Film4: Sunday 23 August, 1.05am
After the death by drowning of their little girl, Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland stay in Venice out of season. But they are unable to put the tragedy behind them. A chilling story of dark forces lurking beneath the surface, put together in dazzling kinetic style by Nicolas Roeg, already an accomplished cameraman before he directed Performance (with Donald Cammell) and Walkabout. In this immaculate adaptation of a Daphne Du Maurier story, Sutherland is working on the renovation of a crumbling Venetian church in the decrepit city and, early on, he is given two key lines – “Nothing is what it seems” and “Seeing is believing” – both of which are delivered in a throwaway manner and both relating to ordinary comments from his wife. But in this extraordinarily rich film, each moment resonates with meaning. The two English spiritualist sisters, Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania, are seen laughing uproariously as Julie Christie approaches their pension intent on contacting her dead daughter. But it is a sleight of hand (the film is brilliantly edited by Graeme Clifford) and the audience is invited to misconstrue two unconnected images. This sense of unease pervades the entire film, and it is atmospherically intensified by Pino Donaggio’s mournful music. As Sutherland wanders lost in the city’s dank corridors, a child’s piano practice echoes in the background. Again, an innocent act is made to seem in some way sinister. Donaggio (whose name is misspelled in the credits) would soon begin a collaboration with thriller specialist Brian De Palma, scoring the likes of Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Body Double and Blow Out during a partnership echoing Bernard Herrmann’s work with Hitchcock. Don’t Look Now is a story of second sight with an ominous title (like a vivid nightmare, the mortifying climax is impossible to shake off ) but above all it is a love story. Marriage has rarely been treated so tenderly in film and the love scene between the two stars is unusually moving. Its time-shift editing has been frequently referenced, most recently in the final episode of True Detective’s second season. Originally released on a double-bill with The Wicker Man, Don’t Look Now is not only a great British film – it’s one of the greatest films ever made anywhere. It received seven Bafta nominations, but was ignored by the American Academy. Nicolas Roeg has never been Oscar nominated.