Don't Look Now (1973)
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Here is a movie that's both resolved and unresolved, ultimately growing more ambiguous as it progresses and becomes more complex. After it is over and has become a complete(d) work to the eye of the viewer, the lasting impression is that of mystery. Too many films in this genre bark up the wrong tree, working to explain all of the events that unfold. By explaining nothing, by being almost abstract, questions and images will haunt the viewer indefinitely. It is what it is, and while this movie can be watched over and over, and the events that occur can be anticipated, they will forever remain an enigma. This is true cinema, purely visual and aural, without the helpful but ultimately self-defeating aid of a proxy observer; the viewer is the direct observer, and there's no filter through which the events and images develop any sort of tidy rationality.
Donald Sutherland's performance here is sober, adult, the grief of his character palpable. And in the face of this grief is a force that runs through the movie like a dark current, evoking the eternal and spookily ethereal and subterranean; less an eternity of the heavens than the eternity of a crypt. Venice is not merely the ideal location for this story, but the necessary location; it could not take place anywhere else. The unquestionable, and indeed imposing, Gothic majesty of the churches, whose interior height dwarfs their human occupants with the spiritual dread of the ancient, overlooks the canals of Venice like the wicked-faced stone gargoyles Sutherland finds himself physically embracing, while the canals that run through the city are literally the ghost of this couple's personal tragedy. Living in Venice, in light of the details surrounding their loss, seems almost a perverse choice, perhaps a masochistic one; they could be punishing themselves for their daughter's drowning by living in a flooded city.
It's not that Sutherland's character is a rational man in an irrational environment, but rather a rational man in an environment whose own secret code, which one may trust makes perfect sense to itself (like a tree in the forest that will only fall if no one is around to hear), is inaccessible and inexplicable to him, baring itself only in fragments in a way he chooses to ignore, just as you might ignore a spectral voice in the dead of night, dismissing it as a product of your imagination.
The movie's notorious love scene is jarringly explicit, yet rather than erotic, it is profoundly sad, and takes on a deeper (even creepy) resonance after the film ends. That the scene is intercut with scenes of Sutherland and Julie Christie dressing prevents the two from ever being completely naked and united; this editing choice changes the dimensions of the love scene in a way that I've never seen attempted elsewhere. At other points, Roeg inserts moments and images that carry sinister implications, none of which are ever concretely substantiated and only leave the viewer with more questions.
The film drifts along at a wandering pace. The final twenty minutes are among the most atmospheric and suspenseful twenty minutes in any film, culminating in a montage that is absolutely chilling.
'The Blair Witch Project,' made over two decades later and probably influenced by this, has similar aspirations, but finally has only a fraction of the emotional gravity.
It is easy to love the film for its rare depth of character, its beautiful yet disturbing plot, the stunning Venice setting, the tender and original love scene or just for Donald Sutherland's never-rivalled wig! I am sure, however, that people find it easy to fault the film because it doesn't neatly tie up loose ends, because it is dark and depressing (the film's extensive reach encompasses death, loss, murder, blindness, religion and dwarfism) and because film-making conventions are abandoned.
The source material of Du Maurier's short story provides only a meagre framework onto which screenwriters Scott and Bryant have fleshed a stunning adaptation. Roeg's visual and emotional style of directing has never been so perfectly showcased as in Don't Look Now. How many more times can film-makers and advertisers steal (or "pay homage to") Roeg's ingenious work? Julie Christie is luminous and pulls the viewer with her through Laura's painful journey after the film's shocking opening. Sutherland's performance is stellar as well. His character, John, is like a Hitchcockian fall-guy with real personality and depth. You are swept along through the canals and narrow avenues with him as Pino Donaggio's stirring music both chills and lulls.
Films made in the tone of Don't Look Now are so rare these days. I am not an old fuddy-duddy who complains that "they don't make 'em like they used to" but am simply a slightly disillusioned film fan who wishes there were just a few more film-makers willing to take chances and not follow the dull formulaic line. What was the last film that stayed with you long after you saw it? It always sounds like a cliche when some obsessed fan tells you a film haunted them for days but Don't Look Now has a curious effect on the viewer. Its intensity grows. Different parts of the film mull around in your mind. You don't think about individual 'scenes' from the film either, you think about the situations, the people, the feelings. All of which is testament to the roundly drawn characterisation and elegant (yet not contrived) structure of the film.
If you haven't seen Don't Look Now before then you have a treat awaiting you. If you have seen it - see it again and marvel at a profound, eery, haunting, moving and beautiful film. If it disappoints you that films of such indelible and recurring substance like this are thin on the ground (Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver and The Conversation had similar effects on me) then do not hesitate to picket the next showing of....(OUT OF RESPECT TO IMDB'S CONTENT GUIDELINES I WON'T NAME TITLE OF MORONIC HOLLYWOOD BLOCKBUSTERS AND THE LIKE)!
There's quite a bizarre feel watching this film. From the rather odd characters (not just the small parts either, but the lead roles as well), the Italian language that is rarely explained to us what is actually being said, and an odd story that isn't entirely clear where it is going. If handled wrongly, all this could equal an absolute mess of a film. However in the case of 'Don't Look Now', Roeg keeps us convinced that he has some tricks up his sleeve, and this makes for a very fun viewing experience trying to work out where exactly this is all headed.
Where it is headed is to a quite brilliant ending. I'll admit I had to go back and watch the ending again to make sure I fully understood what I had just witnessed. This only confirmed to me though that it was indeed an ingenious way to finish the film. This is the type of movie that either demands you go back and watch it again, or else leaves you thinking about it for days to come.
'Don't Look Now' may not be for everyone. I imagine it to be quite a polarising film in that way. If you aren't enjoying it in the early stages, chances are you aren't really going to enjoy it at all. I can only assure you that it is worth persisting with and just excepting the oddness that will creep up at times. A really good film that deserves all the recognition it gets.
"Don't Look Now" is an horror movie but not one like you would expect it to be. It isn't a movie that scares you with some scene's, it is a movie that gets into you and just won't let go and builds up a nightmare like tension. The atmosphere is fantastic and gives the movie a haunting feeling. Venice really works as the perfect backdrop for this movie. The best movie set in Venice ever? Even though there aren't any scary sequences in the movie, the ending is really horrifying, it really freaked me out the first time I saw it, I think 5 years ago. On my second viewing, not too long ago I was prepared for the ending but it still was a very scary thing to watch!
The storytelling might seem slow but it works perfect for the movie and its tension. There are some brilliant moments in the movie that all come together once the ending approaches. The editing and cinematography are perfect, as are the performances by the cast.
And what is a decent comment without mentioning the famous love scene? Ah yes, the love scene, it really is one of the best love scene's ever. It is brilliantly filmed and even more brilliantly edited. Quite Stylish, as is the entire movie.
This classic masterpiece certainly deserves more recognition!
First of it is *not* a candidate for greatest horror film ever, though the Times would have you believe otherwise. What it *is* though is a highly confusing yet thought-provoking story which covers grief and dillusion in equal measure.
Donald Sutherland plays John Baxter, who's married to Laura, who lose a child in an accident and find their worlds turned upside-down as a result. However, thereafter the story is set in Venice where John's working on a job and Laura's accompanied him there, and where things start to get disturbing for the couple as events begin to focus on their dead daughter and paranormal themes emerge.
It *is* a strange tale, and ultimately what you get out of it is entirely up to you. It is probably from this film that the likes of David Lynch started to derive inspiration.
Overall, good, if intrinsically confusing.