I can’t escape my heritage and my culture. As a Greek, I need to go through a catharsis when I watch a film. I need to experience an emotional human condition. It’s in our storytelling, and education of storytelling, that you take an aspect of humanity and you very clearly and profoundly create a story around it. You express it in a very immersive way where the audience then leaves having really felt those [aspects] for themselves without having gone through the actions. It starts from old campfire stories all the way to modern-day cinema.
I think we really need that catharsis when we are told a story no matter what that story is. Those are the attributes that I look for when I watch something. I feel content after watching a film or having read a book like that, or gone to see a play like that, or seen a painting like that; something that can transcend time and place and give me an experience.
Haris Zambarloukos is the cinematographer behind films like Mamma Mia!, Thor, Cinderella and more. His latest film, Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, hits theaters Nov. 12. Below, Haris shares five films that shaped his appreciation for cinema. Like Belfast, they were all shot in black-and-white.
I grew up as a teenager watching cinema and television without an understanding of art house or the cultural importance of film. When I went to Saint Martin’s School of Art in London, they played Un Chien Andalou by Luis Buñuel [with cinematography by Albert Duverger]. I’d never seen anything remotely like that. I went from Back to the Future, which is a brilliant film, and that genre of filmmaking, to that and it really opened my eyes. It literally opened my eyes.
In Vittorio De Sica’s Miracle in Milan, there is a scene where it’s really cold in that open slum that everyone lives in outside Milan, and all of a sudden, a little bit of sunshine comes in and everyone huddles to where the sun is. Then, there’s a break in the clouds and the sun goes somewhere else and everyone huddles over to this other part of the field where there’s some sunshine. That’s some of the most beautiful filmmaking [with cinematography by G.R. Aldo] I’ve ever seen. De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves was also a very important film for me. It certainly played a part for Belfast.
Richard Brooks’ In Cold Blood, shot by Conrad Hall, is a very, very emotive film. You feel like the cinematography tells a story so guttural and visceral and honest in its portrayal of these characters. Most of the performances are quite deadpan, even though they do brutally violent things. It just seems that the camera and the lighting transcend the outer portrayal and you can see something within. It’s almost the anguish and the depression of those characters, what led them to the violence. It’s an important film because it’s a film that’s experienced through its visual language so deeply.
It’s a Russian film shot by Sergey Urusevskiy. It is set during World War II in Moscow, following a relationship that’s broken up because of the war. It’s just so, so joyous. The camera moves in ways I’ve rarely seen in any film, even modern films. For example, the characters live on the top floor of an apartment and they usually run to each other up this circular staircase. I don’t even know how they did it. I know how I would do it now, but I have modern tools. In the 1950s, this spectacularly spiraling camera work takes them all the way up to the top of the stairs. It has some really dynamic composition that uses the space away from the characters that says something in the distance that’s evocative.
A film I keep watching over and over again is David Lean’s Oliver Twist. That’s been a huge reference for me and Ken, not just for Belfast, but certainly for Cinderella. It’s spectacularly shot and it’s evocative. It’s joyous when it needs to be, it’s haunting when it needs to be. It’s such a powerful, timeless story. I don’t feel it could ever be told any better. It’s obviously David Lean’s direction and Jack Harris’ editing. But Guy Green’s cinematography is just sumptuous in that and completely and utterly immersive.