When director Liza Johnson was preparing to bring “Hateship Loveship” to the screen, she knew she wanted cinematographer Kasper Tuxen — whose work she had seen in 2010’s “Beginners” — on board. Not because of any nifty tricks he makes his camera do, but because he’s willing to do what a lot of people aren’t: sit still.
The film, out locally Friday, has a complex story — a nanny (Kristen Wiig) is duped into thinking her charge’s estranged father is into her — but Johnson and Tuxen relied on quiet, deliberate camerawork to tell it. There’s no tilting, no twirling, and the lens lingers on individual characters for a second or two longer than in most films, so audiences can observe how they act after they’ve stopped speaking.
“The simplicity of the camerawork generates a certain kind of feeling or impression,” Johnson says. “By limiting that motion, it lets you see the characters’ emotion more.”
In the film, which is based on a short story by Alice Munro, Wiig’s Johanna is hired as a nanny for Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld). Sabitha and a friend play a cruel joke on Johanna, sending her emails supposedly from Sabitha’s absentee father, Ken (Guy Pearce). Fake Ken’s emails paint such a romantic picture of domestic bliss that the mousy, sheltered Johanna is suckered in — she packs up her furniture and heads off to marry Ken, only to find he barely has any idea she exists.
Johnson says she chose her style of shooting in part because of Munro’s storytelling (though the screenplay wasn’t written by Munro).
“[She] is a really forceful writer, but she’s not melodramatic. She doesn’t underline things,” Johnson says. “You can’t make direct translations of her stories because they’re so interior.”
Which is why Johnson tells much of the story through her actors’ faces.
“I hope the film gives credit to the viewer to make their own decision about what to feel,” Johnson says. “It doesn’t force you to feel a certain way at a certain moment.” Instead, audiences can sit back and listen to what the silent moments say.