Monday, July 4, 2016

Short Take: Don't Look Now

Director Nicolas Roeg's 1973 horror thriller Don't Look Now is a small masterpiece of atmosphere and portent. Some time after their young daughter accidentally drowns, an England-based couple (Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland) travel to Venice, where the husband is overseeing the restoration of a centuries-old church. He has put the tragedy behind him, but she is still grieving. They meet two elderly sisters (Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania) at a restaurant, and one claims to have psychic powers. The woman tells the wife the spirit of the daughter is still with her and her husband. The woman also says the husband is in danger if he remains in Venice. The husband scoffs, but things happen that make him wonder. Is the spirit of their daughter with them? Is he in danger? Is his wife, with her grief and her embrace of the old woman's claims, at risk herself? And can he perhaps see hints of the future, too? Nicolas Roeg binds the story together with a series of ominous visual motifs. Some go nowhere, and others go to unexpected places, but all of them infuse the proceedings with a palpable sense of dread. Roeg and cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond enhance the creepiness with their strikingly moody depiction of Venice in autumn. The gray skies, brackish-looking canal waters, and decrepit building façades cast a pall of decay. The editing, credited to Graeme Clifford, is also remarkable. It is beautifully lyrical at times, such as when the couple's pre-dinner lovemaking is intercut with their dressing to go out afterward. But the expertly timed use of flashbacks, flash-forwards, and repetition of motifs also create chillingly eerie rhythms. The screenplay, credited to Allan Scott and Chris Bryant, from a Daphne du Maurier short story, doesn't add up to much. One can feel the inventiveness draining out of it in the film's second half. The climactic scene, where the husband confronts what he believes is the ghost of his daughter, is a groaner. One may feel it doesn't matter, though. The artful kitsch-modernist surface keeps things quite compelling. Pino Donaggio provided the film's score.

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