classic film

Five-star cinema: Nicolas Roeg’s ‘Don’t Look Now’

The British director’s haunting account of death in Venice is our weekly pick of classic films from around the world.

The Thomas Mann novella Death in Venice, in which impossible and unattainable beauty drives a writer to his demise, inspired one of Luchino Visconti’s most well-known films. Visconti’s 1971 version of the same name is also highly regarded for its depiction of Venice, one of the greatest cities in the world and the kind of place where you can place a camera in any one of the numerous narrow alleyways and still get a beautiful shot.

It is one of these alleyways that British heritage conservationist John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) from Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973) gets a jolt. As John and his wife, Laura, hunt for a restaurant, he spots a diminutive figure in a red raincoat hopping across one of the canals. The figure reminds him of their daughter Christine, who died in a drowning accident while wearing her crimson parka some months ago, and John is rattled.

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The opening sequence of ‘Don’t Look Now’.

Laura (Julie Christie) is already flirting with the supernatural. She has met a pair of sisters, one of whom is blind and psychic. Heather (Hilary Mason) has frightening glassy eyes and claims to sense Christine’s presence in Venice. Laura, who has been on medication since Christine’s death, pathetically grasps at the possibility that her daughter is trying to communicate with her. She perks up enough to engage in passionate sex with John. One of the best-known scenes featuring intercourse in cinema is special because of how ordinary – and therefore believable – it appears. Julie takes a bath, John brushes his teeth, and they loll about in bed before climbing all over each other. The passion that guides the moment is broken up into jagged images and spliced with scenes of the couple readying for dinner afterwards.

Julie Christie in ‘Don’t Look Now’.
Julie Christie in ‘Don’t Look Now’.
Don’t Look Now is filled with varied camera movements, from classic tracking shots and pans to sudden and jarring zooms and intense close-ups. The editing pattern by Graeme Clifford is similarly asynchronous and fractured, intercutting between events from the past with events that are to follow, scattering visual clues all around, and creating a sense of unpredictability and the uncanny that haunts the entire narrative. The shocking denouement begins to make sense once this jigsaw of shards has been assembled as a whole. For all the distance that the Baxters try to put between their home and Venice, where John is working on restoring a church, their fate is sealed on that day in England when their daughter died.
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Graeme Clifford on the movie’s editing style.

Roeg based the movie on Daphne Du Maurier’s short story of the same name, and while he stayed faithful to the plot, he made one crucial change: Christine dies of meningitis in the story, rather than being drowned in the movie. The use of a water body links the past with the present, and images and colours seen early in the movie follow the couple to Venice and act as portents. Cinematographer Anthony B Richmond makes beautiful use of reflective surfaces, especially in the scene in which Laura begins to believe that Heather has the power to communicate with the dead.

Heather (Hilary Mason)  and Laura (Julie Christie).
Heather (Hilary Mason) and Laura (Julie Christie).
It’s usually classified as a horror film, but Don’t Look Now also ranks as one of the most moving depictions of grief. Despite their apparent sangfroid, the Baxters have been deeply wounded, and the sisters merely bring to the surface the pain that the couple has tried to suppress. Michael Winterbottom paid tribute to Don’t Look Now in Genoa (2008), set in the other well-known Italian city. Colin Firth’s professor moves to Genoa after his wife’s death, but the ghosts of the past prove hard to shake off. Genoa can barely muster the raw power of Roeg’s disturbing account, and the movie doesn’t have anything to match the charisma of Sutherland and Christie. Don’t Look Now remains one of a kind.
Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland.
Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland.
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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.