• Industry

Ruben Impens, Belgian Cinematographer: Looking Through His Lens

Ruben Impens doesn’t shy away from taking risks when looking through his camera lens. Over the last decade the Belgian cinematographer, born in Gent, has been working on numerous acclaimed movies worldwide.

The Broken Circle Breakdown, directed by Felix van Groeningen, received an Oscar nomination. Titane, a film by French director, Julia Ducournau, took the Golden Palm in 2021 at the Cannes Film Festival, and just recently Le Otto Montagne (The Eight Mountains) also directed by van Groeningen, received the jury prize this year at Cannes. Impens’ prior work includes Belgica, The Mustang, Dirty God, Beautiful Boy and many other award-winning films.

In June 2022, the accomplished Flemish DP’s talent was recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Along with ten other cinematographers, the organization behind the Oscars invited Impens to join the academy.

The HFPA interviewed Impens via zoom.

Can you talk about your preparation before you step onto the set?

For me, preparation is key, I really spent days, hours, on prep work. For Le Otto Montagne, we went to the mountains in Northern Italy and spent quite a bit of time there. I took many pictures, considered what the visual language would be.  When we were up in the mountains, I learned the enormous impact the four different seasons have in the mountains. Summers get very hot, winters bring tons of snow. What I found especially intriguing was the way the sunlight changed colors on all nature during these seasons. The light and atmosphere were entirely different during springtime versus fall.


Many artists love to be invited to prestigious film festivals to premiere their movies. As a cinematographer, do you value these festivals?

I do, I really do. I have gone now twice in a row to Cannes. Last year, I was there for Titane, which won the Golden Palm and this year, I returned with Felix Van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch for their movie, Le Otto Montagne. Listen, for any artist to experience the premiere of your own creative project with an audience is simply fantastic. Honestly, most people hope to be in competition at a festival such as Cannes.

For Le Otto Montagne, you spent most of your time in nature, being surrounded by mountains. Did that change you as a person?

It was truly an amazing mindset. I never was an avid hiker so it changed me a bit as a person. Spending days in nature brought me closer to silence and I now appreciate simplicity so much more. In life, we can make everything so complicated for ourselves. When I was in Italy, I met three young guys who had a small farm. They were herding 30 to 40 cows and making their own cheese. It was really beautiful and inspiring to see that, it touched me deeply. I wish to find more of this sort of simplicity within me. I also loved meeting the writer Pablo Cognetti, he is a fascinating character. During a good part of the year, he actually lives in that village, in the mountains. I guess, a writer has the luxury to be able to write anywhere (laughs).

What is the dynamic between you and your frequent collaborator Felix Van Groeningen?

I am often moved by the subjects and stories of Felix’s movies. I can relate easily to the themes of his feature films. I strongly believe we are both moved by very similar stories, things in life.  For example, when he approached me about Le Otto Montagne, I had already read the book of Pablo Cognetti way before and loved the novel.

What is key for you as a DP? How would you define your way of working?

I enjoy to have a certain freedom on set, but again prep work is always key for me. You have to craft the right atmosphere, the perfect lighting, the right frame. It’s crucial. All of that must be in place but of course, in the end, it’s what happens in front of the lens that matters the most, it’s what an actor brings that counts. Therefore, it’s important to form a nice bubble on set, to build an environment of creativity and support in order to give the actor confidence to make the magic happen.