We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 31 Aug 6:25PM
Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland star as a couple who move to Venice after the death of their daughter, only to encounter forebodings of death amid its dank off-season canals
Architectural restoration expert John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) and his wife Laura (Julie Christie), grieving over the sudden drowning of their daughter Christine (Sharon Williams), take a working holiday in Venice. While John busies himself with his work, Christine meets up with middle-aged sisters Heather (Hilary Mason) and Wendy (Clelia Matani). Although blind, Heather claims to 'see' Christine. Furthermore, Heather claims that Christine is trying to warn the Baxters...
Certainly John's work manhandling gargoyles and climbing shaky scaffolds isn't entirely danger-free. Also, the sense of foreboding is masterfully cranked-up by the evidence of a mysterious killer working in the city and by the disorientation of premonition. Though Laura finds solace in Heather's claims, John is sceptical. He is unnerved by a wholly different experience: fleeting sightings of a small figure dressed in a red coat, much like Christine's.
Roeg's film is adapted from a short story by Daphne Du Maurier. In Du Maurier's hands, the story was a conventional, if modern, tale of the supernatural with a neat final twist. Under the direction of Roeg, it becomes a disjointed, multi-layered, totally cinematic masterpiece, each frame carefully composed, rich with ambiguity and visual themes (the recurrence of the colour red in particular).
Many of the subtle, jarring thrills come in the editing, which renders the notion of foresight explicit but still mysterious. Events from the future appear in the present in impressionistic, enigmatic and, crucially, misinterpreted flashes. But the actors are not lost or ignored in this technically complex chiller.
The performances are uniformly excellent, the ending pricks an intense fear in the audience. Perhaps the only iffy factor in the whole film is Sutherland's bouffant hairpiece.
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