What’s lost is lost forevermore,
It can’t be as it was before.
Our memories are tethered more
To wisps of smoke and whispered lore
Than any solid souvenirs
That lasted past the days of yore.
The lovers of the lost are faced
With echoes that recede in haste.
No matter how they’re called or chased,
They leave our mortal feet outpaced,
Assured that lovers left in tears
Won’t let their vestige be erased.
MPA rating: R (mainly for a long and unnecessary sex scene, could be PG-13 without it)
This psychological thriller Blindspot would probably have been better suited for October, but I’m still in catch-up mode here. Don’t Look Now was one of the films on the list about which I knew very little going in, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from what I believed to be an acclaimed horror from the ‘70s. Based on a Daphne du Maurier story and released in the UK as a double feature with The Wicker Man, Don’t Look Now is not really a horror film to me, unless you would consider Rebecca one as well. Both du Maurier adaptations are far more concerned with psychological uneasiness and characters’ inner self-doubt than your standard scarefest, so the “psychic thriller” moniker on the film’s poster fits well.
Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie play married couple John and Laura Baxter, whose young daughter Christine drowns tragically at their British home. Still reeling from grief, they move to Venice, where John has been commissioned to restore a decaying church. Laura happens to meet two sisters in a restaurant, one of whom is blind and psychic, telling Laura that she saw her deceased daughter. The psychic woman later warns her that John is in danger and has psychic abilities himself, even as he begins seeing his daughter’s red coat along the darkened canals of Venice.
Don’t Look Now is clearly interested in not just frights but art, the kind that alienates just as much as it interests. A uniquely choppy editing style sometimes intercuts seemingly unrelated scenes, playing into the theme of precognition to make the audience doubt what they’re watching at a particular time. This applies to an extended and apparently infamous sex scene, which could easily have been excised but likely is defended as art for its editing. While the editing isn’t always to my taste, it does serve to focus the viewer on the film’s recurring motifs, such as water, broken glass, and reflections, carefully crafted imagery I didn’t fully appreciate until reading about the film afterward.
As for the performances, Sutherland and Christie are quite convincing as a couple sharing grief but torn apart by how they respond to the idea of their daughter contacting them. They serve as the main point of sympathy, and, through their British presence in an Italian city, the film fosters its sense of otherness and anxiety, as if the rest of the cast are watching them from a distance and refusing to let them in on a secret. The two sisters (Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania) waver between unnerving and kindly, though the psychic one adds to the film’s intermittent weirdness, such as a séance where she practically reenacts the diner scene from When Harry Met Sally.
As with many artsy critical darlings, Don’t Look Now is a film I can appreciate more than I enjoyed it. It’s clearly had an impact on filmmakers to come, with many directors citing its influence, and the image of a child in a bright red jacket has carried over into other films like Schindler’s List and Flatliners. The film excels in building an atmosphere of menace in its Venetian setting, particularly during a tense accident and the climax, but the editing of that climax seemed to suggest some deeper reveal that didn’t make itself clear. An admirably Hitchcockian examination of grief, Don’t Look Now manages to be at once well-crafted, odd, and ultimately unsatisfying.
Best line: (Inspector Longhi, with an interesting observation) “Age makes women grow to look more like each other. Don’t you find that? Old men decay, and each becomes quite distinct. Women seem to converge, eh?”
Rank: Dishonorable Mention
© 2021 S.G. Liput
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I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!