Living The Light - Robby Müller


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Living The Light - Robby Müller
"It's accessible for beginners yet provides a good deal for those with experience of such work to get their teeth into."

Known for films like The American Friend, Paris, Texas, Repo Man and Dancer In The Dark, Robby Müller has been described as the Vermeer of cinema. His distinctive approach to cinematography is widely admired by industry professionals and cinephiles alike, and has inspired countless filmmakers. Claire Pijman's documentary was completed shortly before his death last year and functions both as a tribute and as the final lesson of a master. It features extensive material from his video diaries as well as archive footage of him at work and photographs that give an additional perspective on what attracted his eye.

Müller frequently worked with Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch and both make lengthy contributions here. As directors with a strong focus on the technical side of filmmaking they are able to offer a much more in-depth take than is usual in such documentaries. Lars von Trier, Agnès Godard and Steve McQueen also feature, each with a different insight on Müller's craft. These are well illustrated by film clips which aid in understanding how the approach described translated into what we see.

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Müller was famous for his pursuit of just the right natural light and we hear a good deal about that here - how, as his reputation developed, directors were willing to throw their schedules to the wind and shoot at just the time he advised, sometimes accompanying him in search of locations. This extended to other aspects of his work and in one sequence we see him going all out to capture just the right shot from a window, resulting in a moment when a bird flies past that adds an extra layer of meaning to a scene. Small observations like this mark out his work and make it as distinctive - once one knows what to look for - as the imprint of particular directors.

Those who haven't really given much though to cinematography before will find this an excellent introduction; whilst it doesn't go into much technical depth it explores the artistic concepts involved, looking at how Müller focused less on prettiness than on capturing mood and texture that would contribute to the character of a film or, indeed, convey something about individual characters within it. The details of how he went about this are presented in a way that's accessible for beginners yet provides a good deal for those with experience of such work to get their teeth into.

Though the film does not set out to be biographical we also get a sense of who Müller was as a person - indeed, his life seems to have revolved around his work to such an extent that it would be difficult to separate the two. Right at the hart of everything, as Pijman depicts it, was his pursuit of the light.

Reviewed on: 03 Mar 2019
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Documentary about the director of photography, featuring his personal archive.

Director: Claire Pijman

Starring: Steve McQueen, Robby Müller, Wim Wenders, Steve McQueen, Robby Müller, Wim Wenders

Year: 2018

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: Netherlands, Germany

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