Colour is one of the most important aspects of visual storytelling. It helps to establish emotions that are meant to be taken out of the screen, only by looking at the image. There are no strict rules to the meaning of colour. There are only certain preconceived assumptions to its symbolism, however, the use of colour is not necessarily followed by its imposed meaning.
Up until the beginning of 20th century, when Edward Raymond Turner experimented with filters, there was no natural colour on screen, only the artificial, hand painted frames. Colour film history had begun long before Dorothy stepped into a Technicolor Oz in 1938. However, the iconic scene was a huge breakthrough in cinema.
Not only can red colour symbolise passion, love and desire, but it can be a symbol of hate and violence. Blue, on the other hand, can be associated with fear, sadness and depression, as well as harmony, trust and cleanliness. Some filmmakers might use both colours in contrast to each other , in order to impose division, difference between characters or forbidden love.
We Need to Talk About Kevin and Blue is the Warmest Colour are the perfect examples of the use of colour. The amount of red colour in the first one, as well as blue in the other one is unusual and it suggests a different understanding of the story.
LYNNE RAMSAY'S "WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN" (2011)
We Need to Talk About Kevin is a story about a mother, who suffers from postpartum depression, after giving birth to her son, Kevin. When he grows from a fussy toddler into a sociopathic teen, Eva is forced to deal with the aftermath of his horrific act. The strong use of the colour red in the film has a huge influence on the story. From the first minutes of the film we see a huge amount of colour red in every frame. It starts with a long scene at the tomato festival, in which we are being warned that something wrong is about to happen. Eve is squashed in the crowd and she seems to be enjoying herself at the event, that is meant to be fun, when her facial expression suddenly changes. At this point we interpret the scene in a completely different way, starting to understand that she actually feels endangered.
There is a framing narration formed in the story, as the events aren’t presented chronologically. The curtain shown at the beginning implies what is explained later on in the film. Even though, we don’t see much of the actual blood on the screen, its motif is supposed to remain in the audience’s mind, through the use of colour. Red seems to be the only colour used in a symbolic way, however there is something more to the story. The director uses yellow filters, in all the scenes with Kevin’s sister. Even the walls in her bedroom are yellow. The colour is symbolic to the yellow bull’s-eye on Kevin’s archery board which indicates that Kevin’s real target is not to hit the archery board, but his sister, Celia.
ABDELLATIF KECHICHE'S "BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR" (2013)
Blue is the Warmest Colour tells a story of a teenage girl questioning her sexuality and striving for acceptance. Her life turns in a different direction when she meets a blue haired girl called Emma, who helps her discover passion and desire. As the title implies, blue has a major importance to the story. We are able to understand Adele’s state of mind, as we follow her moods through the use of colour blue in almost every single shot. As far as the film is concerned, blue represents envoy of curiosity, ecstasy, love and ultimately, sadness. It’s beautifully summarised in the scene when Adele floats in the water, which metaphorically represents her being submersed in sadness. There is one more valid reference to the use of colour in the film. Adele mentions Picasso several times, applying to his Blue Period. The painter started to paint in blue after his close friend and fellow painter, Carlos Casagemas, committed suicide. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot after being disappointed by love. This perfectly describes Adele’s experience.
Blue is particularly significant to show curiosity and attraction to the unknown. We see a lot of it in the scene of Adele’s first kiss with a girl, in a gay club and most importantly on Emma’s hair, what attracts Adele’s attention. Blue stands for something intriguing, the new experience and desire. The film is divided into two chapters, what creates a framing narration. The first chapter begins with a long shot of Adele walking away from the camera and it ends with her lying naked in bed. The second chapter begins with her lying naked on the couch, posing for Emma’s painting, and ends with a long shot of her walking away from the camera. It is also the first time we see Emma with blond hair, what symbolises the change in their relationship. As the blue colour disappears from Emma's hair, so does the affection and passion in their relationship.
In the first chapter we follow a story of Adele, as a young student, who discovers and tries to understand her sexuality. She falls in love with Emma, who fully satisfies her needs. In the second chapter Adele is a grownup teacher. She’s confused, as her relationship loses the spark. Emma is devoted to her biggest passion, which is art. Therefore, Adele feels left out and gets lonely, when she realises the difference in personalities.
Apart from the colour itself, dance is particularly relevant to the story. There are seven dance scenes in the film, six of which create parallels to each other and each one of them has a meaning of its own. First of all, the march scenes. In the first chapter Adele participates in a political demonstration, whilst in the second one she fights for legal recognition of same-sex relationships, during the LGBT parade. Both scenes show a young, confused girl, attending political events. She doesn’t relate to any of those events and she doesn’t quite know what she stands for. Even though she seems more enthusiastic in the first one, she only takes part in those events for fun, as well as to keep company to her friends, and then, to Emma. The second parallel is created between the scene of Adele’s birthday party and Emma’s party in the second part of the film. It shows a huge shift in the character’s mood between the beginning of her relationship and towards its end. The second scene of Adele’s jealousy is beautifully supported by the projections of an old romantic comedy in the background. The smooth camerawork, through the use of focus, turns between the background and Adele’s face, what helps to establish the importance of her well-being. Same difference in the character is shown in the parallel between two scene’s of a school dance. In the first one Adele is a happy, enthusiastic person, enjoying working with the kids and having fun while playing with them, whilst in the second chapter she lacks any joy in her and is on the edge of a breakdown. Last but not least, there is a very appealing scene of Adele’s passionate dance, which stands on its own. The salsa scene is Adele’s self-sabotage to her relationship, as she’s immersed in the dance with a man.
Colour on screen may change our understanding of the story. Together with colour filmmakers tend to present emotions. Yellow can represent joy, blue - sadness, red might stand for anger and green for disgust and finally, violet can be a representation of fear. The symbolism is open to filmmaker’s interpretation and it can be shown in various ways but we can read more from it, than from any other aspect of film.
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