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Road to Oscars 2022. The Cinematography of "The Tragedy Of Macbeth"

Ok, we're almost through our journey. Today we examine The Tragedy Of Macbeth.

The Tragedy Of Macbeth is a 2021 historical thriller directed by Joel Coen.

The film is obviously based on the play Macbeth written by William Shakespeare.


DoP Bruno Delbonnel’s idea was to shoot in stark black and white right from the start, because the movie would have felt more like a play.


Furthermore this choice best suits the decision of director Joel Coen to shoot the film on sets with very little furniture and no ornamentation. Why? To obtain an abstraction sensation, disconnecting the viewer from the reality.

In order to prepare for this, Delbonnel and Coen watched a bunch of black and white old movies, such as “Die Niebelungen” by Fritz Lang.

The use of black and white is actually very smart; we have some scenes where contrast is almost absent and others, where something important happens, in which the contrast is very powerful.


This version of "Macbeth" is so innovative; it perfectly blends theater and cinema, creating some sort of no man's land between the two forms of art. To arrive to this point, it was very important to understand how to proceed, how to convert a theatrical play into a film.

Bruno Delbonnel
Bruno Delbonnel

The basic principle (which serves the cinematography) is the haiku: a Japanese poetic form that consists of three lines. Simplicity in any aspect.


Everything was reduced to the essential: essential sets, essential narrative, essential spaces, essential furniture and no ornaments (with a few details "stolen" from reference movies).


This whole concept was very useful when it came to make the use of black and white more incisive, discarding the idea of using a "nostalgic" and "vintage" version of it.


A key element is, of course, light. You don't always understand where it comes from or if it's night or day. Light, according to Delbonnel and Coen, should be a graphic, narrative element.

Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth
Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

The strategy is to eliminate all distractions, leading the viewer to what's more important: the development of the story in the words of Shakespeare.


Delbonnel set up soft fill lights for the sets in the background and a much harder, contrasty light on faces of the actors in the foreground. According to him, cinematography is like a musical score, playing with light and darkness following the musicality of the dialogues.


Well, that's it for today. Stay tuned for the next movie: West Side Story.

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