A figurehead: "Don't Look Now" (II)

Julie Christie with Donald Sutherland: gazing with warmth, love, and sadness.

I wrote about Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973) earlier this week without so much as mentioning Julie Christie or how beautiful she is in it, even though—or perhaps especially because—her character spends the majority of the film in mourning.  Throughout the Venice scenes her face is haunted by the most delicate hints of sadness (the psychic Heather tells her: “you’re sad!  You’re so sad and there’s no need to be!”) even as she smiles at Sutherland with the warmth and intimacy of a lover (above). 

Christie has always been an extraordinarily sensuous actress, and in Don’t Look Now her sensuality is colored by melancholy that somehow makes her even more lovely than usual.  Melancholy, joy, and affection keep sliding into each other and playing across her wonderfully expressive face.  It’s a remarkably physical performance, and one that’s quite subtle in its physicality: witness, for example, the naturalness with which she pulls her skirt over her hips as she dresses for dinner.  Or how, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, she lightly licks her lips as she buttons her blouse, Sutherland watching her from the doorway (above).  Or how she absent-mindedly touches a tube of lipstick to her front teeth.  (All of these moments are cut into the love scene that acts as the film’s centerpiece.)  Framed sitting desultorily in the hotel bath, her tangle of silver-brown curls pinned up to reveal the delicate curve of her nape, she could be a figure out of an Impressionist painting (below).   

Christie is in many ways the emotional core of the film, just as her character is driven by an openness and a need to connect—with her husband and with their late daughter.  Even at the end of the film, having suffered the loss of the former along with the latter, her face is serene, placid, and regal (below).  Gliding in on the gondola that bears her husband’s body, she resembles the figurehead of a ship.  Roeg has said that he wanted Christie to appear undefeated by grief, perhaps even comforted by the thought of her husband and daughter reunited beyond the grave.  Christie is the lifeblood of this film so much about death and its mysteries.

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