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No Man Left Alone

Matthias Königswieser, AAC shares how he found the perfect look to suit A Man Called Otto.

Adapted from the 2015 Swedish film — which itself was adapted from the Swedish novel — En man som heter Ove (A Man Called Ove), director Marc Forster’s feature A Man Called Otto finds Tom Hanks stepping into the role of the titular curmudgeon who struggles to find joy after the devastating loss of his wife. To help translate the essence of the original for American audiences, Forster reteamed with cinematographer Matthias Königswieser, AAC, and together the duo crafted a visual style that combined film and digital origination — with Panaflex Millennium XL and Panavised Alexa Mini cameras — bridged by a set of PVintage lenses sourced from Panavision New York.

Panavision recently caught up with Königswieser, who graciously shared his perspective on how he and his collaborators clad the movie in a fabric that unifies the story and audiences alike.

Panavision: How would you describe your approach to the movie’s visuals?

Matthias Königswieser, AAC: Restraint. I was aiming for a less-is-more approach and decided to go with a 16:9 aspect ratio, using a single set of vintage spherical lenses. Our main character is somewhat of a square, and the boxy aspect ratio felt the most appropriate for framing Otto and his neighborhood. While the visual language loosens up as the film progresses, it is still extremely restrained and understated, with lots of dollies and lock-offs, reflecting the nature of the main character. 

To capture Otto's world in a soulful and subtle way, we chose to shoot all exteriors on 35mm film. The neighborhood and its inhabitants are the core of the story, and film is really good with skin tones and in capturing that certain something - the essence.

Were there any visual references you looked at for inspiration?

Königswieser: During the beginning stages of the film, Todd Hido’s photographs of warm light filtering through stained curtains in motel bedrooms, William Eggleston’s Americana color palette, and Edward Hopper’s graphic and block-like compositions served to communicate Otto’s world. Coincidentally, during my prep and testing time at Panavision New York, the Whitney Museum showed a special exhibition on Edward Hopper.

What brought you to Panavision for A Man Called Otto?

Königswieser: The ability to craft a unique look for each film is what keeps bringing me back to Panavision.

Our digital and film hybrid approach had to work in technical terms as well as creatively. I worked closely with [Panavision Technical Marketing Manager] Guy McVicker and 1st AC Shaun Mayor to choose and customize a single set of Panavision Super Speed and Ultra Speed lenses that would give me the range and unique character fitting for this film, letting me tell the story of Otto's overly controlled daytime world as well as the dreamy memories without having to carry an additional set of lenses. The different looks were ultimately achieved through lens customization, lighting and the use of multiple formats and filtration. A big thank you to Marnie Zimmerman at Panavision New York for the great support!

How does this project differ from others in your career?

Königswieser: It was a first for me and Marc Forster to shoot an American adaptation of a European film that already exists. It’s a remake for the American mindset, yet it tells a universal tale. I feel that we gave the film a bit of ‘Euro seasoning,’ but it is deliberately very American and was adapted to serve a broader audience while maintaining its own artistic integrity.

What inspired your journey toward a career in cinematography?

Königswieser: A culmination of multiple events in my life led to this point. When I was 13, my mom’s boyfriend at the time had this shiny silver Sony camcorder that I was enamored with. One day, as we left on a small motorboat at sunset from the city of Venice, Italy, he handed me the camera and let me shoot with it. I felt like the sword of Excalibur had melded with my hands. I haven’t let go since.

Growing up as an only child in need of company, throughout my life cameras have served many purposes. They're company, paintbrushes and a means to communicate something greater than words. I love writing and drawing, but the art of cinema has kept me captivated the most.

I find inspiration in art, music, travel and social interactions. I love the underground and roads less travelled. Everything filters into my work somehow. I experience cinematography as a total extension of myself.