Ben Davis interview: ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ cinematographer
“The film was like working with a canvas all the time,” declares cinematographer Ben Davis B.S.C. about the painterly visual aesthetic of “The Banshees of Inisherin,” which he says was ultimately more rewarding than challenging. For our recent webchat he adds, “it was terrific to work on. People say it must have been really challenging, but you know, the challenging thing about making the film was that we were living that life. We were on this tiny island in a very sort of claustrophobic environment. A lot of people for a long time, during a pandemic. So, if anything that there was the emotional challenge of that, but luckily no one cut their fingers off thankfully,” he smiles. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
In “The Banshees of Inisherin,” jaded folk musician Colm (Brendan Gleeson) abruptly ends his life-long friendship with his drinking buddy Pádraic (Colin Farrell) on the fictional island of Inisherin, a small remote community off the coast of Ireland during the Irish Civil War. Pádraic’s caring and forthright sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) and troubled local simpleton Dominic (Barry Keoghan) attempt to repair the damaged relationship by helping to defuse the escalating stand-off between the men, but their collective efforts prove fruitless as Colm’s resolve intensifies, leading to inevitably shocking consequences. The Searchlight Pictures black tragicomedy was written and directed by Oscar winner Martin McDonagh, reuniting Farrell and Gleeson, who previously worked together on McDonagh’s directorial debut “In Bruges” (2008) and with Condon after previous collaborations on stage in “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” and “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” and McDonagh’s last Oscar-winning film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
Davis expertly utilizes the dimmed lighting that permeates the film’s interiors, contrasted against the more exposed and atmospheric wind-swept emerald greens and grey skies of its exteriors. The D.P. also plays around with our perception of the characters in those spaces, by ensuring that the viewer doesn’t make much eye contact with some characters until later in the film; an intentional emotional distance until we gradually get closer to them. “It’s a way of drawing the audience in,” Davis explains. “You set them back from the scene to observe it. When you look at a scene, it’s always good to look at it and say, ‘if I was watching this particular dynamic take place and I was invisible, if I was a fly on the wall, where would I want to observe it from?’ And that’s always a good starting point. I always think that when blocking a scene now, but there was this idea that as things start to become more and more unhinged,” he says, “that we would gradually put the audience into place where it becomes slightly uncomfortable because of the proximity of the camera. I think proximity of camera is always really important. You know, where you are, because it’s about where you are emotionally putting the audience. So, the idea was to sit them back at the beginning, make them feel relaxed, and then as it sort of starts to unravel, you want to get to a place where it’s uncomfortable.”