We live in a world of extremes and the colour palette of cinema itself could be seen as one of two extremes – the monochrome versus the colour image. There have been those film such as Pleasantville that have sought to juxtapose the extremes of the colour palette, yet Petr Václav’s We Are Never Alone is in a state of frequent movement between the two. Ahead of the screening at the Barbican, Václav, a leading filmmaker in the Czech post-revolution cinema spoke with Aesthetica about his motivation for juxtaposing the colour palette in his latest film. He also discussed his own ideas of black and white versus colour, and the way in which colour can influence the meaning and the experience of a film.
PR: The film is made up of scenes that are in black and white juxtaposed with scenes that are in colour, there are few filmmakers that would employ such a technique, We Are Never Alone could be seen as an example of how this juxtaposition does not impact the coherence of a film, nor does it affect the story.
PV: No, it doesn’t affect the story, but I think it has an emotional impact because these parts that are in black and white allow me to express sentiments that I couldn’t otherwise obtain without the use of black and white. There is also this sentiment in the beginning when the two characters (the neighbour and his wife) are depressed and she decides to follow her love that suddenly her colours appear, and you see the world differently. I think it is more important than any discourse through sentences of dialogue, and when you put this black and white side of life together with the colour side of the life, it changes something. I don’t think this film could just be in colour or just be in black and white.
PR: Was this juxtaposition of black and white and colour an early intention, or was it an idea that emerged more gradually?
PV: The idea of black and white was inherent in the conception of the film and it is also very close to both the reality and the characters. At the same time it is an hyperbolic film and the behaviour of the characters is pretty extreme. So I wanted to be extreme in the treatment of colour because black and white is the highest level of colour treatment. Black is a colour and white is a colour, so I wanted to go towards this extreme treatment. It is also interesting that when you see Bresson in black and white, it is so different to Bresson in colour. On another level I wanted to speak about our way of feeling through colour, but also through black and white.
PR: There are scenes where the juxtaposition makes the colour resonates with you and while usually you wouldn’t pay as much attention. Here the colour does not only feel like it is the colour of the world of the characters, but colour with a purpose.
PV: It is, and for example his (the bouncer) car is red, which has a strong signification right? But in the beginning I don’t think that the spectator knows that it is red. It is a dark car and when it becomes red there is a strong meaning in that, and also her blues are orange. This we really wanted and the changing of the colours were studied, but it was never written that he would have a white or black car because owing to the budget I didn’t know if I would obtain a yellow or a red one.
PR: Filmmakers such as yourself show black and white film as an aesthetic choice of the filmmaker. If more filmmakers alongside yourself were willing to juxtapose the colour palette, it could enhance cinema and take it in a different direction.
PV: Yes, because black and white is less realistic and so already the black and white will change the reality. You are not in realism, but you are lets say in much more of a dynamic way of seeing things. I wanted to use that, to use the good side of the black and white and the good side of colours. This was in order to say from the beginning that we are not in realism, but that we are seeking emotions like the Fauvist paintings of Matisse and Vlaminck, and all these painters that wanted to express sentiment by colour, but not the reality.
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1. Film Still from Petr Václav’s We Are Never Alone. Courtesy of the filmmaker.