The Magic of Color in Film






Greetings to all,

So here I was at my friend’s place, flipping through Netflix’s content. I wanted to watch a movie that I have never seen before. A foreign film sounded like icing on a cake! We moved into the Foreign film category and among the top 10 recommended films for my friend was this: Juan Carlos Fresnadillos’s film: Intacto. Initial thoughts after we watched the film were, at best, neutral. From a visual perspective, this film was interesting. From an acting standpoint, well.. let’s just say that when you cast someone like Max Von Sydow into a film, everyone else in the picture is as memorable as dirt (in most cases, not all.) However, this post is not about the acting; this post is about the genius utilization of color to create the unforgettable visual narrative that is Intacto.

Now before you start reading the analysis, I recommend that you sit through the movie at least 2-3 times. This film is about intricate and carefully orchestrated details. To be able to catch all of them and make sense of the idea behind the film, you need to have seen it several times.

The film employed different techniques to illustrate the psyche within each character and presented the audience with a look into the future of each character and plot. It was important to note that although some films used narration or text to provide the premise or introduction to the medium, Intacto used visual elements such as color to do the same thing.

The first notable visual element occurred about five minutes into the movie. One of the gentlemen who worked at a casino was introduced to the audience in the midst of a lot of light (fancy outfits of people coupled with the vibrant colors of the active casino). The shot was then cut to the same gentleman walking out of an elevator into a dark corridor. The presence of light in the corridor was very faint. The gentleman’s face was very difficult to see in the dark. The suit that he was wearing was also dark and blended in heavily with the shadows; this made him seem like a phantom or a person exiled from the light. Although the audience established that the light was associated with the vibrancy and energy in the casino, it stood for something else. The camera cut to a medium shot of another gentleman named Samuel (Max von Sydow) sitting on a couch across from another couch onto which the gentleman in black sat on. Samuel was wearing a white suit which immediately connected him with the casino because the casino was associated with light colors before. Eventually, the other gentleman is introduced as Federico (Eusebio Poncela). Federico worked for Samuel who happened to own the casino. The idea of Federico being a phantom or an outcast was brought into focus when he told Samuel that he wished to retire from the job. Although unhappy, Samuel let Federico go. On his way back, Federico was about to enter an elevator to leave the corridor. The camera cut to a deep focus shot of a red corridor with a “Good Luck” neon sign in the far back. The red color of the corridor instigated danger or some kind of end for Federico. The sign was photographed in first person perspective as if stemming from the vanishing point. This gave the audience the illusion that the sign was far from Federico or that the idea of good luck was something he would not be looking forward to anymore. This theory was then sanctioned as truth as Samuel approached Federico and took away his power of luck.

The next important color segment in the film took place seven years after Federico was banished from the casino. An individual by the name of Tomas (Leonardo Sbaraglia) was the only left survivor of a devastating plane crash. The audience was introduced to Tomas as he was rushed into the hospital. The hospital was photographed in a palette of white. This color was associated with Samuel or the idea of luck. The introduction of the new character under a background of white immediately renders Tomas as a lucky person. After Tomas woke up in the hospital, he was greeted by Federico who was now established as the harbinger of bad luck after his power was taken away from him. Federico convinced Tomas that he possessed an unusual power in which luck was always on his side. The scene was then cut to Tomas being introduced to a group of people who believed they possessed the same power. As a test, the three people were locked in a dark room while being blindfolded as a firefly was let to hover above each person’s head. Before the firefly flew out of its box it began to flicker a pigment of green which was perceived in a close-up shot of each person’s chin. The color green has long been associated as the opposite of red. Since the color red was established as a color of danger or an end, green may be considered to mean safety or a new beginning. The firefly eventually landed on Tomas’s head. As the lights were turned back on, Tomas was literally and symbolically crowned the new face of luck. After seeing the above scenes, the film established a color scheme (white, black, red and green). At this point, the color white was established as the color of greatness or godliness. The black color was established as the color of neutrality. In other words, black would always transition into either red or green shortly after being introduced. The color red was established as the end and the color green was established as the beginning.

