If we try to make an image instantly readable, we often increase contrast between character and background so that the silhouette gets clearer. In live-action films in particular, this isn’t always necessary because characters are easily distinguished from the background simply because there’s always some movement. In fact, some films make it part of their artistic design to blend character clothes in with their surroundings. In a future post we’ll see that Wes Anderson is often dressing his actors in this chameleon-like way.
Like a "trompe-l’oeil" painting
In Léa Pool’s Anne Trister (1986) this all makes sense because protagonist Anne Trister is a trompe-l’oeil painter in search of her roots. Hairstyles and heavy synthesizer music are so blatantly 1980s style that the timelessness and subtlety of the film might get overlooked at first.
Anne Trister seems deliberately to be one of the most colorless color movies since Tati’s PlayTime (1967). The art direction carefully constructed an all gray environment against which skin tones sometimes come off as warm accents or blend in when surrounded by warm grays/browns.
The contrasts are subtle, some of them only tonal, some of them in pattern, some of them in hue. This all makes sense since the film is about a trompe-l’oeil painter.
Nevertheless, the light looks fairly natural. There is a complex (and maybe principally intuitive) pattern of red and to a lesser extent blue accents. It doesn’t seem to be just a matter of warm or cold colors. The film's focus is on the growing relationship between Anne and her psychologist friend Alix. While the receding blue is often present in sweaters, red is the only color Anne Trister uses in her work. It is also the color a disturbed child uses to act out her violent excesses.
|This is the first shot of the film showing Anne with her mother after the death of her father.|
|In the middle, Anne is seen in silhouette, at left and right her clothes match the gray walls more or less.|
|Sand is the central motive of the film, there are visual analogies with snow.|
|Anne paints her atelier with a sand-like structure using gray, white and red to create the illusion of a different room.|
|When we first see her paint, she's the only one using red.|
|Mother and boyfriend after Anne left Switzerland, red accents everywhere.|
|Anne meets her friend Alix in Montréal|
|Alix in her practice (left), in Anne's atelier (middle) where Anne blends in (right).|
Red and blue
Soft cold vs. warm
|Alix in flesh colored sheets, Anne still gray|
|Very soft contrasts of warm (brown) and cold (blue) gray reversed in two different scenes.|
|before Anne leaves Montréal in the end, red is very soft.|
|Alix alone after Anne's departure (left), with a message of Anne from the desert (right).|