All of Us Strangers Sex Scenes, Mysteries Unpacked by Cinematographer

After Jamie D. Ramsay’s Camerimage Award-winning breakthrough work on last year’s “Living” (which earned star Bill Nighy an Oscar nomination), the South African director of photography changed gears to work with bold British writer-director Andrew Haigh (“45 Years,” “Weekend”) on “All of Us Strangers,” opening Dec. 22.

The Searchlight film is a metaphysical tale of longing and nostalgia adapted loosely from Taichi Yamada’s novel “Strangers,” centering on a single gay man (Andrew Scott) in a London high-rise who is grappling with memories of his deceased parents (Claire Foy and Jamie Bell), while fending off the advances of a handsome, mysterious neighbor (Paul Mescal). It all takes place on a lush, saturated widescreen palette that enhances the story’s deeper revelations.

“The aspect ratio of a film for me is as important as the choice of lenses or your color palette,” Ramsay said of the bold choice for an achingly intimate movie whose end credits list a mere six actors. “I wanted to lean into the concept of a wide frame with a single person—being able to isolate a character and use the empty space in a wide format to really exacerbate that feeling of loneliness.”

“Strangers” marks Haigh’s most intensely emotional film to date, placing the lead character’s melancholy against carefully composed vistas and reflective surfaces that created challenges for the man with the camera. “The main apartment that was built on a stage, so we could remove glass things, but it’s always a trick, getting yourself out of reflections and such,” Ramsay said. “I’m sure if you pause a frame and zoom in, you’ll see me somewhere in that mix. But Andrew would always say, ‘Get the shot that you want first, and then we’ll figure out how to fix reflections and stuff’.”

The film continues Haigh’s bold, realistic depictions of sexual unions—seen here in supple scenes between Scott and Mescal—that make audiences sit up and take notice in a non-salacious, affirming way. “What I realized when I watched it (at festivals) is it transcends expectations for it to truly just be a love story,” said Ramsay, whose film arrived in a film year rife with liberating depictions of sexual scenarios in everything from “Passages“ to “Poor Things“ to “Saltburn.”

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The movie’s furtive narrative twists (What is Mescal’s character’s deal? Why is their building so spookily sparse?) and the tender but haunted parental narrative is all borne out in a careful assemblage. “The intent was to create this ambiguous feeling of current, future and past all blended into one as seamlessly as possible,” Ramsay said.

Even though the film has yet to receive its wide release, fan theories abound, some of them taking the ghostly implications of the narrative—particularly as it applies to Scott’s character—even further than the filmmakers may have planned.

“Maybe Andrew’s got that deep in the back of his pocket, but we never intended that,” Ramsay said. “But that’s what’s beautiful about it—everybody brings their own interpretation to it.”

This story first appeared in the Below-the-Line issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the issue here.

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