Running time: 110 mins
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie
Genre: Thriller, Drama
If ever there was a film that was guided by an unseen hand towards completion it is this one. When director Nicolas Roeg signed on to direct this adaptation of the wonderful Daphne Du Maurier short story he stated that his ideal casting was Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. His casting director hand to break the news to him that the dream team was simply not going to happen, Sutherland was busy shooting a film and Christie was on McGovern’s campaign trail for President. After the initial disappoint Roeg set about casting his grieving couple only for the Presidential campaign to fall apart and the film to go bust within a week of one another freeing up the pair to make his vision happen.
When John and Laura Baxter’s daughter Christine (Sharon Williams) drowns in the pool at the back of their English home the couple relocate to Venice, where John gets a job restoring a dilapidated church only for them to encounter two sisters one of whom is blind but claims to have a message from their daughter. John is in danger if he stays in
, failing to heed the message the Baxters remain in an attempt to salvage their marriage and finish John’s job. Venice
The story is simple, like most Du Maurier tales they have similarities to other narratives in that they’re firmly based in the genre but the touches that make it distinctive really set it apart from the hundreds of “thrillers” of it’s kind. The decision to relocate the Baxters to Venice during the winter provide a real feel of warning and isolation as the city effectively closes down during these months. This isolation is heightened even more by the fact that Laura (Christie) doesn’t speak Italian, neither does the majority of any English speaking audience, and the Italian sequences between John (Sutherland) and Bishop Barbarrigo (Massimo Serato) are not subtitled further detaching the audience from the goings on in the sleepy, cold and dark surroundings of the water based city. The score, penned by Giampiero Boneschi is beautiful, dreamful and touching it plays wonderfully in different keys and provides the audience with the sort of insight into the characters psyche that would normally be handled by heavy and unwanted exposition dialogue. The signature score is romantic, painful and wishfully simple.
There is no more beautiful looking film than Don’t Look Now! the use of colour in the cinematography is exceptional. Key colours like reds and browns are highlighted throughout the film and used for different reasons to create warning signs and emotional signifiers that on multiple viewings. Such is the depth of the colour palette that films like Schindler’s List and The Sixth Sense have attempted to replicate the causal logic of the use of colour in order to create a psychological connection with their audiences. Similarly the editing is dreamy, smooth and free flowing in feeling but yet so perfectly selected and meticulously placed that to unravel and re-piece back together would result in a completely different and uneven film. Roeg’s use of non-linear editing gives sections of the film the feel of a dream or a memory disconnecting the audience from the goings on and places them in a temporal space where they know the events have happened but are unsure in what order, as though the film is a memory of a life being flashed before them. Likewise the way in which he uses shapes, colour and water to connect scenes gives the film a seamlessness that doesn’t exist in cinema anymore. In Steven Soderbergh’s audio commentary happily admitted to “ripping off” the Sutherland/Christie sex scene for Out of Sight and was heavily influenced enough by Roeg to take it a step further for The Limey which is presented almost as a film made up completely of memory.
Christie is wonderful in the film, she has never been so beautiful, angelic, sad and damaged and this is all within the first twenty minutes. Her transformation after meeting the two sisters is handled masterfully by her. She is an actress of immense talent and with the matter, a beautiful yet menacing city like Venice and a richly talented director in Roeg has everything she needs to put forward the most complicated and mature performance of a cinematic mother that has probably ever occurred. Like Christie, Sutherland is on amazing form for the entire film. Having turned up with a selection of clothes and wigs he wanted to make the film with it was clear that he understood the mind of John Baxter, that he understood the father, the professional and the pained man who not only had to bury his child but also fish her out of the pond. His refusal is accept the warnings of the sisters is a rational decision, after all who would, but his quiet moments and momentary outburst towards wife Laura show the depth of scars than he now wears and the desperate desire to reconnect. To find their rhythm and be man and wife again. Above all each his performance is human, and it is this quality that touches the audience more than the suspense of thrills throughout the film.
The real star of the film is the director. It’s rare that Roeg would be this centre stage, usually with films like The Witches, Performance or Castaway his handling of the film would almost fade into the backdrop, overshadowed by the performance of the actors who work with him but this film is perfect. The script is perfect, cinematography perfect, acting perfect and it is the closest thing to a film as a piece of art. It captures in visuals what the greatest songs in the world capture in words, true honest emotion. This is his film. From pre production he has had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve and whether it’s through skill, chance or fate he has achieved that and all with a deeply routed Greek mythological undertone that fills the film with such richness that isn’t found in cinema anymore.
Don’t Look Now! is without argument the greatest film ever made and if you don’t have a Blu-Ray player yet there can be no better reason to get one or no better film to start your collection with. A beautifully tragic masterpiece than stands both the test of time and head & shoulders above all other films.
Don’t Look Now! is playing at the Theatre at the Mill as part of the Daphne Du Maurier evening aDaphtations on