is the dominant force in Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t
Look Now, a magnificently rendered drama about psychic premonition, death,
and grief. Some would say it’s a horror film, and indeed it is truly creepy and
atmospheric in the way most good ghost stories are presented.
familiar with Roeg’s work will recognize his signature arty editing and
striking eye for composition. He began his career in cinema as a
cinematographer (he worked on Lawrence of
Arabia, The Masque of the Red Death,
Fahrenheit 451, Casino Royale (’67), Far from
the Madding Crowd, among many others) before venturing into directing.
After co-directing Performance (1970)
and helming Walkabout (1971) solo, he
delivered what could very well be his masterpiece in Don’t Look Now.
Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland as a married couple that loses a child in
a drowning accident at the beginning of the story, Roeg’s picture examines how
their grief is at first somewhat overcome by their own strong love for each
other, but is then exploited by seemingly predestined tragedy. The setting of Venice
is picturesque and beautiful, but at the same time dark and foreboding in its
labyrinth of canals, narrow streets and alleys, and decaying architecture. When
the couple begins to see a “child” wearing the same red slicker that their
daughter was wearing when she drowned, things become very strange—especially
after they meet a blind psychic woman who tells Christie that her daughter is
still with them.
editing screams of 1970s art house fare, but it still works. Of note is that sex scene, often called the most
erotic sex scene in cinema history and one that has been plagued by rumors that
Sutherland and Christie really “did it” in front of the camera (the rumors are
NOT true). The editing cuts back and forth from the nude couple in bed to them getting dressed to go out, which is
striking in its uniqueness and originality. Actually, it’s not a sex scene, but
rather a real love scene—for I can’t
think of another picture in which the love between a married man and woman is
displayed so honestly. Kudos to both actors for the trust they obviously had in
Donaggio’s score adds a haunting poignancy to the proceedings, and
cinematographer Anthony Richmond paints the imagery with a deft eye for
color...and there’s that ever-sinister RED that keeps popping up with a
multitude of meanings. Roeg’s direction is much more than an exercise in style,
and the truthful performances by Christie and Sutherland elevate the film to
new 4K digital restoration (approved by Roeg himself, now in his eighties) is
first class. Extras include a new documentary featuring interviews with
Christie, Sutherland, Richmond, and co-screenwriter Allan Scott; interviews
with Steven Soderbergh and Danny Boyle on Roeg’s work; a Q&A with Roeg from
2003; a new conversation between editor Graeme Clifford and film historian
Bobbie O’Steen; a 2002 documentary on the making of the film; and a 2006
interview with composer Donaggio.
Don’t Look Now is arguably not
only one of the finest British films of the 70s—it’s one of the greatest
British films ever. Don’t Miss It.
“A DAY IN THE
COUNTRY” (1936—but released 1946; Directed by Jean Renoir)
The Criterion Collection has released A Day in the Country, Jean Renoir’s short film (40 minutes) that was shot in 1936, abandoned as unfinished, and then edited and released by its producer ten years later without Renoir’s involvement. Based on a short story by Guy de Maupassant, the picture is a light tale about a Parisian family that decides to spend an afternoon in the country—only to have the wife and daughter wooed by two randy countrymen.
Renoir fans will certainly want to check this out, but in my opinion, when compared to Renoir’s great works such as Grand Illusion or The Rules of the Game, this is fluff. More interesting are the extras, which include a90-minute compilation of outtakes from the film and footage that shows Renoir at work. This is exceptional stuff and worth the price of admission.