Living the Light – Robby Müller

The great Dutch cinematographer Robby Müller is celebrated in poetic new documentary Living the Light

Film Review by Gianni Marini | 16 Mar 2019
  • Living the Light
Film title: Living the Light – Robby Müller
Director: Claire Pijman
Starring: Robby Müller, Jim Jarmusch, Wim Wenders, Lars Von Trier, Andrea Müller

For those for whom the moving image has a profundity that is both mesmerising and heart-breaking, Claire Pijman’s documentary is a beautiful poetic portrait of a master. Living the Light makes use of the late great director of photography Robby Müller’s personal Hi8 tapes to explore his way of seeing the world. The low-fi video is cut with Müller’s professional work on some of the most critically acclaimed films of the latter half of the 20th century. The interposing of the material reveals striking similarities in composition.

Fellow cinematographer Agnès Godard explains that Müller’s approach was like painting: he used a dioptre lens that meant the whole image was in focus. When scenes from Paris, Texas are used to demonstrate this it is startling how incredible the picture looks. So pervasive is the use of shallow depth of field these days that Müller’s work, 50 years on, seems ground-breaking in its quality.

Pijman’s visual essay also covers Müller’s personal story. Anyone whose parents owned a video camera that made appearances at birthdays or Christmas will be familiar with the invasion of it into private moments that can embarrass any sulky teenager. The shots of Müller’s family are full of love, and it is his ability to transmit this through his art that attracted so many filmmakers to work with him.

The film highlights another element of Müller’s character – he was not concerned with the “degradation” of the moving image. Switching between his work on widescreen film reel and 4:3 digital video is all that is needed to prove how these mediums are what the artist makes of them. And that is the overwhelming sense one gets from this movie – that Müller was an artist, respected and adored by his contemporaries.

Living the Light – Robby Müller had its UK premiere at Glasgow Film Festival