Sorrow & Terror Meet Little Red Riding Hood (Film Review: “Don’t Look Now”)

The 1973 classic, Don’t Look Now is much more than a ghost story or a supernatural yarn. It’s a study in mourning and loss, as well as a glimpse into the intimacies of marital love, and stands as one of the most suspenseful and evocative occult thrillers in modern film making. In fact, leading film makers and critics still credit the camera style and editing techniques which director, Nicolas Roeg employed here as the inspiration for many of the most acclaimed movies from the past 40 years. And due in no small part to the luminous yet tragic performance by Julie Christie (her best role since Bathsheba Everdene in Far From The Madding Crowd, in my opinion), Don’t Look Now is a timeless film which both frightens and moves me each time I see it.

SnapShot Plot

John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) are an intelligent, loving couple living a sophisticated life in rural England with their two beautiful young children when tragedy strikes in the drowning death of their daughter, Christine.  Months later, in late Autumn, they leave for an extended stay in Venice, where John has an important commission from the Vatican to restore one of the city’s churches which has fallen into decay.  Still obviously grief-stricken, Laura seems the more emotionally fragile while John buries his sadness in his work.  Clearly, they are both struggling to go on with life after enduring such a shattering loss.  At a local restaurant, they meet two British sisters, one of whom is blind but purportedly has the gift of second sight and claims to have seen their dead daughter Christine happily seated between her parents. Laura is desperate to find some shred of comfort in the belief that her daughter isn’t really gone from her forever, while John is infuriated by this unwelcome intrusion by the strange sisters.  A concurrent criminal sub-plot is also happening in which several dead bodies are being dragged out of the canals.  So what would have been a damp, gloomy Venice as the tourists empty out with winter approaching, becomes absolutely macabre and sinister, becoming in essence an integral character in the film itself. I don’t know if a city was ever so tragically photographed in chilly grays and blues, as Venice was in Don’t Look Now. Time and space play tricks on both the characters and the audience as what is real and what are feared become intertwined. Soon it’s evident who’s really got the psychic gift and is at the most peril in the action of the film. Nothing is as it seems while the suspense builds unyieldingly to a shattering and mournful climax.

 

  

 

Parting Shot

Taken from a short story by acclaimed British writer, Daphne Du Maurier (whose novel, Rebecca was famously adapted for the screen by Alfred Hitchcock), Don’t Look Now was greeted with mixed reviews more for it’s graphic sex scene than for any other reason.  So much has been speculated about exactly what did or did not happen during the filming of the lovemaking scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie (and whether it really broke up her relationship with Warren Beatty at the time) that it basically overshadowed the brilliance of what Nicolas Roeg accomplished in the entire film. According to my research, in order to avoid an X rating, Roeg kept cutting away from the sexual action with snippets of the husband and wife going through the routine motions of getting dressed afterward for dinner. What he managed to convey instead was such an intimate glimpse into a marriage that we feel like spies in their hotel room. This kind of cinematic juxtaposition was rarely done in movies, especially to such great effect as Nicolas Roeg in Don’t Look Now.  Everything works magnificently in this film, including the haunting, sorrowful and emotional musical score by songwriter, Pino Donaggio, who had never written music for a movie before this project.  The musical impact in the final scene is heart-stoppingly tragic and beautiful. Don’t Look Now is not to be missed. Look now.

 

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2 Comments

  • Elaine Alligood says:

    Don’t Look Now is one of my all time favorite movies! I totally agree with you Norma. In fact, just recently I mentioned it to my boy toy, Harris, as one of our must see movies. The tensions of loss and renewal, religious craziness, Venetian artistic imagery, and the utter desolation of losing a child converge in perhaps the best film Roeg ever made. Add to it the best love scene in film history and it’s film for all time!

    • Norma says:

      So glad it resonates with you as much as it does for me, Elaine! There are so many nuanced and symbolic elements at work in this film, that it was hard to focus on only a few. Each time I see this film I take something new away. Thanks so much for your Comment and I hope you continue to be inspired by Norma’s Streaming Picks!

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