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A dream with­in a dream, which is also in a dream, in which now some­one is also sleep­ing, and all this is a dream. And in one of these dreams you need to intro­duce only the small­est thing — an idea! An idea that can com­plete­ly change the think­ing of a par­tic­u­lar per­son. This is what Leonar­do DiCapri­o’s char­ac­ter does for almost the entire film.

Nolan’s films have always been dis­tin­guished by incred­i­ble twists and non-triv­ial plot, and besides, giv­en the bud­gets of such films, the cam­era work there is also on top. Incep­tion is no excep­tion. Let’s ana­lyze the high-pro­file pic­ture of Christo­pher Nolan from the point of view of work­ing with the frame, col­or­ing and tricks with light.

This is anoth­er text of a per­ma­nent col­umn in which I ana­lyze films from the point of view of col­or and frames. The pre­vi­ous one can be read here.

For those who care: there may be spoil­ers in the text

COLOR

Nolan often resorts to cold col­or palettes in his films. Incep­tion is no excep­tion: from pas­tel blue to neon turquoise. The pic­ture peri­od­i­cal­ly goes into blue shades, regard­less of whether the char­ac­ters in the film are in a dream, in real­i­ty, or in deep­er lay­ers of sleep.

Stills from the movie “Incep­tion”, 2010. Direc­tor: Christo­pher Nolan

Per­haps the blue palette was just a blue palette. How­ev­er, no one has can­celed the fact that the blue col­or always accom­pa­nies melan­choly scenes, lone­ly heroes and the cor­re­spond­ing palette of emo­tions.

And DiCapri­o’s char­ac­ter in Incep­tion is real­ly alone! All the col­or warmth of the hero is con­nect­ed with the lost wife and chil­dren with whom he can­not see. He is in con­stant tor­ment, doubt and his own dreams. And the fate of this hero is one of the main emo­tion­al plot lines, the con­stant com­pan­ions of which are blue shades.

Stills from the movie “Incep­tion”, 2010. Direc­tor: Christo­pher Nolan

Fol­low­ing the col­or wheel, blue should be framed with red. What the direc­tor does. At the same time, the red col­or in most cas­es is present in the frame due to the details, and not col­or cor­rec­tion.

Elliot Page is a bright red mark­er in the mid­dle of a blue can­vas. Per­haps, with such work with the cos­tume of the char­ac­ter, Nolan want­ed to empha­size the “fatal girl”. The one that changed every­thing by influ­enc­ing the demons of DiCapri­o’s past.

Stills from the movie “Incep­tion”, 2010. Direc­tor: Christo­pher Nolan

The Itten cir­cle is an impor­tant part of work­ing with col­or, but there is anoth­er well-estab­lished col­or scheme with a blue tint — azure + beige. In those moments when the pic­ture emerges from the blue palette, the film is immersed in these tones. What is impor­tant, already by the sec­ond sta­ble scheme one can judge the direc­tor’s approach to work­ing with col­or. Please note: con­fi­dent col­ors in many scenes are obtained due to the nat­ur­al col­or of objects in the frame. Wood­en fur­ni­ture, a yel­low shirt on one of the char­ac­ters, yel­low cur­tains, even win­dows that are cov­ered with old yel­lowed news­pa­pers for the sake of a par­tic­u­lar shade in the frame.

Stills from the movie “Incep­tion”, 2010. Direc­tor: Christo­pher Nolan

Sub­tle col­or­ing is less notice­able to the eye, it does not look flashy against the back­ground of the over­all pic­ture and, most like­ly, it is easy to miss it while watch­ing a movie. Such col­or schemes become vis­i­ble to the eye only in freeze frames. This approach makes the work with col­or organ­ic, not stand out. In the end, the col­or bal­ance is aimed at mak­ing it com­fort­able for the view­er to see this or that pic­ture, where every­thing is in bal­ance.

