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Laura Blum

Laura is a festival correspondent covering films and the festival circuit for She also publishes on Thalo



Cinematographer Sam Levy Illuminates “Lady Bird”- Spotlight on the 55th New York Film Festival

Back in 2016, cinematographer Sam Levy and actor-turned-director Greta Gerwig were envisioning the look of Lady Bird, a seriocomic coming-of-ager set in Sacramento during 2002 and 2003. “She wanted it to look like a memory,” Levy tells me in a recent phone chat. “Memory” wasn’t just some theme Gerwig randomly turned up; rather, her film partly drew on her experiences of coming up in California’s capital city.

Two more words would round out the DP’s visual cues. “There was a term that Greta used: that the movie should be ‘plain and luscious,’” he recalls. With that, the filmmakers set out to conjure a nostalgic landscape brimming with tonal nuance. “We wanted it to be dynamic, but we’re also both very attracted to the idea of restraint within an aesthetic.”

Creative crackle is evident in Gerwig and Levy’s collaboration, which finds high school senior Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Soairse Ronan) hoping to ditch her “soul-killing” hometown and overbearing nurse mother (Laurie Metcalf) for the more literary East Coast. It’s a tossup who’s more stubborn or opinionated, but copping to any shared traits with mom is hardly top of the mind for this artsy, rebellious teen. The rapport with her father (Tracy Letts) is far less fraught, though as a frustrated jobseeker whose wife earns the family bread, he has other sources of grief. These are times of change all around, and Lady Bird wants nothing more than to reinvent herself as well. So she blows off boyfriend Danny (Lucas Hedges) and BFF Julie (Beanie Feldstein) for cool kid Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) and his crowd. Coming from the “wrong side of the tracks,” Lady Bird feels she has something to prove that her modest means and achievements cannot reflect.

Virginity gets lost; parochial school gets jabbed, a broken arm from a car jump gets a pink cast. Tangy as these tableaux are, a hint of melancholy is never far away—practically Woody Allenish beats, such as the thrift store sequence where Lady Bird asks her mom if she likes her. For every bright note, a cringe. And all the while, Levy’s camera captures the shifting inflections. Continue here: