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Following the tragic drowning of their young daughter John Baxter and his wife Laura travel to Venice where John has been contracted to restore an old church. Laura encounter two unusual sister who claim to be in contact with her dead daughter, they are even able to describe her memorable red coat, which she wore on the day of her death. John suspicious of the sisters becomes even more worried when he also thinks that he has caught a glimpse of his daughter. During a séance, the sisters warn Laura that John is in danger and must leave Venice; angrily he refuses to go, following the path eventual destiny...
Don’t Look Now (1973 - 1 hr, 50 min, 11 sec) is an occult thriller, adapted from a short story by Daphne Du Maurier. The film was directed by Nicolas Roeg. The film won a lamentable single BAFTA and was nominated for a further eight awards.
Roeg was at his artistic height during the making of the film, having worked on both Doctor Zhivago (1965), as cinematographer and Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Over the course of the next decade he directed a string of impressionistic films, unequal in British cinema with the release of Performance (1970) Walkabout (1971) Don’t Look Now (1973), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) and Bad Timing (1980). The films became influential, not just to other film makers, they actually spawned a song from Big Audio Dynamite (E=MC²), which basically provides thumbnail versions of Roeg’s first six films. Certainly, the first four films should find their way into any film lover's collection as they have justifiably become regarded as modern classics.
Each was unique, in its own way, what drew them together as a body of work was Roeg’s desire to create the movies as much through the editing process as through the narrative. Each was a study, in many ways, in alienation both personal and from the characters external environment. If this film is about anything it’s about a realistic couple trying to cope with grief.
Although the films covered a myriad of subjects, in the case of Don’t look Now, one of the most intelligent horror stories ever made, Roeg made sure that his audience never remained just a passive voyeur of events, watching a Roeg film is very much like trying to untangle the Gordian knot. The use of recurring imagery creates in the mind layers of possibilities which lead to a future that may make its self known but which cannot be avoided.
Don’t Look Now creates its own series of recurring themes and tropes which it continually plays with: the girls red coat, blood, broken glass and water. Time is also played with, something which once again became a recurring theme in many of his films. Events are often shown out of order to create a sense of disorientation which the film's central character, John, feels, although the whole does lead itself to a feeling of synchronicity, completeness and comprehension, making the random fall into certain levels of order.
He acts like a man trapped in a nightmare, though this is a nightmare which he has been warned of. Yet the fleeting glimpse of what could be his dead daughter’s coat makes him stay in Venice. The twist in the tale is that whilst John is suspicious of the sisters, played by Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania, dismissive of their psychic abilities, it is John who, actually, though images can see the future, even though he does not understand what it is he is seeing.
Unfortunately, with all the artistry on show, not just from the director, as both Donald Sutherland (John) and Julie Christie (Laura) give powerfully sincere performances as the bereaved couple, the film was originally best known for the sex scene which in truth is mild by today’s standards. The most common accusation thrown at the scenes was that it was so realistic that the couple must have been having sex for real. Today this is nonsense; rather it should be seen as a testament to the acting prowess of the two leading actors.
Don’t Look Now had previously been released on DVD and this is its first outing on Blu-ray, the newly restored print and audio restoration was supervised and approved by Nic Roeg. Although, fully restored the film is not without grain, I’m not sure if it’s the print, but the quality of the grain changes through the film, I would not be surprised if this was a deliberate choice on the part of the director. The film is presented with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and a 2.0 PCM English audio track, with subtitles.
You can play the film in original format or with an introduction by Alan Jones (7 min, 12 sec), which if you don’t know the film is a good place to start. It gives you an insight into both the original short story and its adaptation to film.
The film gets a full length audio commentary from the director and if you enjoyed the movie is essential listening the second time around. Looking Back (19 min, 31 sec) is the inevitable ‘making of’ feature, but a pretty good one. There are five interviews - Pino Donaggio, Danny Boyle, Allan Scott, Tony Richmond and Donald Sutherland - all of varying lengths and interest.
There is a real oddity from Danny Boyle, which is a compressed version of the film (4 min, 31 sec) which he made for a BAFTA tribute, which does a good job of compressing the film into a very small time frame. Nothing is as it seems (15 min, 37 sec) which is an excerpt from a larger piece; here the film is looked at from a more academic angle, discussing its underlying imagery in relation to bereavement.
I have always found Roeg's work both entertaining and thought provoking and this film is no different. A true English classic.