Adapted from Anthony McCarten’s 2017 play The Pope, The Two Popes illustrates multiple imagined conversations behind Vatican walls between the conservative Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and his eventual successor the liberal future Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) to find common ground to forge a new path for the Catholic Church. Angenieux Optimo zoom lenses were on set most of the time. The film received high praise from critics and nominations at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and BAFTA Film Awards.
Cinematographer César Charlone developed two color palettes for the film to distinguish between present day sequences and flashbacks to Bergoglio and Pope Francis’s earlier life. The modern day sequences were inspired by Michelangelo’s famed frescos in the Sistine Chapel. Flashback sequences featured an entirely different visual appeal, trending toward darker, near black and white looks. César Charlone employed two cameras, two Red Weapon Helium 8K cameras, during the conversational sequences.
The Choice of Angenieux zoom lenses
“We have to see these guys hundred percent. We have to be right in front of them with two cameras so that we don’t miss any reactions” Charlone explained. “It’s about them. It’s about their faces. It’s about the little gestures they do while listening. We constructed all of the cinematography about this feeling of respecting them and letting them do their thing.”
“I chose to work with the zoom lenses. These are lenses I’m familiar with. I’ve been using them since the beginning of my career. I’ve been using Angenieux zooms since the 70s, when I started shooting commercials and documentaries. I continued to use them for fiction films like The Constant Gardener or City of God, for which I was nominated for an Oscar. The zoom brings flexibility to the shooting. It allows you to quickly reframe and follow the actors with ease, just like in a documentary.
In The Two Popes, the Optimo 15-40 was on camera from the morning for the first shots. I used it constantly throughout the day. I also used the Optimo 28-76 and the Optimo 45-120 for some shots that required longer focal lengths. The Optimo 24-290 is a fantastic lens for its focal ratio. It allows you to do wide or telephoto shots from the same point of view. On the other hand, because it’s a large lens, it has to be mounted on a tripod, so you can’t use it hand held.
The Red Weapon Helium camera allows a resolution of 4k in S16 format, a format compatible with Netflix rules. In Italy, I chose to work in 4k with vintage Canon 11-165 zooms to film the exchanges between the two popes in tight shots. This is the advantage of having a light telephoto zoom that can be easily used with the camera hand held. The Optimos were mainly used for the master shots where the eye is looking for more details. Some scenes like the Pope’s election were shot mainly with the 24-290.
For the Argentine part, we wanted to film both historical scenes and scenes of Cardinal Bergoglio’s daily life in a documentary style. So we worked also in 4k and 8k formats of the Red Helium. We used the Optimo zooms and the locally available S16mm lenses, including the 11-110 Zeiss, a Cooke zoom, the 17-35 Century, the 11.5-138 HR Angenieux but also the Optimo 15-40. In this part we spent a lot of time in post-production to adapt the images we shot with the archive images we wanted to incorporate into the film.”
About César Charlone
César Charlone began his long collaborative career with Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles on 2002 with the City of God. The movie brought César Charlone an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematograhy in 2003. On 2007, he directed his first feature film, The Pope’s Toilet, which was selected by Uruguay as its official submission for the 80th Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. On 2006, The Constant Gardener awarded him a nomination for BSC best cinematography award. The same year, he was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and received the following year a Sliver frog at Camerimage for Blindness. The cinema worldwide community acclaimed The Two Popes which awarded him a second silver frog on 2019 at Camerimage.
Image source: Angenieux