Looking for the green ray (II)
For seven months, the production company Les Filmes du Losange, from which Éric Rohmer was a partner and which had produced Le rayon vert, had sent away several cameramen all over the world in order to find the last shot of the movie, the one with the ray, unsuccessfully. That was until a young cameraman, Philippe Demard, suggested traveling to the Canary Islands to find it. Together with his assistant, Florent Montcouquiol, and armed with an old camera Cameflex 16mm, they got into a plane going to Gran Canaria where, in fact, the managed to film it, so a few years later, in the middle of an argument about the authenticity of the record they could say: we filmed the green ray, in the Canary Islands.
As a matter of fact, when the movie opened for the first time, getting the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, some people were doubtful, as if it was just the famous “Scottish legend” from Verne’s novel, about the realness of that shot. In an article written by the journalists Gérard Lefort and Olivier Seguret in Libération in 1998 they declared that “The final green ray on The Green Ray seems to be so amazing that it quickly became a rumor that it was a real record of a scientific event that had happened on the Canary Islands. All false, all true”. A week later, Philippe Demard published on the same newspaper an article where he clarified: “I might be the most suitable person to speak, as it appears on the signature poetry ‘sunset’ on the final credits”. He also explains that, in spite of the insistence by the producers to try and recreate the phenomenon at the laboratory, Rohmer didn’t give up on trying to film it for, according to Demard himself: “reasons of aesthetic coherence and also to include his own opinion to the debate open by The Green Ray (Verne’s novel on which the movie is freely inspired), where there’s the question of whether it is a real effect caused by the refraction of the light or an optical illusion due to the persistence on the retina”.
We located Philippe Demard in Paris, where he’s currently working as an editor in chief of Envoyé Spécial and France Télévisions, and he told us about the experience of filming the green ray in the Canary Islands.
In the article on Libération you said you suggested Éric Rohmer to travel to the Canary Islands, why?
Yes, that’s true. I already knew the Canary Islands. I had spent my holidays in Lanzarote and the previous year in Tenerife. I suggested the Islands because I thought it would be the perfect pace to find a clear and cloudless sky in the middle of the winter, essential conditions to observe the green ray phenomenon. We traveled to Gran Canaria and we settled in an apartment at the south of the island, I don’t remember where exactly.
Do you remember the place where you filmed it? It has been said it was from an apartment at La Playa de Las Canteras.
No, it was actually at a cliff between Puerto Rico and Mogán, when the road to that place wasn’t even paved yet, on the way to the natural park (his assistant, Florent Montcouquiol, mentioned that they could say what might have been the dunes at Maspalomas).
Was there anyone who told you where to go shoot the scene?
No, we were by ourselves. I had friends in Tenerife but I didn’t know anybody in Gran Canaria. We simply looked for a quiet place, facing West and as high as possible.
How did the shooting go?
It was a dream journey, we didn’t work more than an hour a day, during the sunset. The rest of the day we would spend visiting the island, which was much wilder then. We loved the “natural reservation” and the inland villages. In the evening we would go back to Las Palmas and have dinner near the Port. It was like being on holidays. We managed to film the green ray the first day with our old Cameflex 16mm, but Rohmer insisted we kept filming (just in case) and at the end we stayed fifteen days. We were delighted to stay of course.
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