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Don't Look Now (1973)

Cast: Julie Christie, Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland, more...
Director: Nicolas Roeg, Nicolas Roeg
    see all cast/crew...
Studio: Paramount
Genre: Foreign, UK
Running Time: 110 min.
Languages: English, French
Subtitles: English
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A married couple is haunted by a series of mysterious occurrences after the death of their young daughter in this enigmatic chiller. Based on a story by Daphne du Maurier, whose works inspired Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca and The Birds, the film centers on Laura and John Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie), who have recently relocated to Venice so that John can oversee the architectural restoration of an old church. Both hope that the change of environment will allow them to forget the recent tragic demise of their child, but they instead find themselves surrounded by reminders of death, as the city attempts to deal with a series of unexplained murders. The eeriness intensifies when they encounter a blind psychic and her eccentric sister, who promise to contact her daughter's spirit. Laura embraces the idea, but John remains skeptical until he experiences his own visions: fleeting glimpses of someone in a red coat similar to one that belonged to his daughter. ~ Judd Blaise, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

Frightening and Spooky and Smart and Grown-Up by ahogue July 12, 2005 - 4:21 PM PDT
9 out of 9 members found this review helpful
I can't remember the last time a film affected me the way Don't Look Now did. At one point my skin was actually crawling. The entire film is loaded with a diffuse, paranoid dread: almost everything and everyone is made to seem sinister and oddly threatening. It takes sustained creepiness right to its limit, to the point where anything more and it would either devolve into absurdity or take on an unbearably dark tone.

There are a few things you can count on the director, Nick Roeg, for: for one thing, he excels at taking genre stories and making fresh, realistic, adult interpretations out of them; he is a kind of revisionist. He also has a distinctive editing and shooting style that imparts a peculiar sense of motion while at the same time charging his images with an unusual symbolic intensity. Don't Look Now is perhaps the best example of both of these talents that I have seen.

The most impressive and exciting thing about this film is how well it manages to take normal behavior and make it strange and unsettling. One example should suffice. Later in the film, the main character knocks on the door of the hotel room where another, ambiguous character is staying. The door immediately whips open on complete blackness, then a split second later you hear the snap of the light switch and the character appears as if from nowhere. It's so sudden and done in such a way that it's startling and quite spooky in context, and yet nothing has really happened. All the person did was open the door and turn the light on. Then again, you wonder a second later, why was she standing right by the door in complete darkness...?

The whole film is one sustained note of that kind of fear that comes from uncertainty and ambiguity, a fear that isn't even certain it has anything to be afraid of. This is difficult for any filmmaker to pull off, even for an instant, which is why this is not just a great horror film, but a truly virtuosic movie.

Peril in Venice
by Eoliano January 21, 2003 - 6:10 PM PST
13 out of 14 members found this review helpful

After the tragic drowning death of their daughter, John and Laura Baxter leave their home in England and travel to Italy, where the Venetian archdiocese has hired John to restore an old church. While dining at a restaurant, Laura encounters two Englishwomen in the rest room. The women are sisters, one of whom claims to be psychic. She tells Laura that she "saw" the Baxter's dead daughter standing beside them in the dining room, assuring Laura that their daughter is happy in the afterlife, and that she and her husband should be happy too. This initially upsets Laura. She calmly returns to dining room and suddenly faints. After she recovers, Laura tells John what the psychic told her, but John vehemently dismisses such nonsense, insisting that their daughter is dead. Afterwards, their boat passes the scene of a murder on their way to John's job site, where there's a sign on the church that reads Venice in Peril. Laura sees the Englishwomen walking nearby and strikes up a conversation. Interested in hear more about her daughter from the psychic, Laura joins them for a walk and tells them about the day her daughter died. When she explains that John suddenly ran out of the house for no apparent reason, albeit too late to save their daughter, the psychic tells Laura that she believes her husband is clairvoyant, that he has the gift.

This is a chillingly haunting and solid adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's short story, at once a cryptic supernatural thriller and a subtly nuanced portrait of sadness and grief. And what better setting than the city of Venice to explore the mysterious aspects of the soul. The city is eerily tangible and palpable, with its damp, claustrophobic, labyrinthine maze of narrow alleys, canals and bridges. Venice seems alive, we become aware of its every sound, of footsteps in the night, of the water slapping against the embankment. For example, early in the film, the Baxters become lost on their way to dinner and find themselves by a small river at the end of a cul-de-sac, while touching the wall, a bewildered John says to himself, "I know this place". A moment later, we hear a gasping sound, then a sudden scream, someone shouts, and glimpse a red hooded figure in the distance. It's an ominous, terrifying moment, and a portentous hint of things to come. It's as if the city is aware of some evil, that it knows something and it's trying to tell him, to warn him. At that moment, we begin to comprehend that Venice is Baxter's own Underworld, and that it might ultimately become his own Hades as well.

The subdued, yet distinctive cinematography captures Venice at its most somber, and the splintered, dislocated editing works exceptionally well to convey the unsettling atmosphere and the underlying sense of doom that pervades the entire film. Nicholas Roeg's use of symbols is subtly allusive, as if the ghost of Jorge Luis Borges were standing over his shoulder, bringing to mind Roeg's first film, Performance, where Borges was more than just a literary reference.

Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland make a perfectly believable couple as John and Laura; we can't help but feel like eavesdroppers on their married-couple exchanges, or feel as if we're voyeurs when they make love. Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania are truly memorable as the dowdy eccentric sisters, and Renato Scarpa as the bemused Inspector Longhi and Massimo Serato as the troubled Bishop Barbarrigo make a lasting impression. Leopoldo Trieste is amusing, as always, in the small role of the hotel manager.

Pauline Kael in her New Yorker review wrote that "there's a distasteful clamminess about the picture" and perhaps she was right, but maybe that clamminess had a lot to do with the way Roeg used Venice in the film, and its malevolence really got under her skin. This modern gothic horror classic is considered one of the best films to come out of Great Britain in the last fifty years, and it's arguably Roeg's most accomplished film.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.13)
271 Votes
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