From Wim Wenders to Woody Allen, Many pay Tribute to a Great Cinematographer.



There are, at this point, at least a handful of feature-length documentaries about cinematographers kicking around.  They’re good for providing plenty of clips of a life’s work behind the camera, allowing us to comparatively soak up the filmography in delicious bite-sized morsels.  Most such documentaries are tributary in approach and tend to range from pretty good to particularly good.  Water and Sugar: Carlo Di Palma, The Colours of Life falls easily into the later end of that quality range.

Carlo Di Palma (1925-2004), like all truly great cinematographers, had a technician’s savvy with the camera and lights, and an artist’s temperament and curiosity about life.  He shot some of the finest work of Michelangelo Antonioni (Red DesertBlowup) and Woody Allen (Hannah and Her SistersHusbands and Wives).  The documentary, made posthumously, stays pretty squarely in the realm of the professional as opposed to his personal life, though it does make special note of Di Palma’s extended affair with Monica Vitti.  

Many high-profile co-workers and acquaintances are interviewed, including Woody Allen, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Alec Baldwin, as well as even more who haven’t spent time in the cultural hot seat.  Among them, Wim Wenders, Ken Loach, Francesco Rosi, Lina Wertmüller, Giancarlo Giannini, Michael Ballhaus, Mira Nair, Abel Ferrara, and Volker Schlöndorff.

Directed by Fariborz Kamkari, the overly titled Water and Sugar: Carlo Di Palma, The Colours of Life operates within a nice little functional framework of his widow, Adriana Chiesa (his only wife, whom he married at some point in the 1980s), sorting through the archives of his career.  She conducts the numerous chat-like interviews that make up much of the film.  Some of the recollections get quite personal, such as when Woody Allen states that Di Palma one of very few people in his life he’d call an authentic friend.  But most remain in the realm of admiring.  In any case, it’s never dull, as plenty of archival movie clips hold it all together.

Water and Sugar: Carlo Di Palma, The Colours of Life is available as a rather barebones DVD from Kino Lorber.  (The only bonus feature is the film’s trailer).  Aesthetically, nothing about Water and Sugar suggests that it’s as new as 2016.  From its no-frills presentation style to its burn-on-demand-looking DVD artwork to the fact that many of the interviews must be at least a bit older (several participants had died by then; Alec Baldwin looks circa early-2000s).  Nevertheless, all is well.  

The DVD is just fine for what it is, and the movie achieves its purpose of paying tribute to one of Italy’s (and later New York’s) finest directors of photography.  And along the way, there are opportunities for a closer look at just what a cinematographer does, and why he/she is so vital to every production.  (In a nutshell, they are responsible for the visual mood of the film.)  

Di Palma, in shooting through reflective glass and heavy fog, and/or utilizing limited light and impressionistic color, leaves behind a filmography of over fifty films, dating back to the days of Italian Neorealism.  Like water and sugar, that is both refreshingly tactile, and sweet.

Ciao, Carlo!