So, paus­ing, you can look close­ly and see that in the scene where Cobb and Ari­adne meet, the cos­tume design­er dressed DiCaprio in blue and Paige in red. Prac­ti­cal­ly the sto­ry of a man and a woman in a clas­si­cal inter­pre­ta­tion, clas­sic gen­der col­ors.

Frame from the film “Incep­tion”, 2010. Direc­tor: Christo­pher Nolan

In anoth­er scene, sev­er­al peo­ple can be seen dressed in shades of red and pink that com­ple­ment the bloom­ing greens in the back­ground. But here, unlike the main char­ac­ter, red not only com­ple­ments the green, but also empha­sizes aggres­sion, because the crowd at the end began to attack Ari­adne.

Frame from the film “Incep­tion”, 2010. Direc­tor: Christo­pher Nolan

And in the final scene of the deep­est sleep, the hue of the wood­en cab­i­net is almost close to red, and the light on the tiles in the room is more green than cold blue. Green and red, again com­ple­men­tary col­ors.

Frame from the film “Incep­tion”, 2010. Direc­tor: Christo­pher Nolan

And final­ly, Cob­b’s father, not oth­er­wise a uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor. Sit­ting in front of a clas­sic green chalk­board and wear­ing a pur­ple shirt. Anoth­er neat com­bi­na­tion.

Frame from the film “Incep­tion”, 2010. Direc­tor: Christo­pher Nolan

STAFF

When ana­lyz­ing shots, it’s always worth keep­ing in mind that there are unwrit­ten tricks that many direc­tors bring to their films. These are not finds worth empha­siz­ing with a thick line, but char­ac­ter­is­tic chips, almost accord­ing to the man­u­al of cin­e­mato­graph­ic shots. In the case of Incep­tion, one of these tech­niques is the pres­ence effect, which the direc­tor achieves by shoot­ing a char­ac­ter “from behind anoth­er char­ac­ter’s shoul­der.” So, the lat­ter gets out of focus to the fore, fram­ing the pic­ture. In addi­tion to Nolan, a char­ac­ter­is­tic move can be seen, for exam­ple, in Wes Ander­son or in Catch Me If You Can.

Stills from the movie “Incep­tion”, 2010. Direc­tor: Christo­pher Nolan

The same applies to the per­spec­tive, which in itself is already a cin­e­mat­ic set­ting for any shots. For a beau­ti­ful pic­ture, it remains only to place the char­ac­ters there.

Stills from the movie “Incep­tion”, 2010. Direc­tor: Christo­pher Nolan

But con­trast­ing light, if present in the “man­u­als”, is clear­ly much deep­er. In the case of Incep­tion, this tech­nique is used not so much for the sake of the beau­ty of the frame, but for the sake of reveal­ing the char­ac­ters. A film about our sub­con­scious, which is worked with in a dream, and even such emo­tion­al char­ac­ters, requires appro­pri­ate cov­er­age. The con­trast that can be achieved through side light­ing empha­sizes faces, and there­fore the emo­tions on these faces.

What is curi­ous: in most cas­es, con­trast light­ing is used in a close-up of DiCapri­o’s char­ac­ter. The one who can’t meet his kids and wor­ries about the whole movie because of his wife. Despite the quan­ti­ta­tive cast, the light accent accom­pa­nies this par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ter.

Stills from the movie “Incep­tion”, 2010. Direc­tor: Christo­pher Nolan

From the gen­er­al to the par­tic­u­lar: behind the big tricks that go through the entire film, small­er ones are hid­den, but no less impor­tant. The chips that the direc­tor uses in them can be safe­ly tak­en to the mood­board and used as styl­is­tic finds on the set.

1. Pic­tures with reflec­tion. Pho­tos through reflec­tions in pud­dles and ponds are no longer new and not at all a tricky fea­ture. How­ev­er, it is worth remem­ber­ing that oth­er sur­faces can also reflect, and the tech­nique itself can be applied to por­trait pho­tog­ra­phy.

