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DON'T LOOK NOW: DVD (30th anniversary)

After the accidental drowning of their young daughter in England, John and Laura (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) deal with their grief by travelling to Venice. While John supervises the restoration of a church Laura seeks succor from a blind psychic who assures her that the spirit of the dead child is present and at peace. But there are also dire warnings that John is in danger unless he flees the city. Haunted by the visions he tries to suppress, John is further disturbed by glimpses of a small, furtive figure seen darting about the Venetian alleyways in a red coat similar to one his daughter had worn. At the same time a series of random murders unsettle the calm along the canals. 

Review by Keith Lofthouse: 
Some think this confusing, confounding and rarely astounding occult mystery is a masterpiece, but critics to their everlasting credit were divided by what they perceived as lashings of style and lumps of pretension. Adapted from a Daphne du Maurier short story and audaciously filmed by Walkabout director Nicolas Roeg, the plot is deceptively simple, but Roeg juggles the jigsaw by resorting to oblique angles, criss-crossing between past, present and future, mixing the real with the surreal and serving a full plate of red herrings. 

Don’t Look Now is irretrievably contrived, from the couple’s decision to tough it out in a wintry Venice (a city of “too many shadows”) to John’s final confrontation with the red coated figure…a moment that has never really lived up to its “jolting” reputation. There’s a long and memorably erotic sex scene between Sutherland and Christie which is interjected with images of the couple dressing after the act. The fact that she radiates contentment and he seems deeply depressed is significant but much as Roeg tries to justify it in the DVD’s bonus featurette, the scene amounts to little more than a flashy piece of salad dressing that might have been more effective if presented with less relish. 

Throughout his career, Roeg has diligently avoided cinematic cliches, but in the film’s 30th anniversary year, everything “new” is old again and the repetition of water images, breaking glass and the splash of red spilling across the canvas as an ominous sign of dread seem tiresome now. Many of Roeg’s frissons, like a mysterious gust of wind extinguishing a candle in a church that was lit in memory of the dead child and a naked doll lying forlornly in the lapping waters of the canal, have been fricasseed by his imitators. 

Neither are the performances too convincing. Despite her losses, Christie never truly seems to be in mourning and Sutherland, looking somewhat ridiculous with permed hair and bushy moustache, is depressingly glum. Even when he flails for his life at the end of a rope, having fallen from scaffolding within the church, there’s a sense that this man knows that rescue is at hand. Frankly the film had reached a stage when I wished he had let go. One man’s occult mystery is another man’s mumbo-jumbo…and my advice is maybe then, but don’t look now. 

Published February 27, 2003

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DON'T LOOK NOW: DVD (30th anniversary) (M15+)
(UK/Italy) - 1973

CAST: Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie

DIRECTOR: Nicolas Roeg

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.85.1 widescreen; 2.0 stereo

SPECIAL FEATURES: Looking Back featurette includes commentary by Roeg, the producer and editor. DVD-ROM downloadable pages from the original production notes. Cinema trailer.


DVD RELEASE: February 19, 2003

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