Few films have stood the test of time as well as Nicolas Roeg’s seminal horror Don’t Look Now. Revolving around the omnipresent theme of grief (and adapted from Daphne du Maurier’s short story), the film composes a ghostly melancholic reflection on this profound human emotion. Rereleased by StudioCanal into cinemas this week in 4K, the enduring nature of its director’s legacy – after sadly passing away in late 2018 – can once again be re-appraised.
John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) and his wife Laura (Julie Christie) casually lounge around their idyllic country house. With the fire roaring and the winter cold outside, John sits in a woolly jumper at his desk studying images of a church’s stained glass window. To the far-right in this image stands a small figure adorned with a sanguine hood. Swiftly cutting to a matching figure, their little girl Christine (Sharon Williams) runs around a pond within the house grounds. Playing with toy figures, a rubber red ball and bike, she is happy a little girl.
Using the reflected light off the pond, this idyllic setting is quickly reversed, and soon to be graced by the presence of death itself. All told in a ruptured editing fashion, the images of the household graphical match those outsides. As John smashes a glass in his lounge so too does Christine outside as she rides her bike across a mossy area. Specifically in this duplicity of images, sounds and actions – all through editing – sustain an overt Gothic theme. This immediate feeling reaches upsetting height when Christine falls into the pond, never emerging out alive. Playing out in enchanting fashion, this unique atmosphere is only heightened when the couple arrives in Venice to escape England and the loss of their little girl.
Restoring the ancient ruins of Venice’s churches, John takes meticulous pride in his work. Adorned with a tweed suit, he is a cultured man who is escaping grief, and as the narrative plays out, is avoiding his own inevitable tragic fate. Upon going out for an evening meal, Laura encounters a pair of elderly twins in a restaurant. Helping Wendy (Clelia Matania) remove a small piece of dirt from her eye, she is taken aback by the mysterious Heather (Hilary Mason).
Blind but seemingly equipped with a mysterious psychic power to see the dead (specifically Christine), Heather comes to represent a physical manifestation of the occult. A theme to which the director later returned to in adapting Roald Dahl’s The Witches, the sister’s are not, however, steeped in any menacing caricature. As John and Laura become aware of Christine’s ghostly presence, the two start to properly mourn and process the death of their little girl. Woven into most inches of the frame and harsh editing, a lingering psychic presence never feels overplayed, merging effortlessly with the sights and sounds of Venice in a melancholic winter haze.
The strange environment created by the presence of the sisters is reflected in the narrow streets of Venice. Set against the backdrop of a serial killer on the loose, the misty vistas of the city composes a tactile feeling of cold. The restoration was overseen by those who worked tirelessly on the new restoration, particularly cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond. Retaining the grainy quality of the image, it is not replicated for any tedious digital rendering. Supporting these images is Pino Donaggio’s score, which conjures up as much profound emotion as Graeme Clifford’s editing.
Going on to score De Palma’s Dressed to Kill and Body Double, the boundaries between romance and heartbreak are blurred. Donaggio’s sounds hold recurring melodies, just as the images duplicate and interlink certain themes. The term masterpiece and classic are regularly thrown around in an age of grabbing headlines and timeless. However, the term cannot be more true for Roeg and Don’t Look Now. With career-defining performances from Sutherland and Christie, du Maurier’s source text, thanks to the director and his team, have culminated in an era-defining film.