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So close...

  • Aug 7, 2011
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After the tragic death of their young daughter, an architect (Donald Sutherland) and his wife (Julie Christie) move to Venice, where he attends to the arduous restoration of a church. There, the couple meet an elderly pair of English sisters (Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania), one of whom is a psychic who claims to be aware of their daughter's presence. Eventually, Sutherland's character experiences premonitions that seem to coincide with a series of murders...

This movie has been recommended to me by at least a few people of excellent taste, and its enduring popularity speaks for itself. Nonetheless, Don't Look Now was an enormous disappointment for me, a film that very nearly achieves greatness by exploring the nature and consequence of loss and fate, and then abandons its potential in lieu of cheap and typical antics.

Sutherland and Christie are perfectly cast and perform their parts with exceptional sensitivity. They're invariably credible, both as a loving married pair and grieving, haunted parents. In particular, Nicolas Roeg's direction of Sutherland is exceptional - he conveys even more with a grunt, a questioning glance or yearning stare than he ever does when speaking. Simultaneously creepy and affable, Hilary Mason shines as the psychic whose talents permit her to predict the story's most ruinous occurrences. Massimo Serato and Renato Scarpa are also quite fine as a comforting bishop and a sly police detective. Serato was a terrific character actor, accomplished in roles of authority figures, and especially those of ecclesiastical positions. Though his screen time here is limited, his quiet charisma is as compelling as that of the leads.

By and large, Roeg's direction is as deft as in anything else he's helmed. He shoots and tracks his actors with an obsessive focus here, and his macabre proceedings are interspersed with no small amount of clever, artful symbolism. While his composition is hardly fastidious - the persistent utilization of zooming hand-held shots results in a variety of intentionally disorienting scenes - it's always effective. Shot during the winter in some especially deteriorated locations, La Dominante has never looked quite so dreary on-screen. These surroundings accommodate a suitably gloomy milieu, and Roeg surely felt at home in such a gray and chilly environment!

As evidenced here, Roeg knows quite well how to guide characterization, pace a story with measured deliberation and make the best of an impressive location. His failure, as well as the film's, rests in his inability to effectively exhibit this story's two most potent scenes. The powerfully ominous opening and penultimate sequences that lead to these crucial moments are meticulously edited and flawlessly shot...after which the climaxes seem just that much more underwhelming. In the first of these, the effect of what could have been a chilling scene is negated by its ludicrous slow motion presentation, replete with a silly, low-pitched cry of despair; that Sutherland's performance during the entirety of this scene is so tremendous only indicates how much better it could have been if Roeg hadn't opted for inappropriate gimmickry. However, nothing else is as disappointing, as utterly insulting as this movie's ridiculous ending. While the ultimate course of events is telegraphed in one of the protagonist's visions nearly forty minutes prior, how it actually occurs is a slap in the face, a sudden, unexpected turn into schlock territory that degrades the entire story. If this was silly, insubstantial B-fare on a double bill, the ending would have been great, goofy, hilarious fun, but it isn't. This is an impeccably acted, ingeniously shot, brilliantly cut feature film of considerable depth, a meditation on the classic failure of prophecy to prevent tragedy, and of the emptiness and hopeless longing that accompanies the loss of a loved one.

Maybe the ending of this story comes off well in the Daphne Du Maurier novel from which this movie was adapted, but on-screen, it's entirely risible. Either Roeg lacks the essential Kubrickian understanding of what does and doesn't work in an adaptation, or he has a wretched sense of humor.

In spite of its brief and insurmountable flaws, Don't Look Now is still a unique and substantial movie that deserves a quality DVD edition. Most of the Paramount discs that I've viewed have been exceptional, so I was surprised that this one was so shoddy. The famously unlistenable soundtrack of the U.K./Australian Warner Home Video edition is reportedly worse than that of this one - nearly an unimaginable notion, for its sound is horrendous. Dialogue is frequently nigh-inaudible and horribly mixed. Even worse, its print transfer is quite bad: inordinately grainy, and murky besides.

