Watching and Making: A specific question of cinema which allows the discovery of the different parameters of cinema on every encounter: mise en scène, sound, light, acting, editing… Featuring resources to explore the topic in an educational setting. An examination of colour: Whether as part of the shimmering world of musicals, or discretely deployed throughout the course of a film, how does colour become an essential element of narration and aesthetics in cinema?

Presentation of challenges

Alain Bergala is a critic, film-maker, and teacher at the Femis. Through supporting extracts, he puts into light the essential choices made by filmmakers when dealing with the treatment of colour in films: complete control of musicals filmed in studios, choice of natural sets where objects and characters’ costumes are the colourist agents, irruption of monochromic or two-colour process sequences, “repainted” reality with chosen colours.. These choices occur in a dynamic way in a sequence or throughout the film and can be just as well on costumes, sets and seasons as on light.

A question / a sequence

Alain Bergala analyses a sequence from Van Gogh by Maurice Pialat: the open-air café scene, at the end of which Van Gogh tries to drown himself. Often considered as a naturalist film-maker, Pialat acts as a pointillist painter: choosing a dull general palette (sets, costumes, etc.), to make colour stand out better, progressively, through stains. Using blurring elements coming to disrupt colours organisation (sunlight piercing through the branches, dust), he reveals what is difficult to see every day: colour doesn’t exist in itself, but depends on the light that lights it.

Film Extracts

Narrative Function

Colour, in cinema, allows us to meet and distinguish a variety of factors from one and other, such as: characters; universes and seasons. It allows our attention to be drawn to a clue or even specific detail of the plot.

Emotional Function

The choice of the dynamic arrangement of colours during the course of a sequence, or throughout the course of a film, creates a specific psychological climate in a film, creating an emotional response in the viewer - allowing them, at certain times, to share the emotional state of the character on screen.

Working with Colour in Film

Colour doesn’t exist alone in cinema - it is a product of technologies at the point of the film’s creation, it indicates the filmmaker’s specific choices, it testifies to what extent they’ve chosen to influence what you’re seeing. The colours you see on screen are the result of a selection process, they are influenced by how light reflects off the material in shot and whether the footage was shot on location or in a studio.

light on figure or background