The Film (5/5)
Don't Look Now is a film very near and dear to my horror loving heart. It's a film that combines the visual before narrative aesthetics of the Italian giallo thrillers popularized by Mario Bava and Dario Argento in the late 60's and early 70's, with a powerful dramatic core. It basically takes my two cinematic loves the arthouse and the grindhouse and combines them to create a deep and unique thriller experience.
Don't Look Now follows John and Laura Baxter. As the film opens they are doing research at their lakeside home in the U.K. when tragedy strikes and their daughter Christine drowns. A few moments before the drowning John spills his water across his slide projector, which gives him pause, and the sense that the death will occur. After the prologue the pair find themselves in Venice during the winter. John has been hired to restore one of the cities ancient churches. One night while dining Laura observes a pair of older women watching the two of them from another table, when she goes to the bathroom, the women approach her. They are sisters Heather and Wendy, Heather, is blind, but claims the gift of second sight or ESP ability, and tells Laura that she has seen Christine that night at the table between them laughing and happy. This changes Laura's mood, and helps her overcome the grief that had overtaken her existence. Laura, begins to hand on to the sisters every word, visiting them, and going so far as to hold a seance to communicate with Christine. This is in contrast with John, who attempts to take a realist approach to the situation. Although pleased that Laura is moving on, would rather avoid the mentions of second sight, especially since he himself is seeing a short child like entity in a red coat similar to the one Christine wore as she died.
Don't Look Now is a difficult film to synopsize. It's been said in materials related to the film, but it is certainly accurate to the type of film Hitchcock would have referred to as pure cinema. Nicholas Roeg in all his best films has an editing style that fragments the narrative showing events from the future, from the past, and from differing perspectives. He uses his now trademark editing style to make the viewer feel a sense of disorientation of time and place, but to also give pause to events that have already played out, looking at them in a different light, not so much for clues to some great mystery, but to help map out the characters broken emotional state.
Don't Look Now is less a film about death, murder, and suspense, as it is about dealing with the psychological fallout of the death of a close relation, while in an unfamiliar and overtly bizarre scenario. He takes the familiar and makes it less so. The setting for example, is the city of Venice, Italy normally portrayed in film as a beautiful, touristy locale in this film we are shown Venice at the heart of a very gloomy winter, the beautiful ancient architecture takes more a tone of gothic horror and claustrophobia, because of this tonal change. We have these murders, but they are not the heart of the film, they offer this unsettling element running in the background, and offer a reminder that death is never far.
Aside from the astounding visuals crafted by Roeg in collaboration with cinematographer Anthony Richmond, the film is grounded by the excellent dual performances by Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, who although not a couple off screen appear to wear the strain of ages together in their performances. The two play off of each other so well, and even in scenes where they are performing without the benefit of the other they offer truly intense, almost otherworldly performances. Of course, while Sutherland and Christie get most of the screen time, the other performances from the film are quite memorable, the two sisters Heather and Wendy portrayed by Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania respectively truly standout. The film is further elevated by an excellent score by Pino Donaggio who takes things like a simple piano motif early in the film, and builds on it throughout the film.
Don't Look Now is not an easy film, but it could be said that none of Nicholas Roeg's film are. The film's main narrative is not in the script so much as it discovered within it's visuals. The rest of the film's power comes from it's central performances, which are equal parts natural, and yet dramatically heavy, and yet in the end the film manages to truly be a terrifying, powerful, and memorable horror experience.
Criterion have presented Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now in a truly spectacular 1:85:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer. The transfer provided is an absolute thing of beauty, offering excellent natural colors (Don't Look Now was shot during Venice in winter, so aside from the prominent red, we get mostly drab Earth tones), excellent fine detail, and a natural organic grain field present through the entirety of the film.
Criterion have presented the audio with a solid LPCM 1.0 track in English with optional subtitles. Dialogue, score, and effects come through nicely, and I did not detect any issues such as pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.
The Blu-ray of Don't Look Now is absolutely packed with features some archival from prior releases and some new to this release. There are documentaries on the making of the film, video interviews including ones with composer Pino Donaggio. There are Q & A's with Nic Roeg, interview's with Danny Boyle and Steven Soderbergh referencing Nic Roeg's style, trailers, essays, and more.
Don't Look Now is one of the finest thrillers of the early 70's. The Blu-ray from Criterion makes the film look and sound better than it ever has previously, and the wealth of extras just adds to the package immensely. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.