Any Body Zine writer Nicola van Straaten sat down with filmmaker Jenna Bass to discuss the role of colour in her recent film Love The One You Love. If you haven’t seen the film yet – you should. Set in and around Cape Town, the film follows two parallel stories that question the ideals we hold too sacred: love, happiness, and the New South Africa, the pursuit of which makes truth impossible. We began the discussion by talking about the fact that the film had virtually no budget, but as Jenna pointed out in previous chats about the film, colour is essentially a tool freely available to filmmakers…
“[I realized that] having no money didn’t mean that I couldn’t make something beautiful. You could create something very beautiful just by how you were mindful of colour; And not just beautiful, but beautiful in a way that also had depth to it – and meaning. I don’t subscribe to the idea that yellow means this and green means that, but I definitely believe that we have emotional responses to colour that are not necessarily the same for everyone. But whether or not you feel the same thing, you feel something. By combining this colour with this colour, maybe I’m not going to get the same response from people but there will definitely be a response. I think that’s what you’re going for as a filmmaker, you can’t control what people feel, but you can (hopefully) try make them feel something. Colour does that in a really strong, primal way. So I was like – I’m going to use this to a heightened degree because it’s something that’s available to me.
I also wanted to break the expectation that low budget or no budget films (and also realism) had to be boring or had to be ‘realism’ in any particular way. What is realism? Isn’t realism really just the ability to immerse ourselves in it so that we feel like it’s real, even though we know that it’s not? When we think of realist films we have a very particular aesthetic in mind and I didn’t want to be tied down by that. Many people’s responses to the film have been that it feels really realistic, but it’s extremely heightened and extremely hyper-real a lot of the time. I think colour played a big part in that.
There’s a distinct visual difference in the choice of colour between the two different stories; that was a very conscious decision. Sometimes it worked out better than I could have even planned. A lot of Eugene and Mo’s story takes place in this backyard poolroom in Bridgetown and I’d already decided that Eugene’s story was already going to be blues and greens. And then we got there, there was that green, plastic roofing which made all the light inside the room blue and green and that was just… that just worked out like that.
It’s pretty simple, you’ve got two parallel stories, one is representing too much love and one is representing – well, they’re both too much love in some ways. Or the lack of love, the lack of warmth and companionship. In Terri and Sandile’s story you’ve got characters who have particular ideals of what love is – warm and fuzzy and passionate. That obviously represents this idealized version of romance and love. So you’ve got warm and cool. There are very warm, hot, passionate colours like reds and pinks for Terri and Sandile’s story and blues, greens, turquoises for Eugene and Mo’s.
I didn’t restrict myself to just those colours. There’s a lot of rainbow imagery in there. The combination of warm and cool colours and just also the combination of colours in general is definitely like rainbow symbolism. I wouldn’t say I chose to consciously use [rainbow colours] in a racial sense… but the rainbow stuff was definitely a commentary on how our ideals are our salvation and also our destruction. Love being one of those ideals, that’s the most evident one in the film, but the rainbow nation definitely is the underlying thing that’s being questioned along with Nelson Mandela, not as a person but as a symbol. He is literally a mask behind which the previous generation and potentially our own hides (or at least, white people or people who have done well out of the last twenty years of ‘democracy’). We hide behind this saviour-like, Jesus-like story and it means that someone has died for our sins. Basically, we don’t have to do anything. And it’s the same with the rainbow nation narrative.
But at the same time, they’re somehow noble ideals. Wouldn’t we love to live in the rainbow nation? It would be great if it were actually real. Unfortunately it’s not. These things don’t need to be dismissed. Clichés and silly ideals like this come from something of sincerity, I think. You could just dismiss them or you could be like – these are dreams … you know, dreams come from a place where we do want these things to be real. Maybe we should be resigned to them in some way, even if they are kind of unattainable.”
Image credits: stills from the film Love the One You Love by Jenna Bass