Shooting a Film in a Square 1:1 Aspect Ratio: Xavier Dolan's 'Mommy'
While the traditional aspect ratio for HD video is 1.78/16:9 (the aspect ratio of your HDTV), most films projected in theaters are in a 1.85 or 2.39 aspect ratio. This hasn't always been the case as your old 4:3 TV can attest to, and in recent years some filmmakers have explored using the older 1.33 aspect ratio for their films. But what about a perfectly square 1:1 ratio? That's what Xavier Dolan and André Turpin decided to use for their new film Mommy, which recently screened at the Cannes Film Festival.
Here is the explanation about the use of the aspect ratio (via Film Statge) from director Xavier Dolan. Mommy was shot on 35mm film:
After having shot a music video in 1:1 last year, it dawned on me that this ratio translated in a somewhat unique emotion and sincerity.
The perfect square in which it consists framed faces with such simplicity, and seemed like the ideal structure for “portrait” shots. No distraction, no affectations are possible in such constricted space. The character is our main subject, inescapably at the center of our attention. Our eyes cannot miss him, her. 1:1 is, besides, the ratio of album covers in the CD industry, and of all of these jackets that have imprinted our imaginaries over time. The Die & Steve Mix 4ever being a leitmotif for us, the use of 1:1 found an additional echo.
It is also, to be frank, my DOP André Turpin’s favorite ratio which he had, apparently, dreamed of using his entire life without ever daring to do so (he’s also a director, and directed the extremely enjoyable Zigrail, Middle-East road trip shot in black and white and featuring some brutal early John Zorn!). After having now spent a year with him busting my balls at about just every shot, regretting our infamous ratio, I’ve learned two things: André loves cinemascope and I, for one, have absolutely no regrets in this.
The music video Dolan was talking about in the quote above:
It's a really fascinating format because of the way it frames people and faces. While it's nothing like how our own vision works, when you're looking at it on a 16:9 monitor, it's a bit like looking at everything through a camera that has been turned on its side to take portraits (if you've ever shot with certain Hasselblad medium format camera models, you'll already be very familiar with this square format). It doesn't give a whole lot of room for framing multiple people in a shot, but it's really interesting to see a decision like this settled on for an entire feature film.
Some other films that have experimented with the older 1.33 aspect ratio in recent years are Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff and Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank (and I'm sure there are plenty more):
If you're interested in seeing more of his work, here are trailers for some of Dolan's films:
I Killed My Mother from 2009:
Heartbeats from 2010:
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=znpU_Aup-Bg
Link: Mommy -- IMDb
[via Film Statge]