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Don't Look Now

Paramount Home Video

Starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie

Written by Allan Scott and Chris Bryant
Directed by Nicolas Roeg

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Review by Dawn Taylor                    

The legendary story about Nicolas Roeg's 1973 thriller Don't Look Now involves the fairly graphic love scene between stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. For years, the "no, really — it's true!" tidbit asserted that the actors, who were engaged in a passionate off-screen affair at the time, got carried away and actually did the deed on-camera. Roeg has insisted that it's not true, but it's easy to see how the rumor got started — the scene is amazingly erotic, honest, and unblinking in a way that is rarely seen in film anymore.

Christie and Sutherland play John and Laura Baxter, a couple whose young daughter has drowned accidentally. He's a restoration expert working on a Venice cathedral, and everything that surrounds the couple in the wet and Gothic city serves to remind them of the tragedy. Laura starts to come out of her funk when she meets two creepy English sisters, Wendy and Heather. Heather is blind, and psychic; she tells Laura that she's seen their daughter, and that she's happy — but that the couple must leave Venice, because John is in danger. John, gifted with more than a little "second sight" himself, tries to convince Laura to stay away from the crazy ladies; but almost everything around him starts to take on the feel of portents, including a series of grisly murders, a terrifying accident in the church, and a little girl in a red raincoat who John sees down dark alleyways.

Roeg, director of Walkabout and The Man Who Fell to Earth, has a canny ability to make the most mundane appear sinister — and Don't Look Now is a fiendish exercise in keeping the audience wondering what has significance, what's merely happenstance, and what are true signs of something horrible around the next corner. Water, mirrors, sightlessness, photographs ... Roeg piles the images and symbols on thick, but these things all come together to make a compelling puzzle, even when the artfulness is overly self-aware. Contributing largely to the suspense is the believability of Sutherland and Christie as a married couple; whether casually sharing a bathroom naked, bickering over which narrow alley is the one they just came down, or smiling at each other with knowing intimacy, the growing sense of urgency that we feel for their safety is in direct response to how truly real they seem together. Both actors are at their very best here, in roles calling for considerable subtlety.

Based on a story by Daphne Du Maurier, there are several moments in the film that understandably evoke Hitchcock. More surprising is the similarity in tone, feel and tension to Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, only without the ponderous tedium of Kubrick's (much) later work. Released on DVD nearly 30 years after its theatrical run, Don't Look Now holds up as a powerfully creepy and sexy film full of alienation, loss, intimacy and disquieting weirdness. And the Venice streets, captured in bleak winter, are breathtaking.

Paramount's DVD offers an acceptable transfer of the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), though it's obvious that this title didn't get much priority as far as care was concerned. The source print is a little dirty and quite grainy, but the color is bright and, thankfully, the darker scenes aren't at all murky. Basically, it looks better than it has on TV or video before, but it's hardly a sparkling picture. The Dolby 2.0 Surround audio (English and French) is similar — serviceable, but unremarkable. Foley sounds like footsteps on cobblestones tend to play louder than dialogue at times, the mix is occasionally uneven, and Sutherland's tendency to mumble doesn't help either. Considering what a huge art-house favorite this film was, it's a shame that Criterion didn't do this one — in addition to the mediocre print, there aren't any extras other than the theatrical trailer and English subtitles.

— Dawn Taylor

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