A promising holiday break takes a dark turn in How to Have Sex, the award-winning feature film debut of writer/director Molly Manning Walker. Senior Colorist Joseph Bicknell explains that much of the palette involves bright sunshine and poppy, happy colors we associate with vacation snaps — a color scheme which take on a whole different meaning as the story takes a difficult turn involving vital questions about the exact meaning of consent.
Mia McKenna-Bruce, Tara Lara Peake-Skye and Enva Lewis portray three British teenage girls embarking on a rite-of-passage excursion to the Malia region of Crete intending to partake in drinking, clubbing and other adventures. “It has a kind of Kodak Gold inspired look,” Bicknell says, referencing the well-known consumer film. Shot by Nicolas Canniccioni (Xavier Dolan’s award-winning I Killed My Mother), the film plays into the look of peoples’ photos from sundrenched getaways. “There’s a lot of warmth,” he elaborates. “There’s usually some warmth in the shadows, in the skin. Warmth permeates everything.”
When lead character’s inner turmoil kicks in, the art direction of this idyllic location changes. Spaces that previously looked pristine are now strewn with refuse. The apartment the girls share is in disarray and characters’ drunken behavior gets sloppier. The glamorous street of nightclubs now reflects more of a hostile atmosphere.
But given this transformation in the story and aspects of the ambience, the colorist explains, the overall look of the imagery does not. The director, who previously worked as a cinematographer, had specific ideas about the grade, he says, and the uncomfortable aspects of the situation in the film are heightened because they take place within that warm, sundrenched exterior and exciting neon feel of the clubs. “Everything is super high energy, loud people having fun,” he explains. “The point was not to minimize that. There’s always a kind of instinctual desire to make small moves in the grade so the scene feels ‘right’ for the drama of the moment, but the whole point here was to not do that. And that only serves to heighten the negative feeling in the character. She’s alone amongst a ton of people. It’s that feeling when you know the party is over for you, but not for everyone else.”
Bicknell, who’s worked with Molly Manning Walker as a cinematographer for years, notes “It’s always a great joy and privilege to work with someone again and again over the years. It’s made seeing the great reception of her film all the more fulfilling.”
How to Have Sex received the Un Certain Regard category at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It is currently in theaters in the UK and will soon be available for streaming on Mubi.