Don’t Look Now (1973)

Directed by Nicolas Roeg

Screenplay by Allan Scott and Chris Bryant based on story by Daphne Du Maurier

Cinematography by Anthony B. Richmond

Starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland

Don’t Look Now incorporates many of Roeg’s techniques from Performance into a 3-act narrative molded out of Daphne Du Maurier’s short story. Roeg’s experimental editing techniques are honed for the purpose of a tension-filled gothic thriller, offering the best of both worlds. In the beginning, for example, John’s picture slides of a Venetian church inhabited by a red-coated figure are intercut with the reflection of his daughter playing by the pond wearing a similar garment. Certain diegetic sounds are heightened, such as the son’s bicycle wheel crushing a mirror on the ground, an image that foreshadows the daughter’s drowning in the lake. The interior scene between the mother and father and the scene outside with the two children continue to be intercut in a way that creates the illusion of continuous actions between the two scenes, using associative montage and eyeline matches.

As with all of Roeg’s 1970s work, the nudity and sex is casual rather than sensational, detached and artificial rather than passionate. Roeg pointedly intercuts a lovemaking scene between Laura and John with a flash forward in which they get dressed separately, comparing the performative aspect of sexuality with the contrived self-presentation of the characters. When John has his falling accident in the church, it’s edited so that it happens twice on screen from two overlapping angles, much slower than in reality. The lack of true continuity heightens the tension and power of that moment. Later in the film, John sees a body dragged out of the water and flashes back to that moment of his fall, as well as his daughter’s drowning. Finally, the climactic murder scene is intercut with dozens of images from earlier in the film, as well as simultaneously occurring action in which his wife Laura tries to save him.

The cinematography vividly captures the shadows, reflections, and textures of Venice. The colors are especially striking, most notably the carefully applied red tones that applied through props, garments, and set design. Again, diegetic sound is used ambiguously so that it appears to be non-diegetic at times, such as when a piano scale from a nearby apartment window plays in coordination with an ominous orchestral score. Don’t Look Now manages to be the most immediate and visceral of Roeg’s 70’s work while also showing the director at his most disciplined.

~ by Daniel N. Goldberg on June 6, 2011.

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