“Don’t Look Now” is an atmospheric, enigmatic, and haunting, 1973 film from British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg, (Performance). Based on a short story by author Daphne Du Maurier, (Rebecca) and written for the screen by Allan Scott (D.A.R.Y.L.) and Chris Bryant, (Lady Jane) the one hundred and ten minute movie grabs hold of the viewer and takes them on a journey which begins with parents, who are dealing with the loss of their child, and ends up transforming itself into a supernatural thriller. As an aside, this is the film debut for composer Pino Donaggio (Blow Out).
The movie opens at an English countryside estate. Christine, (Sharon Williams) a young child with blonde hair that hangs over her shoulders, is moving a wheel barrel along the grass. She is wearing black boots and a red raincoat. I mention the raincoat, not to give you an in depth visual, but because the color of the garment will play a significant part throughout the remainder of the movie. The next time we see the young girl, which is almost immediately, she is shown walking toward a pond holding a doll; she pulls on a string attached to the doll which makes it speak. Her brother, (Nicholas Salter) is also outside riding his bicycle around the sprawling grounds of the estate. Donald Sutherland (Klute) and Julie Christie (McCabe & Mrs. Miller) portray John and Laura Baxter, the children’s parents, who are inside the home. John is studying slides of churches, while Laura is reading in front of the fireplace.
One of the slides John is looking at is of particular importance because it contains a figure in a red hood that is sitting in one of the pews of an otherwise empty church. John looks up after his son, also named John, runs over a pane of glass with his bike, breaking it and falling off in the process. It is one of two occurrences which, in this blogger’s opinion, serve to foreshadow something ominous is about to take place. The second is when John accidently knocks over his drink which causes the liquid to make the red color from the hooded figure streak across the slide almost as if it were a blood streak. Again, John’s head shoots up, but this time dread is clearly visible on his face; he doesn’t know why, but something is definitely wrong with the children. Walking casually past Laura and then picking up speed as he makes his way out of the house, his fears are confirmed as he sees his son running toward him. The little girl, Christine, who is shown to the viewer throwing her ball into the pond, not once, but twice, after retrieving it the first time, is drowning. The slide is shown again; the red color from the liquid is expanding, the camera cuts back to John pulling Christine from the pond, a moaning pang of agony escapes his mouth. Placing his daughter’s body on the ground, he attempts to perform CPR, but it is too late. Laura emerges from the house and it doesn’t take long for her to internalize what has taken place as she lets loose with screams.
Director Roeg dispenses with showing a funeral scene, so the next time we see John and Laura after the horrific event they are in Venice, Italy. Presumably, they are there as a change of scenery from the tragedy. John delves into his work of restoring an old church, while Laura has turned to pills as her coping mechanism. As an aside, their son, the viewer will learn, has been placed in a boarding school.
One day while having lunch, Laura notices two women, Heather and Wendy, played by Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania respectively. Heather is having trouble getting something out of her eye. Wendy is of little help in assisting her because she is sadly, blind. Laura offers to take Heather into the bathroom in order to help her. While in the ladies room, Wendy, while not being able to see in the physical sense, claims to have the power of sight in terms of being able to view those who have passed on. She informs Laura that Christine has never truly left her and John’s side, telling her that Christine was right there with them at lunch, sitting between her and John, smiling and happy. When she returns to the table, Laura collapses. Afterwards, upon regaining consciousness in the hospital, she relays the conversation to John, but he is skeptical. Laura, however, needs to know if Wendy can truly communicate with the dead. A short time later, she agrees to participate in a séance with the two women, who, the viewer learns during the restaurant scene, are sisters.
Even though John feels that the sisters are peddling utter nonsense to his wife, he is happy with her change in attitude. In fact, she has stopped taking her pills. His own attitude begins to shift, however, when he senses that is wife believes too much in the unknown and improvable. These feelings coincide with him seeing things such as a figure with a childlike stature running in a red raincoat; he can’t ascertain for certain whether it is a real person or the product of his grief stricken imagination. The final straw for John is when Laura informs him that Christine has told Wendy that unless he leaves Venice, he will be in grave danger. Making matters worse is that there is a serial killer on the loose. John, because of something he may or may not have seen, makes inquires to the police and others about this ‘sighting,’ and it has caused him to become a suspect in the mind of Inspector Longhi (Renato Scarpa). As an aside, thanks to the captivating work by cinematographer, Anthony B. Richmond, (Men of Honor) Venice serves as a character unto itself in the movie.
One scene in the film that is spoken about quite often when people discuss the movie is the sex scene between Christie and Sutherland. Interestingly, not only was the scene a last minute addition by the director, who felt it was necessary because it would convey the love the married couple shared instead of just focusing in on their arguments and grief, but it was the first scene that Roeg filmed. Not only was it the first scene he shot because he wanted to get it out of the way, but it was the first time Christie and Sutherland had ever met or worked together. The love making scene is sort of unique because, very often, when two people are filmed in a movie having sex, it is the first time they are doing so. In “Don’t Look Now,” the couple has already been married for a number of years and has had two children. Adding flair to the scene is the fact that Roeg cuts back and forth between moments of sex by showing Christie’s and Sutherland’s characters first naked and next clothed as they are getting dressed to go out; he does this throughout the entire scene.
Are John’s visions real or imagined? How far will Laura take her need to know if Christine has come back to her and John after her death? Will John heed the dire warning Christine has supposedly given to Wendy and leave Venice? Will the serial killer stalking the streets be apprehended by the police before they kill again? All of those questions and more will be answered for those of you who have the patience to sit through this slow moving, but ultimately rewarding film, which in a 2011 poll conducted by the magazine, “Time Out London,” was voted the best British film of all time.