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8th March 2016

Top 5: Films with a limited colour palette

Films with a limited colour palette often employ colours to portray a certain mood or to distinguish different worlds. These films excel at this craft.

5) Raise the Red Lantern

This Chinese film set in the 1920s during The Warlord Era is bathed in rich orange-red colours and features countless red lanterns. It follows the story of the nineteen-year-old Songlian who unwillingly works as a concubine in a rich household. Each night, the concubines have to compete for the attention of the master who gives the chosen one a luxurious treatment and lights her red lantern.


Ofelia in the fantasy world. Photo: Picturehouse

4) Pan’s Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro’s dark fantasy masterpiece distinguishes different worlds by three colours which dominate the film. The blue-tinted night scenes in the real world, set in Franco’s post-civil war Spain, mirror Ofelia’s despair. To escape reality, she imagines a faun who gives her three tasks with the promise to return her to her real form as a princess of the underworld. Leaving the mossy-green labyrinth of the faun, Ofelia masters the excruciating tasks in a fantasy world dominated by golden colours.


Eying up future pies. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

3) Sweeney Todd

The horror musical, directed by Tim Burton and surprisingly, starred Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, mainly featured charcoal blue and dusty brown colours to evoke the grimy atmosphere of Victorian city of London. Only blood splatters, daydreams, and flashbacks were shown in vivid colours to contrast the miserable livelihood of these real life characters who sliced people’s throats and served them up as pies.


Stuck in a green world after taking the red pill. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

2) The Matrix

A teal tinge of green dominated most of the scenes in the real word which Neo enters after choosing the red pill and leaving the Matrix. The green also resembles the Matrix digital rain which was the computer code representing the activity of the virtual reality world. This code reminds us of the early monochrome cathode monitors, creating a retro mood in the film. Would Neo have chosen the blue pill instead if he had known about the ghastly colour scheme?


Juliette Binoche feeling blue. Photo: Miramax, MK2 Diffusion

1) Three Colors trilogy

The three films were named after the colours of the French flag (blue, white, red) and each one was loosely based on the three political ideals in the motto of the French republic: liberty, equality, and fraternity. The highly lauded films do not only employ unusual storytelling, yet the colour scheme of which each film was based on also dominated every scene of the film.

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