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Luca Bigazzi’s Necessary Light

How one of the world’s best cinematographers narrates reality.

Published: 25 Nov 2022
The cast of Dry unites some of Italy’s best-known film actors in recent decades, like Silvio Orlando, Valerio Mastandrea or Tommaso Ragno, icons like Monica Bellucci and young, upcoming stars like Emanuela Fanelli and Sara Serraiocco. But what is particularly special about Paolo Virzì’s new film, that premièred this year at the 79th Venice International Film Festival, are the atmosphere and post-apocalyptic Mediterranean world it creates - straight from the trailer - with its unnerving, yellow-tinged light.
Right from the very first frame, the viewer is catapulted into a hypothetical, future Rome. This is all down to Luca Bigazzi, one of the world’s best cinematographers. Dry, is a dystopia that pictures Rome with no water, but it is not the only film that benefits from Bigazzi’s photography. Another film that has recently been released is The Hummingbird, directed by Francesca Archibugi and based on the novel that won Sandro Veronesi her second Strega Award in 2020. The flashbacks we see through the eyes of the main character, played by Pierfrancesco Favino, allow us to appreciate the various periods represented, thanks especially to Bigazzi’s photography, which succeeds in reconstructing different moments and past atmospheres in a few seconds, through light. The photography in Dry and The Hummingbird may seem very different but one of Bigazzi’s deepest convictions emerges from both of them: “I seek to respect reality and tell stories sociologically and not only artistically, which is a word I don’t know. I try to represent reality correctly.” This quest, this dedication to creating the most faithful representation of reality possible, is the leitmotif of his career. In The Hummingbird, which recounts the main character Marco Carrera’s life, the photography reinforces the story’s bourgeois context even when the narrative moves back in time. In her director’s notes, Francesca Archibugi says she did not want to “give a different colour to past periods and together with the cinematographer, Luca Bigazzi, we did not change the photographic shades but kept the same unity we have in our memories.” The photography in Dry is also deeply rooted in the narrated reality, even if the film is essentially dystopian. The yellow-tinged frames are reminiscent of far-off desert environments that are, at the moment, far away from Italy and Rome, but also dangerously close because of the climate emergency.

Bigazzi has worked with Paolo Sorrentino throughout his career. Together they have worked on films that have gone down in cinema history, like The Consequences of Love, This Must Be the Place and The Great Beauty, winner of the Oscar Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film in 2014.
During his professional career, Bigazzi has won over a dozen awards and scores of nominations, including a nomination at the Emmy Awards for The Young Pope. But the director of Il divo is not the only artistic partnership that has won him acclaim and awards. Bigazzi has also worked with Gianni Amelio, Ciprì and Maresco, Cristina Comencini and Mario Martone, to name just a few. These are all directors who represent worlds, situations and social conditions in a way that is true and faithful to reality. Bigazzi’s dedication to creating the most faithful representation of reality adapts to the story narrated in the film he is working on. In this sense, a demonstration of his master craftsmanship is Sicilian Ghost Story, a film directed by Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza that opened the 56th Semaine de la Critique in Cannes in2017. In the scenes in the caves and around the lake, Bigazzi reproduced the fairytale atmosphere of the story in what he defined as “a night effect mediated by a vision of fantasy.”
Light is a key element in the life of a cinematographer. And it is no coincidence that the book based on a conversation between Bigazzi and Alberto Spadafora is entitled The Necessary Light. Bigazzi, who had no formal cinematographic training, says in the book that he was lucky to have had Silvio Soldini as a classmate. In fact, the two have often worked together from Soldini’s first shorts and medium-length films, right through to his cult movie Bread and Tulips, filmed mainly in Venice at night.