DON’T LOOK NOW (1973 Britain)

Editors-Pick-Dont-Look-NowThis is probably the most classy and sad supernatural film of them all. Subtle suggestions, insinuations…all served up through a thick, tense, gloomy fog in an off-peak Venice.  Seeing the cast’s very visible breaths made me want to warm up my hands and wrap a shawl around my shivering shoulders.

Brrrr!  “Don’t Look Now” is a character-driven story with recurring themes and motifs, as the writers of this film ensure that the shock moments are never empty or turgid. Allan Scott and Chris Bryant adapted their screenplay from the short story by Daphne Du Maurier. There are many moments here where you see a fleeting glimpse of creepy imagery that causes unease as to what it may mean later. But each ghostly moment is actually meaningful and essential.

2524-2Before this was released Venice was generally known to film buffs as the warm, tourist friendly, summer holiday hot-spot. In Roeg’s film we see a less romanticized Venice sans tourist hordes. It is cold and quite often wet because its winter. The via’s and waterways are virtually deserted, as is the hotel John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura Baxter (Julie Christie) reside in.

The story completely depends on the dark alleys, ancients cathedrals and typical waters that slowly encircle the characters. Donald Sutherland and his wife Julie Christie settle in Venice to slowly forget the death of their young daughter. While Sutherland is restoring a cathedral, his wife is approached by a blind, psychic lady who claims to be in contact with the couple’s deceased daughter. This spiritual woman comes with a warning…but she can only foresee a tragedy…not forestall it!

dontlook01The director really lets fly with the imagery and it is virtually everywhere: from the broken glass of the mirror at the start to the broken glass of the glasses on the table Laura knocks over. Then there’s the broken glass at the end, to the symbolism of the water Christine Baxter drowned in. Then there’s the move to Venice, a city built around water. Plus the water in glasses Laura breaks, the rain whenever we go back to England, and the shiny red plastic mac which becomes the major part of the film’s imagery. Don’t Look Now is the sort of film certain people would like to analyze for hours.

No discussion of this is complete without commenting on the notorious sex scene. Yes, it is pretty blatant, and I’m not sure what the director was attempting to do here. Probably a last minute inclusion. Through masterful editing and unexpectedly gentle music, the scene is only bizarre, unsettling and sad. I was actually repelled by the intrusion of it. Unnecessary for a story like this. It left me feeling cold. I can only tolerate this acting duo with their clothes on. Perhaps we are meant to be creeped out by it. Who knows?

DVD-dont-look-now-childThe cinematography is beautifully shot. The musical score, by Pino Donaggio, is creepy, evocative, interesting, and sometimes even unpredictable. The unusual and innovative editing of the film is a crucial part of its resounding success, creating creepy moments out of nothing. Some of the acting is exaggerated for effect, and mostly excellent. I think Julie Christie’s character would have shown more suffering though. She is a bit too upbeat at times. As for Sutherland, he could have done with a haircut.

With its ominous atmosphere, editing, strong characters, good writing, and brilliant, unsettling final montage, “Don’t Look Now” is director Nicolas Roeg’s finest accomplishment. It is deservedly regarded as one of the finest British films of all time, despite having a sedentary pace and a feeling of hopelessness running through it from beginning to end.

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