Later in the movie it was ascertained, that although lucky, one must play games that tested each person’s level of luck. The winner of each game was then awarded each participant’s luck, thus making the individual luckier than before. The ultimate level of luck was achieved by winning the final game in the casino where Samuel resided. This idea of obtaining greater luck changed the definition of the white color. It was mentioned earlier that white was the symbol of godliness. Later in the movie, white took on two different forms, the ephemeral white and the eternal white. Ephemeral white was associated with the hospital scene in which Tomas took the opportunity to change into normal clothing and leave. This signified that at that particular moment in Tomas’s life, he was the luckiest because he survived the plane crash. However, symbolically, that moment was short lived as he left the hospital and changed into normal clothing. Eternal white was best exemplified by Samuel. Throughout the film, Samuel was always wearing a white suit all the time. He never changed the color of his outfit; this very fact makes him perfect and the luckiest man in the world. This theory was proven by a series of scenes. In a short scene, Samuel walked around his casino floor until he decided to turn off the main lights. When the main lights were turned off, nothing but black and neon red signs were perceived. Although the lights were turned off, Samuel’s white suit was still visible to the audience. Samuel was the untouchable. The scene was quickly cut to another image of Federico and Tomas driving a red car down a black road on their way to a new game. When Samuel turned the casino floor from a brightly lit room to a reddish black room by turning off the main lights, he provided the audience with an indication of his power to take away people’s luck. The audience’s attention was quickly transferred over to the car scene in which red and black could be seen again. This juxtaposition of colors indicated that perhaps Tomas’s luck was on the cusp of disappearing. The game that quickly followed that scene resulted in Tomas’s loss. After Tomas lost, another scene showed Tomas sitting amongst a background of greenery (the symbol of a new beginning) bleeding from his face. The red blood juxtaposed with the greenery symbolized an end to his newly acquired karma and perhaps an end to his original luck.

After losing the game, Federico abandoned Tomas to continue his journey back to the casino. During the game that Tomas participated in, Federico placed a bet on Tomas’s girlfriend who he secretly believed was the person who granted luck to Tomas and saved him on the airplane. It turned out that Tomas was responsible for keeping his girlfriend off the plane and saved her life. In fact, the photo of Tomas’s girlfriend that was showcased several times in the film presented her wearing a red hat; the red was associated with the end or misfortune. This being noted, the girlfriend was never lucky to begin with. This had the audience shed a new sense of hope onto Tomas. Tomas found Federico and they travelled to the casino. On their way there, a shot of the car Federico was driving was shown to the audience. This time, the car that was driven was of the color green. As was mentioned before, green symbolized a new beginning, or in Tomas’s present case, a new hope (the chance to save his girlfriend). Upon entering the dark corridor, Tomas was led to a room where he was able to change into the same outfit as Samuel always wore. The outfit was the white suit. Symbolically, this signified Samuel’s respect for an equal opportunity for all of his opponents. Tomas was then led to a room with the two couches as was seen in the beginning of the film. A game of Russian roulette was the game that would be played to determine the luckiest man. Tomas was handed the gun first. Tomas spun the cartridge, cocked the gun and pulled the trigger. This was a test of Samuel’s luck and, as always, he won. Samuel was given the gun and performed the same maneuver, right before he pulled the trigger, a law enforcement agent investigating the plane crash rushed into the room, Samuel pulled the trigger and for the first time in thirty years, the gun did not fire. Someone managed to turn off the lights. In the pitch black, neutrality was established and gunshots were heard. At the end, the lights were turned back on by Federico to reveal Tomas to be alive. The black quickly transitioned to white thus dubbing Tomas the luckiest man in the world.

The film’s main strength was the photography; in particular, the use of color. The use of color and color variation helped to add a sense of suspense to each event in the film. Colors personified each character’s thoughts and actions. This could also explain why the acting wasn’t principle; it was all done deliberately. If you haven’t already guessed, this film is first and foremost a director’s cinema. It is a testament to the vision and talents of the director and not anyone else; think of it as a visual resume.  This film is a testament to the relatively small selection of true color films (ex: The Fall, Mulholland Dr. and Blue Velvet come into mind.)

I hope you enjoyed reading this!

If you wish, feel free to leave a comment , question or suggestion in regards to this topic.

– The Jew


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