Friday, 16 October 2009

Fetch him back! Let him not go!

No 167 - Don't Look Now
Director - Nicolas Roeg

Once upon a time, in 2005, I went to Venice with my University. It is a beautiful city filled with shops full of beautiful masks. However, during our travels we went on a gondola trip. A cheap gondola trip. We learnt a valuable lesson. Don't trust a cheap gondolier. It was not long before we were completely lost and wandering the back streets of the slowly sinking city.
As we got ever lost in the twists and turns of the residential area, a small girl ran out wearing a red mac. We nearly imploded in fear. This is the lasting effect that this film has.

It is not right to call this film a horror film, though it does deal with very real horrors. There is one scene that is probably more famous (and more parodied) than any other scene, the great twist, shock revelation at the end, which is a shocking and horrific moment. However I would like you to cast it from your mind and look at the rest of the film.
Rather than jumps and scares, this is a slow, long, lingering look at oppression. It is filled with symbolism which I won't even pretend to understand and which has the bleakest final message I have seen since The Fog.

The film begins with the death of Christine Baxter as her parents sit and relax in their main room. It is here that we also see the film's sporadic editing. Spilt glasses cut to balls dropped in ponds cut to wine smudging slides cut to water over the face of a drowning child. It is all very very graceful and makes the whole drowning section feel dream like and fractured. Like distant memories of the event rather than a depiction of the event itself. It also shows some amazing grief. Donald Sutherland (who looks spectacularly 70s throughout) is near paralysed with emotion and wails and wails to the sky. It is an incredibly powerful piece of cinema.
Not content with offing one of their children in the first 10 minutes, John and Laura Baxter send their son off to boarding school and jet off to Venice.

It is whilst in Venice that the film begins to play with imagery and the concept of fate. This film is about John Baxter's inevitable march to his own destruction. What I find really disturbing is the film's introduction of the paranormal and the really strange sisters. I think a certain element of the sisters are a red herring. Notably the fact that they appear EVERYWHERE. They provide solace to Laura by talking about Christine but they are a source of annoyance to John, for whilst Laura needs to remember, John needs to work and hope to forget.

The whole film seems to be presented like thoughts. Where the initial scene was fractured and broken, the rest of the film seems very very oppressive. Almost every person met in the film is painted in a sinister light, as if they have some kind of hidden ulterior motive. When this combines with the increasing number of near death experiences, or murders which occur it helps to show the exact frame of mind John is in. Another very brave way to show this is through the medium of sex scenes. Again the editing gets to show us the true depth of the scene, as by alternating between them having sex and them getting ready, happy. It shows a frantic grab at normality, at being a couple.
And that's what is truly remarkable with this film, there are so many layers and so much hidden depth all to tell the tale of a couple trying to overcome their depth.

It is cruel that at the one point where John thinks he may have found a resolution he is destroyed. Rather than bringing hope, he has brought along his own destruction and be it a real angry dwarf, or fate, or symbolism in context within the film, the ending is still shocking.

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