by Courteney Tan

Directed by

Fariborz Kamkari

Starring

Ken Loach Wim Wenders Woody Allen

Anticipation.

You might not know his name, but you’ll have seen his films.

Enjoyment.

There are almost more shots of Carlo Di Palma’s wife than of his work.

In Retrospect.

This documentary will inspire you to invest in an decent camera.

The master cinematographer behind films by Woody Allen and Wim Wenders is remembered in this fond and nostalgic hagiography.

Imaginative and unique, Carlo Di Palma was the master cinematographer who brought innovation, aesthetic vibrancy and rich colour to countless Michelangelo Antonioni films, who introduced a European flare to the early works of Woody Allen, but whose name is probably only recognised by small coterie of hardcore film enthusiasts.

Fariborz Kamkari’s Water and Sugar is a celebration of the cinematographer’s work, with appearances from the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci, Ken Loach, Wim Wenders, Christian De Sica and more, all of whom reflect on collaborations with their late friend. Rubbing shoulders with these greats is Di Palma’s wife, Adrianna Chiesa, who takes it upon herself to reignite her husband’s legacy while also reminding us of her presence by appearing in almost every frame. We follow her throughout Europe and across to New York (witnessing multiple outfit changes) as she interviews directors, writers, actors and journalists in homage to her late husband’s work.

The documentary adopts a standard chronological narrative of his life: he was born to a florist and camera-operator and he became a hybrid of his parents’ careers, demonstrating technical abilities with a unique eye for capturing colour and aesthetic. Told by his mother to go towards culture, to be with intellectuals, artists, painters and writers, his passion for the moving image seemed inevitable and only encouraged by his first job working under the influence of great Italian-neorealist maestros, on the set of Luchino Visconti’s 1943 film Ossessione.

From here, the documentary takes us onwards and upwards, with insight to the brilliance behind shot lists alongside appropriately chosen clips that demonstrate the artist’s most impressive works and growth as a cinematographer. Particularly memorable is an explanation to a dinner scene from 1986’s Hannah and her Sisters, in which he refused Allen’s shot reverse/shot set up, in favour of a rotating long take – a sequence which then became one of the most intense and lauded of the film.

Given that this documentary celebrates the inventive genius of a master behind cinematic art, it’s disappointingly ordinary and uninventive in its form. That being said, it thoroughly depicts the importance of the talent behind the visuals, of the important names often forgotten, and of course, of the true genius of the subject.

Published 21 Jul 2017

Tags: Woody Allen

Anticipation.

You might not know his name, but you’ll have seen his films.

Enjoyment.

There are almost more shots of Carlo Di Palma’s wife than of his work.

In Retrospect.

This documentary will inspire you to invest in an decent camera.

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