When cinematographer Lachlan Milne met with Lee Isaac Chung about joining “Minari,” he had one question for him. “My question to him was, ‘What kind of film do you want to make?'” Milne reveals during Gold Derby’s Meet the BTL Experts: Film Cinematography panel (watch above). “‘What’s the tone of the film?’ Because I know it’s such a deeply personal story for him. It’s semi-autobiographical in a lot of detail. The tone of the film for me was really important to understand how he wanted to approach that.”
Written and directed by Chung, “Minari” is based on his upbringing in a Korean-American family on a farm in rural Arkansas. Seven-year-old Alan Kim plays David, the child version of Chung, opposite Steven Yeun as Jacob, the Yi patriarch who moves his family, which includes wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) and daughter Anne (Noel Kate Cho), from California to Arkansas in search of the American Dream. Their dynamic is disrupted by the arrival of Monica’s mother Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung), who is not your typical grandmother.
“Minari” is full of wide compositions — perfect for expansive shots of the farm — but it was also a purposeful choice for the quiet, family moments in their trailer as Milne’s goal was to make it feel like a single-camera film. “We wanted it to feel accessible and not a showy film photographically, if that makes sense,” he shares. “We wanted it to be wide and simple and to keep it an ensemble performance and try to incorporate the family into the film as much as we possibly could.”
Close-ups are few and far in between in “Minari,” but when they do occur, they’re at pivotal moments. Or as Milne puts it, they’re earned. “That’s one of the things that we discussed going into the film. We wanted to have this concept of earning a close-up in the sense of don’t just put the camera close to somebody at all points just in the interest of coverage,” he says. “It should have some emotional motivation for doing that.”
One such moment is a turning point in the film when David wakes up to find that his grandmother had suffered a stroke — something that had happened to Chung. “That was a very difficult day, emotionally, for him and for all of us,” Milne recalls. “He has such a deep love and respect for his family but also the role his grandmother played in shaping who he is as a person. And that moment where that relationship was inevitably changed forever, it was one of those wonderful moments on so many personal levels to be a part of. And I think it was a real kind of catharsis for him.”
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