Blu-ray review: Don't Look Now
It wouldn't be a surprise to learn that audiences in 1973 were freaked out by a dwarf running around in a red Mac. In more sophisticated times of today of course, the idea would cause ridicule and laughter. Despite its age however, Don't Look Now still has the power to give you the heebie jeebies.
The Baxter's, John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura (Julie Christie), are spending time in Venice, where John is helping to restore one of its many churches. It's good for the couple to be away, as it helps to distance themselves from the tragedy they leave behind them at home, where their young daughter drowned in their pond.
Laura finds comfort however when her path crosses that of two elderly English sisters, one of whom is blind and psychic. The psychic one claims that she can see their daughter and that she is well. John is definitely more sceptical and resistant to the idea though.
With his wife finding some kind of peace of mind from the psychic, John begins to suffer from possible visions himself. With a few murders taking place in the area, Venice is starting to feel less safe as the days go by. It's not long before the notion of the city being a romantic destination is soon replaced with far more sinister overtones for the couple.
At the beginning of the seventies it looked like British director Nic Roeg had an impressive career ahead of him, after directing his first three features Performance, Walkabout and Don't Look Now. And for a few more films he reinforced that impression with the likes of The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bad Timing and Insignificance. Since those heady days however, Roeg has been demoted to TV movies, as well as directing an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
This Blu-ray release of the digitally restored Don't Look Now then, serves as the perfect reminder to the director's earlier remarkable talent.
Although it's usually lumped in with the horror genre, Roeg's take on a short story by Daphne du Maurier is more complex than that, as its real terror lurks in the psychological. It's about a couple looking for some kind of redemption, after blaming themselves for the death of their daughter. At one point in the film, they find it, for a brief time, in each other, in the film's now infamous 'love' scene. Much speculation has been made as to how much acting was actually involved in the scene between Sutherland and Christie, but after Sutherland's depiction of the event as retold in an interview featured on this disc, it sounds a far more mechanical affair. This only helps to re-enforce just how good a job Roeg did with the film.
Both leads give credible performances, but it's the way Roeg shoots the film, particularly its time in Venice, that help shape the film; Roeg gives a lot of importance to the location, in much the same way that Orson Welles did with The Third Man in Vienna, giving it an unforgettable identity within the film. Many say that no-one has shot Venice better; but it would make it about as appealing on the tourist showreel as a visit to Norman Bates' house would.
Can it be considered a classic? Most certainly, but it's one that doesn't pander to an audience, but rather dictates to it. You have to be prepared for a slower pace a lot of the time, as well as less dialogue than most; there's also a fair bit of Italian spoken too without subtitles, which is clearly deliberate. But if you accept the film on its own terms, you won't be disappointed. And if you were spooked by a dwarf in a red Mac before, you can expect to feel the same way yet again.
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