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Don't Look Now (1973)


Main image of Don't Look Now (1973)
Directed by-Nicolas Roeg
Production CompanyCasey Productions
 Eldorado Films Srl (Rome)
 D.L.N. Ventures Partnership
Produced byPeter Katz
Screenplay byAllan Scott
 Chris Bryant
From a story byDaphne Du Maurier
Director of PhotographyAnthony B. Richmond

Cast: Julie Christie (Laura Baxter); Donald Sutherland (John Baxter); Hilary Mason (Heather); Clelia Matania (Wendy); Massimo Serato (Bishop Barbarrigo)

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After the shockingly unexpected death of their daughter, John and Laura Baxter go to Venice to recuperate, but find themselves confronted by strange premonitory visions.

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Don't Look Now (d. Nicolas Roeg, 1973) is a beautifully restrained horror film. Superficially calm, it is underpinned by a constant sense of foreboding which erupts into bloody horror only at the climax. It is a love story with only one love scene and a study of grief during which nobody cries. This sense of restraint makes the film characteristic of the same peculiar 'Englishness' which informs films as different as Brief Encounter (d. David Lean, 1945) and The Innocents (d. Jack Clayton, 1961).

Often remembered solely for its final bloody confrontation, it is Roeg's careful pacing and the dread of what will happen next which make the film genuinely frightening. Beginning with every parents' nightmare, the tragic death of a child, the film builds towards a climax which is inevitable from its first moments. John's second sight is reflected in Roeg's characteristic use of fast cutting, which brings disparate images together in a suddenly meaningful fashion and which plays with past, present and future to disorientate the viewer, just as John is disorientated by his visions.

The film is also deeply moving, examining how grief can overpower the emotions. Christine's death casts a shadow over the relationship of her parents as it does over the entire film, and the different responses of John and Laura suggest the ways in which people try to overcome the loss of a loved one. Equally, the film is cautiously optimistic in its portrayal of how intense love can transcend death. The brilliantly edited love scene, contrasting tender physical union with the banality of dressing for dinner, is vital to this aspect of the film.

Donald Sutherland is entirely believable as John, the sceptic forced to become a believer during his final moments of life, and his performance is matched by that of Julie Christie. The script, largely faithful to Daphne du Maurier's original story, allows time for sardonic asides from Massimo Serato's ambivalent Bishop and memorable hysteria from Hilary Mason as Heather.

Venice appears as a character in itself, caught in faded off-season grandeur and turned into a labyrinth of dead-ends and winding back alleys. The use of colour is especially notable, with all but red being muted, and icy blues and greys becoming prominent as John's search becomes more frustrating. Pino Donaggio's lush score captures the film's poignant tone with the florid romanticism of his later collaborations with Brian De Palma.

Mike Sutton

*This film is the subject of a BFI Modern Classics book by Mark Sanderson.

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Video Clips
1. The drowning (4:17)
2. Blind visions (3:30)
3. Fresco accident (2:24)
Original posters
Production stills
Lonely Water (1973)
Christie, Julie (1941-)
Lawson, Tony
Roeg, Nicolas (1928-)