Hoyte van Hoytema: Tenet most complex film Ive ever made

With the turning of the American blockbuster Tenet, cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema has once again pushed its limits. The Dutchman calls the action thriller “definitely the most complex and challenging film” he has ever worked on.

“ It is impossible to summarize Tenet in one thought. There are so many layers in this film,” says 48-year-old Van Hoytema to the ANP. “The first time I read the script, I couldnt understand it. Its complex and overwhelming, but I also knew: I want to see and experience this.”

The much-discussed film will premiere next week. The leading roles are John David Washington, Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki. Washington plays a secret agent to prevent World War III and becomes involved in a battle not only with his opponents but also with time. This creates a number of ingenious (action) scenes in which time goes both forward and backwards.

Outside limits of normal

It produced Van Hoytema a lot of extra work. For example, some scenes had to be recorded several times from different angles: one to make time run ahead and one to reverse time. And that must remain credible. “You dont want you to feel like it has something supernatural that youre watching. You want something plausible that might be beyond the limits of normal but is credible.”

After the blockbusters Interstellar (2014) and Dunkirk (2017), Van Hoytema has joined forces with Christopher Nolan. The cinematographer, who was nominated for an Oscar with his camera work for Dunkirk, has a good connection with the British-American director.


“With each film, you get to know each other a little better. You know what to do, what to expect, you know each others ambition and of course there is chemistry”, explains Van Hoytema. That all helps to make a better film, says the director of photography. And with Tenet, he thinks Nolan is even more ambitious than he always is.

Van Hoytema and Nolan are now much further than at the time of Interstellar in 2014. “We can handle more complex things. If Tenet had been our first film, it would have been a lot harder. Even though Interstellar was complex enough,” he laughs.


Because of the coronacrisis, there was rarely such pressure on a cinema title. Tenet is the first big American blockbuster to come out and it is the industry that the film is a success. Many other film studios did not dare to take it and put off their titles.

Van Hoytema calls it sad that the market has ended up in this situation, but Tenet is, in his view, the ideal film for refilling cinemas, as far as possible under the measures in force. “Theres a lot of pressure on Tenet. I really hope that this film can help people get back to the cinema.”


The cinematographer is now sweet with turning commercials in America, where he lives with his family. “I started that again. I like to do that once in a while. Furthermore, for me, this quarantine period is the same as for everyone, I think. I spend a lot of time with family and do some small projects at home,” says Van Hoytema. “Im in no hurry to adopt a new film but at the same time I would like to start again. We have to wait and see what the future brings us.”

Tenet will premiere Wednesday in the Netherlands and in the rest of Europe. The United States will follow next week.