If you really want to understand what everyone is saying, you'll probably need to enable the English subtitles as I did for a second viewing. Unfortunately, quite a lot of what's spoken in English isn't afforded accompanying text, nor is any of the movie's ample Italian dialogue. As a result, those who can't speak Italian may only intuit certain scenes with some difficulty. I'm not exaggerating to type that the dubbed Francophone soundtrack is the single worst dub I've heard. It's competently voiced, but sounds as though it was recorded in a bathroom.

Seeking a specific scene, you've quite a task on your hands, as the movie's selections number only fifteen parts. These are presented two per screen in the scene selection menu, perhaps an attempt to inflate perception of this number; ultimately, it only inconveniences a browsing audience. A noisy, sloppily edited theatrical trailer is also included, and seems the antithesis of a special feature.

For fans of this feature or of Roeg's general output, I wish that I could recommend any edition of this movie as an alternative to this one, but the British Optimum Home Entertainment edition is said to have inherited the same awful sound quality of the Warner DVD. Rent it; at any price, it's just not worth paying for.

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August 12, 2011
Great review. I guess I must've been so thrilled by a dvd release back in the early part of the millenium that I didn't notice how piss poor the copy was but it's better than nothing I guess. I cna see your point on why you rated this only two stars but I loved this film. I thought it was fairly decent adaptation of the story by Daphne Du Maurier & perhaps one of my favorite Roeg films. Maybe one of his more accessible ones possibly? Either way, great review.
August 14, 2011
Of this film, I adored 90%; it's perfectly shot and performed, sedulously edited...but I just can't accept those two aforementioned scenes of contention; the former seems ruined by cliched tinkering, and the latter is utterly ludicrous. Overall, it is a very, very good film. Last year, I obtained an old hardbound edition of the Du Maurier novel in excellent condition; when I've read it, I'll post a review.
August 16, 2011
Oh, you're very fortunate. I would love to have that book. I really love this film. Juelie Christie is always utterly charming & the film is quite addictive if not unnerving. I love that scene where teh three women are on the boat. Very eerie.
August 20, 2011
Both individual editions of Don't Look Now and collections of Du Maurier's work in which it's included are both abundant and inexpensive. Seek it out on Amazon to your satisfaction!
September 03, 2011
I recently went book shopping on Amazon. Then I turned right around & went through a used book bin locally to find Demon Lover by Dion Fortune. The book was written & published the same year as Lovecraft's Cthulu. This should make a pretty interesting read so I'm going to tackle that this weekend.
More Don't Look Now reviews
review by . August 17, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
**** out of ****    One of the most famous, critically popular, and influential cinematic evocations of the grieving process, Nicolas Roeg's "Don't Look Now" is heavenly for those who prefer genres such as horror and thriller, both of which this film mixes together quite nicely. If it is a horror film, then it takes up horror as an art rather than exploitative material; the film is not very violent until the final scene, but about as psychologically vicious as they come. And …
review by . June 10, 2009
Following the death of their daughter, Laura and John Baxter (Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland) are living in Venice, where John is restoring an old church.  They meet a strange pair of women, one of whom is a psychic who claims she can see their dead little girl.  This fascinates Laura, but then the woman says John is in mortal danger. This is a very well-made, creepy thriller.  Filmed in the shadowy, crumbly alleyways of Venice, it is chock full …
About the reviewer
Robert Buchanan ()
Ranked #29
I'm a bibliophile, ailurophile, inveterate aggregator, dedicated middlebrow and anastrophizing syntax addict. My personality type is that of superlative INTJ.
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About this movie



Director: Nicolas Roeg
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Thriller
Release Date: December 9, 1973
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Allan Scott, Chris Bryant
Runtime: 1hr 50min
Studio: Casey Productions, Eldorado Films, D.L.N. Ventures Partnership
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