Paweł Edelman is a cinematographer. He was born in 1958 in Łódź.
He graduated in cultural studies from Łódź University, specializing in the theory and history of film, and from the Department of Cinematography at PWSFTviT in Łódź. After graduating, he worked briefly as a lecturer in film history at his home university in Łódź, and taught future cinematographers at the University of Silesia in Katowice, at the Department of Radio and Television.
He debuted as a feature film cinematographer in 1989 with Crossed Lines directed by Piotr Mikucki. He worked with various directors in subsequent years, making several films with Władysław Pasikowski and Andrzej Wajda. Today, having gained recognition outside of Poland – in Europe and the United States, chiefly thanks to his collaboration with Roman Polański – he is one of the top-rated Polish cinematographers. In 1999 Variety magazine hailed him as one of the 10 most promising young cinematographers.
The awards Edelman has received include a César from the French Academy of Cinema Arts and Sciences and the Eagle Polish Film Award in 2003, for best cinematography, for the film The Pianist. In the same year The Pianist brought the Polish cinematographer three major nominations, for an Academy Award, the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Award, and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award. In 2004 he received another ASC nomination, for the cinematography for Ray. A year later, he received the Hollywood Cinematographer of the Year Award. In 2011 he received a lifetime achievement award from the IMAGO European Federation of Cinematographers, and in 2014 two other prizes: the Marburger Kamerapreis for achievement in cinematography, given by the Marburg University and the Gloria Artis Medal for Merit to Culture.
Edelman tied his career in the 1990's mainly to two directors from different generations and representing completely different styles – Władysław Pasikowski, with whom he made Kroll, the first major film of his career, and Andrzej Wajda – which serves as proof of his versatility as a cameraman. Edelman also displayed this versatility when working with other directors on films differing in genre, theme, and form.
In an interview for Irena Stanisławska, he said:
I'm glad I'm a cameraman, because I can fulfil the contradictory yearnings inside me. On the one hand, I'd like to shoot great pictures, with helicopters and napalm – an Apocalypse Now, but on the other, I long to make a small-scale film, a psychological drama, a Bergman. (Kino 4/1994)
He echoed this in another interview:
I made Jerzy Stuhr's The Big Animal on black-and-white film. It looks like a documentary shot in a small town. On the other hand, there's Pan Tadeusz, a huge, colourful film, vibrant with life… That's what's so great, the possibility of moving between styles. (interview for Rafał Olbrychski, Film 11/2000)
Every story told in a film, Paweł Edelman believes, requires the cameraman to take a different approach. The diversity of works in his cinematographic output testifies to his professional maturity.
In Pasikowski's films, Edelman's cinematography fulfils all the requirements of a dynamic action film, while in the films of Wajda he had to follow completely different principles. This is especially true of Pan Tadeusz and The Revenge, where the material did not succumb well to translation into the language of film, as the former was an adaptation of an epic poem, and the latter was originally a play.
These two films also differ in terms of cinematography, for example, the use of colour is different. Contrary to Pan Tadeusz which is saturated with intense colours, in The Revenge cool hues dominate. This is the effect of the action, which the director set amidst rugged winter scenery in order to achieve the ironic distance towards the characters that is a feature of the play by Fredro. It was the role of the cinematography to support the set design. In addition, the stage nature of the play was weakened in the film by having as many scenes as possible moved into the open air, and allowing the actors to move freely across the set, which in turn – to enable the camera to include them all – forced the cinematographer to apply a specific way of filming. The cameraman used technical aids enabling him to film background shots, for example, the lighting for such scenes required much more work.
The difficulty with Pan Tadeusz was that shots often had to encompass extensive landscapes or huge masses of people, for example, when the marching army was filmed. This led Edelman to shoot using short-focus, wide-angle lens, although he usually prefers long optics.
It is worth mentioning that the highest award Pawel Edelman has received in his career so far was for the cinematography for The Pianist, a film about which one can say that by definition the cameraman's work is almost imperceptible, and absolutely subordinate to the unfolding story. The style of shooting in The Pianist is described as 'transparent', which chiefly means a lack of extreme solutions, economical camera movement, and placing the camera at the observer's eye level, to achieve a natural viewpoint and prevent the audience from being distracted from the significance of the film's theme.
It is not the theme itself but the director's artistic vision that ultimately influences the work of a cameraman like Edelman. In another film which, like Polanski's production, is about the war and the Holocaust, namely Edges of the Lord, director Yurek Bogayevicz set the cinematographer a very different task.
Despite the subject matter, the cinematography in Edges of the Lord is intentionally very visual and colourful. Unlike in The Pianist, there is no transparency of form here, but a situation in which form becomes the carrier of content.
My film is about the power of evil that begins increasingly to leave its mark on the souls of innocent children. The film is beautifully shot, and the fundamental stylistic principle I reached with cameraman Paweł Edelman was to show evil running rampant in a paradise, in beautiful scenery.
