Possible Influences of Monet and Rivera
The movie My Family (Mi Familia), directed by Nava in 1995, offers many interesting visuals that showcase the view of Mexican American culture. The film starts with shots of Mexico, including some shots of nature, slowly shifting toward a town with people. Moreover, in the first act, the film includes many scenes of Mexico, which is described through the story of the character. Thus, the visual representation of the narrative is essential here, and one may think about the art that could influence the director’s choice of scenery.
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First of all, the most notable feature of the described shots is the use of a limited color palette. In most shots, red and brown tones and an overall warm light are chosen for the mise en scène. It is possible to pose that this decision was made based on the natural amount of light in the region and the landscape. A similar use of red-brown tones can be observed in the paintings of Rivera. In an early work, “The House on the Bridge,” Rivera uses a limited number of colors to create a warm atmosphere, where water, buildings, and trees are of the same red-brown tone. The use of warm undertones is present in many famous works of the painter, and one of Rivera’s murals shows that even white is warm and bathed in sunlight. Similarly, Nava’s scenery is influenced by the weather and the country’s warmth.
The color palette also shows a connection between the shots of Mexico from where one of the characters travels and Los Angeles, California, the destination. The words from the movie that the border between countries was “just a line in the dirt” is further strengthened by imagery – the colors do not change between the two places. Thus, the film implies that, in the story, these territories are the same for the characters. Although the city is something new for the traveler, the landscape and nature are familiar.
Nonetheless, other shots that are placed in-between moments with a limited palate have distinct contrasts between the sky and greenery. Here, one can see a resemblance to the paintings of Monet, such as “The Poppy Field in Argenteuil” and “La Grenouillére.” The painter separates the blues sky and water from the green trees and grass, creating a vibrant image of bustling nature. In the same way, Nava presents some of the shots in which the tone suddenly shifts from sun-filled pictures to landscapes with an apparent contrast between the colors.
It is vital to note that most shots still focus on nature and show how the life of the characters is distant from urban development. Most notably, the composition of the scenes resembles Monet’s choice to view the scenery from afar. In both “The Poppy Field in Argenteuil” and “La Grenouillére,” Monet shows people, but their faces cannot be distinguished because they are far away or in the shadow. Nava places his characters in a similar way, in a corner or the side of the screen. Rivera’s depiction of field workers in “Flower Vendor” is what could have inspired Nava’s opening scenes. Nava uses bright colors and shows massive bouquets being collected by women – their clothes and labor are related to those depicted by Rivera in his works.
Visual Themes and the Narrative
The scene in My Family, where Chucho argues with his father, José, has a setting that contributes to the dynamic and tone of the story. First, the father receives the news about his older son from the police, while the rest of the family stands in the background. Here, the red wall is near the telephone, separating the world, in which the bad news is already known, from the green walls where the mother and children are. Notably, the red wall is illuminated by a lamp as though the room is dark, while the green walls are in the sunlight. One may interpret this distinction as the contrast of superficial and natural, dishonest and sincere.
When Chucho returns home, this contrast appears again between José and his son. José stands on the left, near green walls, and Chucho is beside the red entrance. When the camera pans on the father, his color is unaffected by the red glow, and Chucho’s whole image is influenced by his surroundings. Here, the color and the location of the walls are crucial to portraying the divide that the family has encountered. José wants his family to remember his and his wife’s struggle, but remember that one’s dignity is the most important part of life. In contrast, Chucho’s values are different – he sees America as a place where money is the only possible source of respect.
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Another significant point that further shows the divide between the two generations is that José and Chucho stand near the entrance’s corner, and a wall splits the shot into two parts. José stands in the main part of the house, where he has lived for a long time – it has pictures, furniture, and other mementos of the life that he experienced in the country. Chucho’s side of the shot is not empty as well – nonetheless, the darkness of the wall mutes all colors on the items and makes them look dirty and tarnished. Finally, the wardrobe of the characters is telling – José changes into a black shirt while waiting for his son, displaying grief over his family’s decline. Chucho’s clothes make him blend in with the red environment, implying his desire to conform to the cruel reality.
Nava, Gregory, director. My Family. New Line Cinema, 1995.