Frame from the film “Incep­tion”, 2010. Direc­tor: Christo­pher Nolan

2. Two chips for Love sto­ry. The pow­er of per­spec­tive has already been men­tioned above, but now about a more spe­cif­ic expo­sure: a street (per­haps a pedes­tri­an one), beau­ti­ful archi­tec­ture around, shoot­ing at a wide angle and a cou­ple in love in the fore­ground walk­ing in this per­spec­tive. The recep­tion is clear, not com­pli­cat­ed, and the out­put pic­ture is cin­e­mat­ic.

After such a walk, you can take a cou­ple in the expo­si­tion of a cof­fee shop or bar. Only not with large por­traits at the counter, but choos­ing a gen­er­al shot so that the inte­ri­or and oth­er vis­i­tors get into the frame. Let the lovers be in focus, the seman­tic cen­ter of the pho­to. Elab­o­ra­tion of plans always makes a pho­to­graph more pow­er­ful.

Frame from the film “Incep­tion”, 2010. Direc­tor: Christo­pher Nolan
Frame from the film “Incep­tion”, 2010. Direc­tor: Christo­pher Nolan

3. Dutch cor­ner. Any pic­ture will be more dynam­ic if you tilt the hori­zon line in it. Diag­o­nal lines already have dynam­ics. Imag­ine a scene in a hotel cor­ri­dor, in an ele­va­tor shaft, or on the stairs if they were filmed accord­ing to all the for­mal rules. Visu­al per­cep­tion would obvi­ous­ly change, and the pic­ture would look sta­t­ic and bor­ing.

Frame from the film “Incep­tion”, 2010. Direc­tor: Christo­pher Nolan

The recep­tion of the Dutch angle is not a Nolan find. We even wrote a sep­a­rate mate­r­i­al, where the Dutch cor­ner is one of the cas­es when the for­mal rules of com­po­si­tion can and should be vio­lat­ed. The Dutch angle will make the pic­ture more live­ly, and empha­size the move­ments of the char­ac­ters in such a pic­ture. Larg­er angle of incli­na­tion — more dynam­ics! A clear must-have for street shoot­ing.

4. Small­ness. Notice the truck and the two char­ac­ters in the footage. In the first of them, the expo­si­tion has a huge bridge, in the sec­ond — sky­scrap­ers of even more impres­sive size, behind which the fig­ures of the char­ac­ters are gen­er­al­ly lost. If both of these shots were tak­en clos­er to the sub­ject, then all the con­trast would be lost. By choos­ing a wide angle and far point of view to cap­ture the widest pos­si­ble shot, the direc­tor enhances the con­tra­dic­tion and con­trast in the frame. Almost Chekhov’s lit­tle man against the back­drop of a huge city. Now imag­ine how emo­tion­al such a recep­tion can be if it is an urban shoot­ing in which the per­son being filmed is sur­round­ed by hous­es hang­ing over him!

Frame from the film “Incep­tion”, 2010. Direc­tor: Christo­pher Nolan
Frame from the film “Incep­tion”, 2010. Direc­tor: Christo­pher Nolan

5. Sil­hou­ettes, blinds and hard light. Take a clos­er look at the select­ed frames, what are the sim­i­lar­i­ties? In each of the three char­ac­ters are oppo­site the win­dow — the only source, the light is hard. The rest of the frame is immersed in semi-dark­ness. Or, con­verse­ly, the char­ac­ter from the back los­es fea­tures, remain­ing only a sil­hou­ette against the back­ground of the win­dow.

A light­ed win­dow, beams of light through blinds, and low­ered shad­ows in post-pro­cess­ing can be pow­er­ful tricks when shoot­ing indoors. And if you turn the mod­el to face the light, leav­ing the expo­sure in twi­light, then this will cer­tain­ly be a strong shot!

Stills from the movie “Incep­tion”, 2010. Direc­tor: Christo­pher Nolan

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