What happens to us when our physical time on Earth ends? There are numerous theological and philosophical concepts you can subscribe to but one thing is certain; anyone who has lost someone very close to them feels a presence long after that person’s corporal form has gone. The question of exactly how to illustrate this led the cinematographer of the film Instant Noodle to a creative approach. DP Vicky Rattanavipapong proposed a reality bending psychological approach to the visual style of this film, one which exponentially expanded writer/director Michelle Sastraatmadja’s original concept. The resulting effect is somewhere between an endearing ghost story and The Twilight Zone. Basking in glow of accolades from numerous festivals, Instant Noodle rebukes CG and VFX in deference to the practical ingenuity and talent of its extraordinary Director of Photography who perceived a more intimate and introspective visual language.
Any professional in the film industry should be skillful and proficient but the great ones add something much deeper to the telling of a particular story. Vicky states, “The transitions in Instant Noodle have a specific narrative purpose, but it wasn’t written that way in the script. The flashbacks were written in a more traditional manner, as a second storyline. But when I read the script, I thought about instances in my own life where I felt distressed in a crisis and I would think about my mother; the things she said or did or taught me. I wanted to tap into those personal feelings about my own experience so I spoke with Michelle [director] about bringing a certain idea forward in the story, which is remembering your mother. I thought that memory and real life happening together would be the right way to depict this particular story because it’s what people experience every day. Michelle is really collaborative about incorporating other ideas and she’s very open to pushing the visual style and letting the visuals enhance what was written.”
The visual style Vicky created is a cornerstone of Instant Noodle’s emotive power. In the same manner that exposition can be avoided by talented writers, Vicky’s approach allows the audience to become immersed in the main character’s feelings in a deeply personal way that doesn’t necessitate being overly leading. This is established early on when Marianna (Bree Mignano Yee) needs to purchase a phone charger but doesn’t have enough cash. A simple shot that begins with a close-up of Marianna pulls out as her (deceased) mother emerges from out of frame, creating a simple two shot and establishing the conceit of the film. Recalling a time when her mother instilled her with the confidence to bargain for a lower price, the past merges with the present. Later, when she finds the noodles she is searching for, the cashier once again presents an impediment to Marianna and her mother’s advice comes back in a very real and visible manner. Vicky describes, “The cashier refuses to let Marianna have the noodles and she turns away from him in frustration. We cut to a flashback where she remembers her mother putting emergency cash into the chest pocket of the jean jacket she’s wearing. She finds the cash in the present and purchases the noodles. We pulled the transition off by match-cutting the blocking with her turning away from the cashier in the present and we open the flashback with her turning. I added a camera movement to make the transition more dynamic and add to the match-cut. The flashback has a small circular steadi-cam movement that tracks with her turning. It makes the turn feel more dramatic and because the composition on her is the same (center framed close up), we can incorporate differences elsewhere in the frame, like with the lighting, filtration, location, and clothing.”
In the most moving scene of the entire film, Marianna’s quest for these noodles follows her from her dad’s birthday party into a dream state, a kitchen bathed in golden heavenly light. Her mother is cooking the same noodles, donned with a headwrap which hints to the cancer she is battling. For such a complex scene, Vicky had to design a dream world on the fly, after facing production constraints. She explains, “Initially, we had planned for everything in the finale to be done in camera. We were going to have lighting changes choreographed with the blocking and camera movement using Steadicam. But the first assistant director forgot to schedule the mom there on this day so we had to problem solve quickly. We couldn’t get the oner so we stitched two shots together [by transitioning] using a white wall. It’s not the same as a true oner but it still works because we’re entering a memory so feeling a slight change happen actually makes it feel like the character is entering a memory. It’s still seamless and ultimately it ended up being easier to shoot in a lot of ways. We still had to match the composition with the same focal length of the lens but it helped us in a lot of ways because now we could do costume change and filter change.”
Instant Noodle received the prestigious “AT&T InspirASIAN” award from CAAMFest,
“Honorable Mention – International Short Film Competition” award from the Canadian Screen Award-qualifying USA Film Festival, and was officially selected by a myriad of festivals including the Academy Award-qualifying LA Shorts International Film Festival, WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, and many more. It’s a remarkable film that takes its audience to the breaking point of heartache and yet challenges them to retain the positive after-effects of tragic loss. The concept that all things are related is foundational to Instant Noodle’s DP who imparts, “An aspect of my cinematography career is working in commercials and I’ve always looked to infuse emotion and some sort of narrative into my commercial work. One thing that really excited me about Instant Noodle is that we were given the copyright for IndoMie; the instant noodle brand the main character is searching for. I grew up eating this brand in Asia where it’s very popular. I was able to blend aspects of my commercial work experience with a part of my childhood for this present-day film that allowed me to experiment. In many ways, it brought my past and present together.”