Thursday, 2 October 2014

Don't Look Now (1973)

Don't Look Now has always been THAT film for me. A much-loved classic that I just don't get. Yet, unlike some other movies that I disagree with people on, this is a film that contains many individual aspects that impress me. It just, somehow, doesn't come together in a way that makes it the modern classic many others view it as.

Most people are familiar with the plot, and many will already know the ending, but I'll still try to keep things as spoiler-free as possible. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie play John and Laura Baxter, a couple who spend the majority of the movie in shock and prolonged mourning after the sudden death of their young daughter, Christine. In Venice, because that's where John's work has taken them, they start to experience some strange visions, perhaps portents or perhaps messages from the spirit of Christine.

Based on a story by Daphne Du Maurier, Don't Look Now may have a decent script by Alan Scott and Chris Bryant, but it's very much a film with the fingerprints of director Nicolas Roeg all over it. That's unsurprising, considering what a unique and daring artist Roeg is. All of his movies tend to benefit from masterful editing, unflinching observation of people in bad situations, and scenes that mix grit and darkness with a strange beauty. All of these things are present and correct here.

The editing, in particular, needs to be mentioned again while praising the many plus points that the movie has. One of the most famous sex scenes in cinema history is contained in this film, and it's made all the more brilliant because of the intercutting between the actual lovemaking and the afterglow present in the characters as we watch them getting ready for an evening out. The same technique is used in other sequences, always allowing the events unfolding onscreen to have a bit more impact, thanks to the juxtaposition of imagery and/or excess of visual stimuli being put forward for the viewer.

Sutherland and Christie are both good enough in their lead roles, with the latter being the more believable and enjoyable of the two. Sutherland is saddled with more of the histrionics, and I won't blame him for some of the problems with the script (his overreaction to certain events, for example). Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania certainly spice up the proceedings, playing two elderly sisters who could have wandered straight in from any Lucio Fulci movie. There are many other supporting players, including Massimo Serato, Renato Scarpa and Adelina Perio, but few make much of an impression (except the latter).

See? I can't put my finger on too much that I really want to criticise. The film manages to capture a sense of grief and loss that practically emanates from every frame, and at the same time it reminds viewers of how much worse a situation can seem when you're in a foreign country without the language knowledge required to understand most conversations. And there's another great score from Pino Donaggio. It's a very good film, in many ways, but then it just has so much that doesn't feel either relevant, effective or tense, including a number of scenes in the final third. While it may be unfair to label it in such a way, it has never fully worked for me as a horror movie. I've never found it to be all that atmospheric or unnerving.

Certainly worth your time, and you may well find yourself agreeing with the many people who LOVE it. But it will never be one of my favourites.


Get this version, for the best picture and sound (to my knowledge) -

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