Saturday, November 13, 2010

Roeg, Don't look now

If you've never seen this, a warning. Avoid reading anything else about it before you do see it (and you should), because many people (including critic Roger Ebert) just can't avoid spoilers. You want to maintain a rational, objective, unbiased state of mind. Just like our protagonist, Donald Sutherland.

But the real protagonist of the movie is Venice, as it should be. And particularly, Venice in the late fall/winter. If you've never been there, this will be a fine introduction, better than most travelogues. It brought me back to the Venice I first knew back in the early Seventies, which is when the film was shot.

Our film (based on a story by Daphne Du Maurier, who also wrote Rebecca and The Birds) concerns a loving married couple, Sutherland and Julie Christie, who lose their little daughter and are traumatized by the event. Sutherland plays a restoration specialist, and they subsequently go to Venice, where he is involved with the restoration of San Nicolo' dei Mendicoli (in the photo). This is a realistic touch, as the charity Venice in Peril really did restore the church (located in a far-flung area in Dorsoduro) in the Seventies. Christie (never more beautiful) meets two elderly British sisters, one of whom is blind and claims to be psychic. The blind woman speaks convincingly of the recently drowned daughter and claims that Sutherland himself is now in danger. But the rationalist Sutherland scoffs at all this. But then all sorts of things start to happen. Concluding in one of the more startling and effective endings I've seen.

The movie has fine direction by Brit Roeg (it was an Anglo-Italian production) whose early background in cinematography is put to good use. Keep an eye on the trail of red throughout the movie, from beginning to end, as if something implicit and ever-present were to become manifest. Fine acting all around, with a minor role by former Italian cinema heartthrob Massimo Serato as the bishop, still handsome at 57. And there's a wonderful love scene toward the beginning, expressive of the joy and satisfaction of a good relationship, as it skillfully entwines superior lovemaking takes with the couple's preparations to go out to dinner.

The movie is not about psychics and whether to believe them or not (I don't). It is about the fundamentally incomprehensible and mysterious nature of life, and the dangers that inhere in forgetting this. It will provoke thought about Venice and its attractions and symbolism, faith, rationality, hope, despair, death and love. A must see.