Don’t Look Now

I’d never actually seen Don’t Look Now. Despite it being considered a classic and it being much discussed in cineast circles I’d never got round to watching it. With it being rereleased in movie houses then I was prompted to chase it down and cross another big film off the must catch list. (I really ought to sit down with The Godfather 2 at some point soon as well.)

Since this is one of those movies that regularly comes up in conversation I already knew a fair bit about it. I was aware that Nic Roeg was the director and Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland the stars, I had heard it came from a Daphne Du Maurier short story about a couple who had lost a child, I was familiar with the Italian setting and the diminutive character in the red coat and there were no surprises regarding its famously explicit sex scene. Even with all of this in my head though, Don’t Look Know still held an array of, if not revelations then rewards.

Don’t Look Now is approaching its fiftieth anniversary, and while it hasn’t dated as such it still feels very much of its time. It has none of the melodrama of The Wicker Man or The Exorcist, two other ‘horror’ films that came out in the same year though. Instead Don’t Look Now has a sense of gently creeping dread that continually fights against the warm portrayal of its central duo who are so clearly in a comfortable and loving marriage. This juxtaposition of moods is part of the film’s genius and something that sets it apart from the rest of its varied genre. You get the sense that Christie and Sutherland’s Laura and John are just a fairly regular couple recovering from a painfully believable tragedy, and this in turn manages to make the supernatural elements similarly believable and, as a result, all the more unsettling. The aforementioned sex scene is clearly an important part of the depiction of their relationship and while I can see it would have been considered pretty racy in 1973, I never had any reason to believe the persistent rumours that they ‘were doing it for real’. What it is above all else is intimate and this is why it is there, not for any salacious reason.

The film’s main location is also used magnificently. This couple whose daughter has drowned and who have subsequently developed a significant discomfort around water are on an extended trip to Venice which might seem odd but he renovates churches and you’ve got to go where the work is. The fact that people all around them are talking in unsubtitled Italian adds to the general feeling of disconnection and isolation but the architecture itself bears down on them. The whole place is a jarring mix of bright open squares and mazes of gloomy corridors and wet corners and again the contrast of light and dark is brilliant. Venice is by turns a romantic tourist haven and an oppressive haunted city and it can turn from one to the other in a single foot step.

If, as was the case with me, you’ve not seen this film then I urge you to do so. While it is classed as a scary movie it isn’t too frightening or violent and it has so much to recommend it. The film is kicking around in a few cinemas at the moment but is also available in a shiny new 4K restoration on disc and through all the usual rental channels. Ignore the instruction given by the title then and do look now; stare at it transfixed for its 110 captivating minutes and enjoy a masterpiece of British film making.

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