Don’t Look Now is a movie I absolutely loved, in fact, I almost just want to watch it again instead of reviewing it. I’m going to take a shot at reviewing it anyway, because I feel like this movie isn’t talked about that much and even though I’m not expecting this review to change that, I have to try anyway. With its fantastic color cinematography, gripping story, great lead performances, and a very interesting ending, Don’t Look Now is essential watching for any fans of 1970s thrillers.
Don’t Look Now is based off a Daphne du Maurier story, the same author who provided Hitchcock with the literary fodder that resulted in classics such as Rebecca and The Birds. In the film, Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie play two parents, John and Laura Baxter, who travel to Venice following their young daughter’s death. While there, Laura encounters two old women, sisters, one of whom claims to have a “second sight.” She tells her that she has seen their daughter, Christine, happily sitting between her two parents. Laura is skeptical at first, but somehow the information seems to help her come to terms with Christine’s death. John is a bit more disturbed than helped by the sister’s information, and becomes even more disturbed after she predicts that harm will come to him if the couple doesn’t leave Venice, and that he also possesses this “second sight.”
Thinking back on it, the film might not have the tightest or most compact story, but the way it plays out on screen really works. The film really lets us into the relationship between John and Laura before anything really sinister happens, and when it does, it doesn’t really seem to come out of nowhere because the film did start on such a dark note (the death scene of their daughter). I imagine that the ending is going to frustrate a lot of people (as it did The New York Times’ critic), but personally it worked for me really well. It plays into the film’s ambivalence towards the supernatural. The ending might seem mundane and unrelated, but at the same time it was foreshadowed by a psychic throughout the film.
There are really two main aspects that I really latched onto in this film, though I think it’s working on a lot of levels really effectively. One, the relationship between John and Laura and how the audience is brought into it, and two, the very dark and foreboding mood of the whole picture. For the first, we really have to credit the performances of Sutherland and Christie who work really well together, and the structure of the film that really allows us to live with them as so few films do. For the second, the cinematography and in particular the use of the color red is really effective. The red coat worn by Christine ties in with a mysterious red hooded figure running around Venice, glimpsed fleetingly from the corners of buildings and streets. Most of the film is very muddied with greens and browns, and the red, when it comes in, stands out that much more.
The film is also edited in an interesting way, befitting the story of characters who might be able to see the future. Seemingly nonsensical scenes are edited in as if they are really happening in that moment; it’s hard to tell a “vision” apart from reality. It all makes sense at the end, but in real time, the characters and the audience can’t be 100% sure what they are seeing is really happening when it is unfolding onscreen. It’s all reality (in the film), but taken out of time. This is done both just as a stylistic choice (the scene where John and Laura make love in the beginning), and as a storytelling device (the shot of Laura and the sisters on the boat towards the end). It’s a perfect example of form and content matching up. Much like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, you’re as confused about the techniques of the film as the what is happening in the film itself.
I really, really liked Don’t Look Now. I think it’s a great film and really hope (and expect) that it will hold up on a rewatch. It’s (sort of) an interesting story how I came to it; I just happened upon a clip of the opening scene and it just drew me right in. Not everybody will like this film as much as I did; I recognize that the ending might put some people off for sure. But please, just look at the opening scene, it’s a marvelous piece of film making in it’s own right, and it just might get you to fall in love with the film as I did.
Long story short: 4/4 stars
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