TIFF Docs

Water and Sugar: Carlo Di Palma, The Colours Of Life

Fariborz Kamkari

A galaxy of cinema luminaries — from Ken Loach and Ettore Scola to Wim Wenders and Bernardo Bertolucci — pay tribute to the great Italian cinematographer Carlo di Palma, in this loving documentary that chronicles di Palma’s extraordinary work for such directors as Elio Petri, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Woody Allen.

Directors and actors receive all the attention, but one of the key collaborators when making a film is the person behind the camera: the director of photography, or cinematographer. Over the history of cinema there have been some extraordinary cinematographers: Eduard Tisse, Gregg Toland, Gordon Willis, Sven Nykvist, Raoul Coutard, Kazuo Miyagawa, to name a few. Pre-eminent amongst these names is that of Carlo Di Palma.

But, as this finely crafted tribute to Di Palma shows, his life and career ran even deeper than the extraordinary contributions he made to classics by Michelangelo Antonioni and Woody Allen. A child, so to speak, of the Second World War, Di Palma emerged from Rome's rubble as a 20-year-old in 1945, and found himself in the magical moment of Italian neorealist cinema. His father was a camera operator; his mother sold flowers on the Spanish Steps, which, in his own estimation, gave him a natural sense of colour.

He cut his teeth as an assistant on some of the greatest films in cinema history: Visconti's Obsession, Rossellini's Rome, Open City and Paisan, De Sica's Shoeshine and Bicycle Thieves. Given a camera by De Sica, Di Palma took to it with full responsibility. His eye for black-and-white film was masterful, but it was his innovations in colour with Antonioni's Red Desert and Blow-Up, in the mid-1960s, that set him apart as a genius of the medium.

In this loving documentary produced by Di Palma's long-time companion and wife, Adriana Chiesa, director Fariborz Kamkari threads together stunning excerpts from the films, and interviews a galaxy of luminaries, from Ken Loach and Ettore Scola to Wim Wenders and Bernardo Bertolucci. The result is a glorious celebration of a humanist and an engaged artist of uncommon talent.

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