DON'T LOOK NOW — CLASSIC FILM PICK
It’s a wonder that Alfred Hitchcock didn’t lay claim to Daphne du Maurier’s short-story “Don’t Look Now.” Hitchcock’s successful 1963 adaptation of du Maruier’s “The Birds” proved a powerful follow-up to “Psycho” (1960). The master of suspense also adapted her novels “Jamaica Inn” and “Rebecca” into films.
Nevertheless, it was maverick British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg’s destiny to transform du Maurier’s strange psychological thriller into an emphatically mysterious tale of second sight and looming death in 1973. Fresh from the success of his first two films (“Performance” 1970, and “Walkabout” 1971) Roeg cast international stars Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland as a married couple coming to grips with the death of their daughter.
Roeg draws liberally from his innovative stylistic editing embellishments to infuse the narrative with visual elements that pull the viewer deeper into the story. Water, glass, mirrors, and the color red present palpable images systems of a paranormal reality. The audience is led to question the synchronistic effect of events taking place before, during, and after Roeg’s dynamic field of vision.
John Baxter (Sutherland) is an art expert living on a spacious English countryside estate with his doting wife Laura (Christie) and their young children Johnny and Christine. John studies a projected slide image of a Venice church interior where a red-hooded figure sits in the pews facing forward. A cigarette burns in an ashtray. Outside in their backyard, Christine plays near a pond dressed in a red Mackintosh rain-slicker. We view her reflected upside-down in the reflection of the pond. John spills a glass onto the projector tray, causing the red color from the hooded figure to melt across the slide like a giant drop of gathering blood. It is the moment of his daughter’s death by drowning. He runs for the pond but is too late. The red-and-white rubber ball that Christine played with floats calmly on the surface, mocking his desperate attempt to rescue his dear daughter.
The couple sends Johnny to stay with relatives while they travel to Venice during the winter. John has accepted a commission from a local bishop to assist in restoring an ancient Catholic church. John’s and Laura’s atheism isn’t an issue, or is it?
While lunching together in their hotel’s restaurant Laura faints after assisting two elderly sisters, Heather and Wendy — one of whom is blind. The sisters claim to be psychic. They tell Laura that her daughter is with her, and attempting to communicate from beyond the grave. They later invite Laura to a séance in order to connect with Christine. A warning is given that John is in danger in spite of his own second sight ability. An air of death hangs over everything. A serial killer is at large in the tiny Venice alleyways.
The film’s celebrated centerpiece sex scene between John and Laura — artfully intercut with them getting dressed — momentarily anchors the story in a way that later dramatizes the its theme of unexplained loss. John and Laura take two divergent but intersecting paths toward attaining closure in a mystery that must remain open.
Rated R. 110 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)
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