The choices of color in shot compositions have a significant impact on the narrative and the emotions the director tries to create. In “Happiness”, every shot is carefully composed, where all the colors match and create a beautiful composition that could easily be a painting.
The color palette in a movie tends to go unnoticed in some cases; however, it is more important than it looks likes. Not just the color correction of a certain movie, but also the choices of color in shot compositions, have a significant impact in the narrative and the emotions the director tries to create with the atmosphere of the movie. In Happiness (1964), directed by Agnès Varda, the bright colors are a heavy contrast with the narrative of the movie, but at the same time, it is the reason why they fit perfectly.
Throughout the movie, the color palette is always vivid colors, especially yellow, green and blue tones. These colors are associated with happiness and warmth, and it is usually used in romantic comedies. Perhaps due to this stereotype of happy movies with bright colors, when Happiness starts, the audience might feel prepared for another happy story about love. The first shots are close-ups of sunflowers, and in one of them, it is seen a couple that holds hands with children. This shot cross-dissolves to the first scene, where this couple has a picnic with their children. They kiss and play with their kids, just like a happy family. The bright greens of the trees and bushes, as well with the vivid colors of their clothes (yellow, green, blue and pink), only add to this happy atmosphere. While this first scene sets the movie’s color palette, it also familiarizes the audience with Varda’s cross-dissolve unique technique, which is just another confirmation of the director’s exercise with color. After the sunflower sequence, instead of fade it to black or cross-dissolve both images, the director uses the color green for this transition. In the next shot, green is the predominant color. Varda repeats this technique throughout the movie, which accentuates her interest with color and the critical role it plays in Happiness.
Even though the audience might be prepared for another happy love story, Varda has a different fate for this couple. François meets another woman, falls in love with her and they both have an affair. Although he repeatedly cheats on his wife Thérèse, the constant use of these “happy colors” feel like an excuse for his behavior – after all, he is happy with both women. At this point of the movie, the use of bright colors starts to feel like they are used ironically. In the scene where François tells Thérèse about the affair, the shots resemble the opening scene. Both characters wear green clothes and are surrounded by the greens of nature. Also, the light in this scene brings out all the colors and the joyful atmosphere. The idyllic landscape is a heavy contrast with the unfortunate news François gives to his wife. Also, the location of this scene is similar to the first one when their relationship is still intact. The choice to keep the color palette of the movie, as well as similar locations, is an intelligent choice that plays well with the theme of the story – happiness.
The color palette of Happiness is a unique choice. It is usually expected to have the colors slowly fade to darker colors to provoke an emotion of sadness, but Varda does not lose focus on happiness.
Even though the movie has a sad outcome, François still ends up happy, and that is what matters from the perspective of the movie. The idyllic landscape and bright colors create a continuous aesthetic that links every scene and shot. Every shot is carefully composed, where all the colors match and create a beautiful composition that could easily be a painting, like Fragonard’s “The Swing.” Happiness is an example of how the color palette has an impact in the narrative of a movie.