Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Films That Transcend Their Weaknesses

By Squish
Not only does it have a terrible title, but the ending of Don't Look Now is laughable, containing the kind of climax that made me ask out loud, "Seriously? You couldn't come up with anything better than that?" But this is not why we are here today. I'd much rather go on about what makes this film genuinely great, what makes it work.

First the basic premise: a British couple suffer a devastating loss, a daughter killed in a drowning accident. The couple attempt to forge ahead and make a new life pulling up stakes and moving to Venice. Once there, the couple meet a psychic woman who claims not only to be able to see their deceased daughter, but that her father, John (Donald Sutherland), also has the gift of second sight. The mother, Laura (Julie Christie), wants to learn more while John wants nothing to do with this "psychic."

The film follows the thriller genre rather closely with heavy moments of drama, especially the strained relationship between husband and wife. If you've heard anything about the film, you'll know that Don't Look Now is famous for its sex scene. Throughout the film the couple have some heated arguments, and due to their frequency, the director felt the need to add an improvised sex scene to convey the love the couple shared as well. The scene is incredible because the couple is so perfectly natural in this moment, so much so that it is rumored for being actual "Julie on Donald" action.

The famous scene includes editing that cuts in the next moment of their slowly getting dressed for a dinner. Donald stands in front of the mirror, naked, brushing his teeth, while his wife also is there, nude, doing her own thing. Don't Look Now helped me realize the immediacy films tend to have in "getting on" with a sex/nude scene, as though throwing in a slice of "cheeky" for the folks at home rather than making it relevant to the characters. Don't Look Now, in that famous scene, did such a good job of conveying such familiarity between an on-screen couple that you know how close they are, that the fighting is just a fleeting thing compared to their sense of belonging to one another. Because it shows long takes of nude people in an everyday moment, we get a proper glimpse into their routine and we get it, we get them in this vulnerable yet trusting moment.

What Don't Look Now should be praised for, however, is not the sex scene, it's the atmosphere that is so perfect as to teach valuable lessons about suspense in cinematographic style.

Don't Look Now is creepy in that way that makes you doubt everything. Those I watched this with kept saying "something's off about that person too!" To compare to David Lynch's odd characters would be too severe. These quirks are far more subtle. Enhanced by the mood that has been set before, we're left with nothing more than a constant gut-feeling of something being amiss.

Film tends to be good for showing us exactly what we need to know to set up a moment — something as simple as showing a close-up of a gun lying next to a passed-out person, well you know what that means already. Watching Don't Look Now's restaurant scene where we're shown a lunch table, a close-up of a blind woman's broach, the waiter bringing a tray of food to the next table, a snippet of conversation, followed by a rapid close-up of people moving behind Laura... you just know something's about to happen, you're on edge, and Don't Look Now is one of the films I will forever reference as being able to perfectly deliver such red herrings. Rather than the camera showing us what we need, it shows us things in much the same way our own eye would during a time of high stress or danger: perception jumps, everything is slower... when a lens can recreate in us the same feeling our own mind would, that's more than impressive. What's great is that this is done frequently throughout the film, and for that reason alone, Don't Look Now is worthy of being brought out of obscurity.

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Agreed. Another way this film continues the "off kilter" feel is the setting in Venice. Anyone who's been there knows the disorientation of making a wrong turn and being blocked by a canal, the alleys that lead nowhere, the piazzas in which every exit looks exactly the same in an Escherian way. Roeg makes sure to film Venice in a way that is part and parcel of the disconcerting feel.
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