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January 24, 2013
Cinema is having a little moment right now—the annual Sundance Film Festival is just about to wrap up and awards season is currently in full swing. We take a look at eight classic films, each lauded for their visually striking set designs. From the dramatic minimalism of Bernardo Bertolucci's Il conformista to the technicolored world of Michael Gordon's Pillow Talk, click on through to see some classic film design inspiration.
Jacques Tati's 1958 French comedy, Mon Oncle, about one man's struggle with postwar France's fixation on modernism has one of the best set designs in film history—sets were built entirely from scratch by painter Jacques Lagrange. Color and lighting were both integral parts in helping to tell the story.
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A Gumby-green tubular bench sits well next to the black pod-like floor lamp. From Mon Oncle (1958), directed by Jacques Tati
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Here Monsieur Hulot (played by the film's director, Jacques Tati) rifles through a cupboard in the all-white kitchen. From Mon Oncle (1958), directed by Jacques Tati.
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A man and woman sit in custom-made chairs next to an angular fireplace. From Mon Oncle (1958) directed by Jacques Tati
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Il conformista (1970), Bernardo Bertolucci's adaptation of Alberto Moravia's 1951 novel, was the second collaboration with renowned cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and his first with set designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti. The 1930s art and decor along with the use of moody lighting and rich color palette even inspired the Fall 2008 ads of Italian fashion brand Missoni.
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Off-white symmetrical walls each feature a mythical motif. From Il conformista (1970), directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.
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Late Autumn (1960), the third to last film from Japanese director Yasujirô Ozu, features elegant lines, beautiful subdued lighting, and splashes of color throughout.
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The kitchen is the most colorful room in the house. From Late Autumn (1960), directed by Yasujirô Ozu.
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Traditional Japanese patterned wallpaper line the walls in the bedroom. From Late Autumn (1960), directed by Yasujirô Ozu.
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Louis Malle's lighthearted 1960 comedy, Zazie dans le métro, tells the story of a rebellious little girl who is forced to travel to Paris with her mother. Theatrical set designs were magically constructed by set designer Bernard Evein, but it was Zazie's distinctive red-orange turtleneck that lit up the screen.
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A candy cane-patterned room curtain jives well with the sea green table and bedding. From Zazie dans le métro (1960), directed by Louis Malle.
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Here Zazie's reflection gets magically quintupled. From Zazie dans le métro (1960), directed by Louis Malle.
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Michelangelo Antonioni's first color film, Il deserto rosso (1964), is a stunning portrayal of a woman trying to survive the modern world in 1960s Italy. Soft, muted colors contrast against the bleak grey industrial landscapes. It was known that Antonini and his crew would even paint a street to achieve the desired grey tone. Piero Poletto, the film's Art Director, used Tintal coloring to paint the sets.
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Giuliana (played by Monica Vitti) cradles a dark taupe armchair. From Il deserto rosso (1964), directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
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Pillow Talk (1959), directed by Michael Gordon, is a romantic comedy about an interior decorator who falls in love with a composer. Shot entirely in Kodachrome, bright colors pop and the lighting is luminous. Think of it as a more glamorized version of Mad Men.
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From Pillow Talk (1959), directed by Michael Gordon.
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Considered his first serious drama, Interiors (1978), directed by Woody Allen, is an intriguing portrait of human behavior. Set at the family's idyllic beach-side cottage, the interior set designs are anything but. Wide shots of empty spaces, muted colors and minimalist furniture compliment the somber mood of the film.
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From Interiors (1978), directed by Woody Allen.
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La Chinoise (1967) is a French political film directed by Jean-Luc Godard about a band of young Parisian revolutionaries. France's national colors—blue, white, and red—are omnipresent. Political messages are methodically spelled out in black ink on classic French white plastered walls, and endless rows of red books fill the shelves. Red, after all, is thought to be a symbol of passion and danger.
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A bright yellow floor lamp stands tall next to scribbled messages on the black chalkboard walls. From La Chinoise (1967), directed by Jean-Luc Godard.
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Here, a painted blue door, black and gold stove, and red chairs and table lamp fill the scene. La Chinoise (1967), directed by Jean-Luc Godard.
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films interior mon oncle dining room
Jacques Tati's 1958 French comedy, Mon Oncle, about one man's struggle with postwar France's fixation on modernism has one of the best set designs in film history—sets were built entirely from scratch by painter Jacques Lagrange. Color and lighting were both integral parts in helping to tell the story.

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