Nicolas Roegís paradoxical poles of kino-vision, "seeing is believing" versus "nothing is what it seems." (Asked if he believes in prophecies, a bishop posits a middle ground: "I do, but I wish I didnít have to.") The opening movement depicts a sunny British garden darkening most lyrically, an almost subliminal shot of a moppet slowly sinking into a pond while her father (Donald Sutherland), having just spilled water on screening slides, senses the horror. (Mum, Julie Christie, is on the sofa reading "Beyond the Fragile Geometry of Space.") The wintry, off-season Venice of peeling walls and sludgy canals is where the couple goes to work and grieve, "a city in aspic" splintered by mirrors, shadows and statues, often with some gnomish face around the corner. A blind medium (Hilary Mason) uses her direct line to the hereafter to console Christie, yet Sutherland suppresses his own affinities with the supernatural, presumes to reverse the erosion of church mosaics, and pays dearly for his spiritual denial. Imagine The Third Man's Vienna decomposing in a jar and you get Venice here, where ancient edifices, vertiginous memory and otherworldly realms jostle continually. (The editing of the Sutherland-Christie sex scene, hopscotching between torsos intertwined in the sheets and post-coital bits of business, is very moving in its suggestion of the transience of the coupleís ecstasy next to the ominous weight of the centuries around them.) Roeg uses Daphne Du Maurierís short story as a masterly procession of uncanny set-pieces, with the color red materializing variously as Poeís Masque of Death, a tiny Red Riding Hood figure scuttling in dark hallways, a blot spreading malevolently over a photograph. Thrown off-balance along with the audience, Sutherland survives dangling from a cathedralís dilapidated scaffolding only to witness a corpse being fished out of the dark water. "The skill of police artists is to make the living appear dead," the inspector declares in phonetic Lugosian tones. Arguably the subtlest giallo ever made, itís a film to heighten the senses. Cinematography by Anthony Richmond. Music by Pino Donaggio. With Celia Matania, Massimo Serato, Renato Scarpa, and Leopoldo Trieste.
--- Fernando F. Croce