Sven Nykvist – the greatest cinematographer of all time?
written by Souranath Banerjee.
Winner of two Oscar awards, a career spanning over half a century, orchestrated over 120 films, being Ingmar Bergman‘s favorite cinematographer for more than three decades and also collaborated with other renowned film-makers including Andrei Tarkovsky, Philip Kaufman, Woody Allen, Bob Rafelson, Richard Attenborough, Lasse Hallström, Roman Polanski and Louis Malle – if anybody is eligible for the title of ‘Best cinematographer of all time’ then i am sure the Swedish genius Sven Vilhem Nykvist will be given the very first preference.
Sven Nykvist shot images which where simple yet profound, most natural yet meaningful and significant.
A brilliant camera operator and also the ‘master of light’ – he preferred to use more of natural light or soft bounce lighting and favored geometrically precise shot compositions.
In his own words “When you are operating the camera, you forget all about the other people around you. You just see this little scene and you live in that and you feel it. For me, operating the camera is a sport and it helps me do better lighting. I prefer to shoot on location because in the studio you have too many possibilities, too many lights to destroy your whole picture.”
He was nominated thrice for the Oscars – in 1973 for Cries & Whispers, in 1983 for Fanny and Alexander and also in 1989 for The Unbearable Lightness of Being. He won the award in the first two occasions.
His simple imagery speaks volumes and creates such depths and intensity.
He also won a special prize ‘Best Artistic Contribution’ at the Cannes Film Festival for the film The Sacrifice (1986) which was also the last film made by the famous Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky.
By the way Sven Nykvist also directed five feature films out of which his last film Oxen (1991) was nominated at the Oscars in the ‘Best foreign Language Film’ category from Sweden that year.
The greatest cinematographer of all time – yes probably so but more importantly Sven Nykvist’s talent, his mastery on lights and camera, his authority on capturing beauty and his high professional ethics will always be considered as legendary.