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John and Laura Baxter are in Venice when they meet a pair of elderly sisters, one of whom claims to be psychic. She insists that she sees the spirit of the Baxters' daughter, who recently drowned. Laura is intrigued, but John resists the idea. He, however, seems to have his own psychic flashes, seeing their daughter walk the streets in her red cloak, as well as Laura and the sisters on a funeral gondola. Written by
James Meek <email@example.com>
Bizarre, perplexing, and head-scratchingly complex - but a very good film
We've all seen it before: the 'horror' movie where someone's lost a loved one, suddenly their ghost starts popping up, and the desperate search to get to the bottom of it ensues. Director Nicholas Roeg took a story somewhat like that, based on a short story by Rebecca author Daphne DuMaurier, and successfully proved that it doesn't always have to be like that. Don't Look Now is a nearly-forgotten film from the 70's by a nearly-forgotten director (I believe this is the only one of his handful of great films that's on DVD), and after watching the film, I realize it's a damn shame.
As Don't Look Now opens, we see a placid little pond, and disjointed, dreamy editing and cinematography that combine to form an unsettling scene of two kids playing. A young boy is riding around on his bike, and a little girl in a red mackintosh is frolicking around. We then see the parents of the children, John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie), sitting comfortably inside by the fire. Something is wrong, though. The film's editing style eerily merges the slowly mouting events outside with the warmth of the interior. The boy's bike hits some glass and John's drink crashes on the table. Before we know it, the Baxter's daughter has plunged into the pond and the Baxters are left with a dead daughter.
Fast-forward to some unknown time in the near future, and the Baxters are in Venice, where John is restoring a church that he quite quickly discovers is an architectural fraud. One day in a restaurant, Laura is encounted by a mysterious, psychic, blind woman who assures her that her daughter is 'happy.' Laura tells her husband this, but John is a staunch non-believer in things of the sort, and in a tender, wonderfully-edited scene, the Baxters make love.
The love scene in Don't Look Now is notorious for those familiar with it. Being quite graphic, it was trimmed a bit for an R rating in the US, but even by today's standards, it's quite surprising. There's a catch, though - Roeg's film intercuts their frenzied sex with a scene of them dressing afterwards and leaving for dinner (most notably paid tribute to in Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight, much tamer, but edited in a similar fashion). Why? It is at once the most frustrating, and greatest, thing about Don't Look Now.
The film contains a numerous amount of plot strands: a mysterious figure in a red coat (who may or may not be the ghost of the Baxter's daughter) begins to appear around Venice, dead bodies are being found in the canals, the killer's on the loose, and the blind prophet continually warns of John's pending danger. What connects them all? Well, one can't really be sure until the end of the film, and that's where Don't Look Now nearly stumbles.
In Roger Ebert's review of the film, he comments on how successfully the movie builds up tension and how disappointing the film's
climax is, but I felt the opposite. Not that much happens in the movie until its final, bloody, climax. What is important, though, is that every little thing that happens in the film has something to do, in some creepy, abstract way with the film's finale. I found myself immensely frustrated by the middle stretch of the movie, because not much makes sense for a while. Don't worry, though, because director Roeg doesn't offer some neat tie-up of all the loose ends of the film; he simply offers a suggestion to the viewer. The question is: is the suggestion he offers good enough to redeem the complete puzzle that the movie is before it? I'm going to go with 'yes,' for the film doesn't ground itself firmly in reality, thereby allowing some slack in how lucid the ending must be. In fact, it seems somewhat like a dream the whole way through (don't worry, I don't think it is).
What is the point of Don't Look Now, and why should you watch it? Well, Don't Look Now proves that there may be more 'future' in our present than we think... All of the plot strands seem to occur at odd, disjointed times in the film, and it's up to us to decide what's important. Yes, we do find out who the killer is, but don't expect some easy resolution in the perplexing amalgam that the film is. In fact, Roeg lets two plot strands of the movie converge in its conclusion. I was immensely impressed by Don't Look Now, for the device of 'who's the killer' is actually put to some interesting use. I think I know what the movie suggests, but there's so much there that it requires a second viewing. If not a second, you should at least give it one, but be prepared to be confused .
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