"Brooklyn," the enchanting coming-of-age Oscar contender starring Saoirse Ronan and directed by John Crowley, is really two movies in one, traversing Ireland and New York in 1951, as Ronan's Eilis blossoms into a beautiful, independent woman.
We stay with Eilis' POV throughout: tightly-wound during initial scenes in Ireland, then opening up in New York for a new beginning, where she works in an upscale department store, studies to be an accountant and falls in love with Emory Cohen's Tony.
"John knew that world in Ireland—it was his parents' generation—and it was a great education for me," recalled production designer Francois Seguin, who's French Canadian and Italian. "It was very organic. We found houses in Ireland and Montreal [the interior design was actually from the mid-'20s because people didn't redecorate until the '60s], but the one we invested more in the changing structure was for the department store. And it was technically complicated because we had four seasons over two years, and we all shot that in three days. We put all the dressing on carts and moved it around, changing the set."
For the dinner scene with Tony's family in Brooklyn, Seguin changed it from the kitchen to the dining room because they didn't have the budget to make a period kitchen. They shot three days of exteriors in Brooklyn, which was very inconvenient for residents, and two days at Coney Island, but primarily Montreal doubled for Brooklyn for daytime exteriors.
Eilis' wardrobe, of course, provided a striking contrast and the color palette grew organically out of that. "Postwar Ireland was all about limitations and practicality, with knits that aren’t flashy and flat shoes vs. young American women swooning over movie stars," suggested costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux. "I honed in on a very young Grace Kelly. I found pieces in Montreal, including a yellow dress and a burnt orange/apricot suit. I had no idea if they would suit her, but then Saoirse tried them on and it was a perfect fit."
Cinematographer Yves Belanger ("Wild," "Dallas Buyers Club") devised three looks with the Alexa and an assortment of lenses: Ireland had muted greens, gray tones and high contrast with the aid of older Zeiss lenses; New York was more magical with modern lights, diffusion and Master Primes. Then, when Eilis briefly returns to Ireland, there's a decided overlap. "I kept the diffusion because she doesn't see Ireland the same way," Belanger said.
However, dinner scenes at the boarding house and with Tony's family were shot quickly with two hand-held cameras and lit with one large light coming from the ceiling above the practical light. "In 'The Godfather,' you used top light to make the people look older, but I made it cosmetic where it doesn't make them look older," he clarified.
"It was great to follow her journey and to shoot it with filtration and playing with color temperature just like the good old days," Belanger concluded.