– said its director Yurek Bogayevicz (chat on the Web - w.p., 24 April 2001)
It was largely thanks to Edelman's cinematography that Bogayevicz managed to achieve something extraordinary – in this moving film, he expressed both the slightly fairy-tale flavour of childhood and the horror of war, merging these two opposite discourses into one tone.
A good cameraman, Paweł Edelman told Barbara Hollender in an interview, is someone who builds the story together with the director. Cinematography, even the most wonderful, made only for its own sake, is a disaster. Images have to serve the film. (Rzeczpospolita 10 Dec. 2002)
Edelman has also often repeated the view that a cameraman should not attach too much importance to the technical means at his disposal, and that technology is a secondary issue which has to be subordinate to the artistic concept.
The hardest thing is coming up with a key to the cinematography – a key that will help bring out the essence of the script, the essence of the story, but will not overwhelm it. Difficulties start at the level of awareness, thinking, creative activity. (interview for Irena Stanislawska, Film 9/1997)
Though Edelman admitted in the same interview that he liked to use technical innovations, calling them ‘toys’, he did so mainly when making commercials, remaining more conservative in feature films. Of course, like most cameramen, he has his preferences; according to what he told Irena Stanislawska, these include a tendency to use long lens, close-up shots, and asymmetric composition. He places himself among those cinematographer who, like Néstor Almendros, try to imitate reality, as opposed to those who, like Vittorio Storaro, choose aesthetic expressionism.
Edelman's cinematography, even if the author is recognizable, is different for each film.
I think means cannot be tied to a person. They have to be tied to a film. Otherwise you're making the same film over and over again. Meanwhile, the point is to make good films with different people, on different themes. (interview for Bartosz Michalak Film & TV. Kamera 3/2002)
Pawel Edelman sees a cameraman's fundamental task as being the ability to subordinate his own preferences to the requirements of the subject matter.
I used to think that the great cameramen had their own style of lighting, but the older I get, the better I see that it is themes and scripts that require their own special light. (interview for R. Olbrychski, Film 11/2000)
Paweł Edelman's recent cinematographic projects include Ray, a biographical film about Ray Charles directed by Taylor Hackford, and Oliver Twist by Polański. The former film was intended to express the ‘vibrant’ nature of the music. In the parts where music dominates the hero's life, the camera moves around, but it is immobile when it has to show his childhood. In the film by Polański, who decided to be faithful to the dark vision of the world presented in the original novel by Dickens, the lighting was important for the character of the film.
The cinematography is a great achievement of Paweł Edelman: perfect, subtly catching the shadows and rare reflexes of light. Black dominates, because that's the kind of world the hero is entering, a world that is evil to the core.
– wrote Bartosz Staszczyszyn about this film (Tygodnik Powszechny, 16 Oct. 2005)
In Steve Zaillan's All the King's Men starring Sean Penn, Kate Winslet, and Jude Law, Edelman used the contrast of light and shadow to show the dark side of American politics in the era of the Great Depression. His next success was Andrzej Wajda's Katyń, nominated for an Academy Award – a long awaited film, famous even before its premiere. The elegiac atmosphere of the story about the tragic massacre was achieved also thanks to Edelman's discrete cinematography.
His collaboration with Andrzej Wajda continued with Tatarak (2009) and Wałęsa: Man of Hope (2013). The cinematographer commented on the latter:
We are definitely going to try to combine documentary material from the 70s and 80s with new shots. We've decided we're going to use materials of diverse texture and granularity, and also black-and-white shots with colourful ones. Some scenes will be realized at the same time with a 35 mm and a 16 mm camera. We will use the second one for hand-shooting, trying to achieve an effect similar to archival documents. (http://www.walesafilm.pl/f/2/p/3)
The last film of the duo, Powidoki / Afterimages, which tells the story of the famous Polish painter Władysław Strzemiński, is a visual challenge as well. It will premiere in 2016.
The Pianist on the other hand was the beginning of Edelman's collaboration with Roman Polański, with whom – apart from Oliver Twist mentioned above – Edelman also worked on Ghostwriter based on Robert Harris's novel starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan, for which he was nominated for the French César prize; on the intimate Carnage based on Yasmina Reza's play with Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, and Christoph Waltz and, finally, on Venus in Fur with Emmanuelle Seigner and Matthieu Almaric.
Poland's complicated history was the main focus of three widely discussed films on which Edelman worked recently: Władysław Pasikowski's controversial Aftermath which echoed the trauma of Jedwabne, Jerzy Stuhr's Obywatel and Robert Gliński's Stones for the Rampart based on Aleksander Kamiński's book.
Recently Edelman has talked a lot about his appreciation for new technology, also expressing his view on the art of cinema:
When modern technologies which we now use appeared, it became easier to manipulate the image. Shooting films is now quicker, more mobile; one can have a smaller crew and shoot for a shorter period of time. (…) Digital cameras are smaller, more sensitive, lighter, you don't have to change cassettes (…) one can also do longer shots. I don't mind these changes. I think that cinema has always been connected to technology, and technology always changed. Our task is now consuming these changes.
– he said in an interview at Di Factory in 2015.
Etudes - cameraman:
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