Don't Look Now - 1973
Don’t Look Now is directed by Nicolas Roeg (Walkabout & The Man Who Fell to Earth) and the screenplay was written by Allan Scott, adapted from a short story by Daphne Du Maurier. While the source material inspired them, Roeg and Scott created their own story for this movie. The movie benefits from a bounty of great acting by its leads, Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, but the poetry of the visuals is where it truly shines. Yes, the plot is simple - a couple coping with the death of one of their child - but the movie is far from simple.
Fair warning: This movie is not for everyone. It is a slow burn. It is not a linear story. Moreover, it requires multiple viewings to appreciate fully. Think of it as a puzzle with some missing pieces that need you to fill in the gaps.
Nicolas Roeg is widely known as a master of the “non-linear” style of filmmaking. This film is my first exposure to Roeg, and it won’t be my last, I can fully understand and appreciate why he has been given this title. I will be honest, upon my first viewing of this movie I was somewhat lost. The way Roeg structured the flow of the story forces you to question everything that is being shown to you. By the end of the movie, you are almost frustrated by the fact that you haven’t been able to fully catch-up with where it’s going. While the ending can turn many viewers off, when you start to piece it together, an “Ah I get it” feeling washes over you and it's more than satisfying. Roeg trusted that his audience would be able to put it together on their own.
I honestly consider Don’t Look Now’s cinematography to be a real work of art. What makes it more impressive is the fact that this is the first feature-length film for cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond. The use of red within almost every single shot of the movie is akin to the signature touch of a famous painter. Richmond and Roeg created a living breathing painting full of simultaneously eerie and beautiful images. One of the images that have been stuck in my head for a few days after watching the movie is their daughter in the red plastic raincoat. I loved how they contrasted her plastic and shiny outfits with the vast nature surrounding her and the house, especially the lake that would later play a huge role in her demise.
With a non-linear storyline and beautiful imagery on his hands, editor Graeme Clifford created a masterful flow throughout the entire movie. Clifford liked to sync movements with his edits. Meaning, if the character we are looking at turned to her left, the next cut was of someone or something going to the left as well. This flow is best demonstrated during the opening scene. We see the couple inside the house talking as their kids are outside playing. He syncs the throwing motions of Donald with the kids and the breaking of a glass pain with the breaking of glass inside the house. Having this be the opening sequence sets the pace for the rest of the movie.
Quick note: the editing work he did during the infamous sex-scene (many believe they had sex on camera) was inspired. Having a raw and tender moment between the couple for the first time since the death of their child, intercut with them getting dressed is impressive. With that simple choice, he tells us that while the sex is filled with passion and desire, it is as familiar to them as getting dressed in the morning.
I will quickly touch on the acting aspect since I don’t want this review to run long. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie gave their characters such warmth and realness that you almost feel you are invading their personal lives. Many of the scenes seem improvised, or like natural reactions to the events unfolding in front of them. The one scene I must highlight is the death scene of their daughter. Donald going into the water and pulling her out was emotionally draining. His face was filled with pain and suffering to the point that I did the cliché “cover my mouth” move while watching it. Yes, I have goosebumps writing about it. Do something. I have a newfound respect for Donald Southerland’s acting ability.
Don’t Look Now is not a mainstream movie by any stretch of the imagination. It will frustrate you and leave you confused. However, if you dig deeper and start to analyze it, you will see it for the technical masterpiece that it is. Critics tend to describe many movies as “poetry” or “works of art,” Roeg indeed painted a work of art with this one. Roeg’s storytelling ability is why I love movies.
Don’t Look Now is available right now in the Criterion Collection. It’s ok to look now.
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