Venice in the Shadows

Window in Venice Ghetto
Window in Venice

Destination: Venice

Movie: Don’t Look Now (1973)

I think it is appropriate to segue from two weeks of scary things to a week of Venice  by talking about a scary Venice movie. Don’t you?

My friend Ruth Pennebaker, the marvelous writer of The Fabulous Geezer Sisters suggested I watch this movie. When Don’t Look Now arrived from Netflix, I realized I had seen it once before, but still enjoyed it and it still surprised me.

It seemed dated only because it starred Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, and they are such icons of 70’s movies. Am I right, Jane Boursaw?

The film starts in a book-filled country home with the intellectual couple sitting by the fire reading. Suddenly a spilled glass causes a streak of red to run across a slide that Sutherland is viewing, and he intuitively knows his daughter is in trouble. Running for the outdoor pond, he discovers the little girl, dressed in a red mackintosh face down in the pond.  We skip a few years and his job consulting on restorations takes them to Venice, where events become curioser and curioser.

They meet a very strange pair of sisters–one blind, with second sight. We spend most of the movie puzzled by these two–innocents or devils?  And is Sutherland mad or also blessed with some kind of extra sensory perception? Is that his daughter he is seeing? Her ghost?

Grand Canal, Venice
Evening on the Grand Canal, Venice

Having wandered a bit in the walkways of Venice after dark, I can believe how easy it is to imagine that you are being followed, or that someone just disappeared around the corner in front of you. There is something about being in a city that seems to float on water that makes you begin to drift away from solid reality and tend to believe in apparitions. So many corners to make strange shadows. Broken reflections from water all around. To add to the confusion, as you will see in a book I review this week, Venetians do not say what they mean–it is a Mad Hatter world.

The film presents quite a contrast to another Venice movie I’m going to talk about later this week. That one is all light and romance. This one is all shadows and gloom. I particularly liked the way that color played a major role in Don’t Look Now.

Venice Window
Venice Window

Night scenes prevail, so the effect is almost of a black and white movie.  Costumes are predominantly black and brown, with symbolic touches of red.  The person? ghost? doppleganger? that appears to Sutherland is always in red against the gray and black of nighttime Venice.

As in the movie The Third Man which is set in Vienna, Don’t Look Now does not provide a translation of the native language for English-speakers. Italians speak Italian.  So like the non-Italian-speaking Americans and English women characters in the movie, the audience is on edge not knowing what has been said. This non-understanding adds to the overall feeling of frustration and puzzlement. The mother and father (Christie and Sutherland) get lost in the streets of Venice in more than one sense.

The movie trailer below is longer than most, at 3 minutes and 18 sec. But it really demonstrates the darkness of this movie. I would say the movie is a must see for travelers to Venice. Despite it’s gloom and spookiness, it’s lush portrayal makes you think the movie could not possibly have happened anywhere else.

If you have visited Venice, did you find it rather eerie and other worldly at times? If you have seen this movie, did you foresee the ending? If so, you are far more prescient than I. The movie’s preview–longer than most–comes from You Tube. The other pictures here are my property. Please do not re-use without permission.


Movies that John Berendt mentions in The City of Falling Angels (which is next up in Venice week) as all being about people just “passing through” include:

Death in Venice
The Wings of the Dove
Aspern Papers
Don’t Look Now (reviewed here)
Summertime (stay tuned–review coming)
Across the River and Into the Trees
The Comfort of Strangers

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

15 thoughts on “Venice in the Shadows

  1. Ooooo sounds like a great movie. Julie Christie has been one of my favorite actors since I saw her in Dr. Zhivago. I like the idea of seeing a creepy side of Venice instead of just using it as a romantic backdrop. I’ll have to look this movie up.

  2. Hi, Vera,

    I saw “Don’t Look Now” when it came out, and remember being very uncomfortable by a fall from a great height. I might be remembering it wrong. But, although I generally like mysteries a lot (I can usually pass on the ones featuring heavy drugs, torture, or serial murder, thanks), I’ve never found horror stories anything I want to spend my time or money on. I read the paper and listen to the news, and find quite enough horror in real life. I used to drive an ambulance and work in the emergency room of a large inner city municipal hospital. Maybe that has something to do with it, but can’t remember liking horror much even before that. Scary is one thing (I remember seeing the old “Hound of the Baskervilles” as it got dark, and was too deliciously scared to even turn around to put the lights on), gruesome is quite another.

    1. Ahhh, yes, there is a fall involved, but it is kind of an every day accident–not a terror thing. In my mind this does not qualify as a horror movie.

  3. Hated the movie, but absolutely LOVE Venice. Particularly the little alleys and back ways. I was in Venice in January. Imagine the water, etc., smelled a lot better than it would in high summer. . . .

    1. Susan: I’d love to hear more about why you hated the movie. BTW, I was there in the summer and the water wasn’t smelly. But it was very crowded with tourists.

  4. You’re giving me goosebumps with this description! I’m usually not a fan of scary movies, but since this isn’t a slasher film, I might be able to eeek my way through it… in a well-lit room, of course.

  5. More than anything, I found the ending of this movie to be devastating. I saw it a second time, but had to leave before the final scene. I went to the lobby, where another moviegoer was. I asked whether he’d seen the ending before and he said yes. “I couldn’t see it again,” he said. Neither could I.

  6. Ok, first of all, I can’t believe I haven’t seen Don’t Look Now. And second, I’m stressed out just watching the trailer! I will definitely look this up and watch it. Can’t go wrong with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland (that’s a great cry of desperation he does in the trailer). Isn’t it funny how you can just TELL a movie that’s made in the 70s? Something about the lighting or film quality or something. I’ll have to research that.

    1. Well, for one thing, you can tell its a 70s movie because of the gratuituous male AND female nudity in a couple of scenes. And I think there’s a kind of lethargic air. But it’s not so much the movie itself I was referring to as Sutherland and Christie. I always feel like I’m having a flash-back to the 70s when they pop up.

  7. Now you have piqued my interest, both in seeing this movie AND visiting Venice. Perhaps the movie will be a bit more realistic for me, rit now.

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