Few films offer a better (make that more idealized) example of the sort of adventurous professionalism that turns critics of a certain age misty-eyed with brain-dead nostalgia for a phantom ‘70s cinema that never was. Much like the empirically unsupportable ‘Golden Age’ Era of ‘50s television, too many touchstone ‘70s pics now seem less artistic achievement than intriguing shortfall . . . or worse. But while many films on director Nicholas Roeg’s maddeningly short C.V. fit that description, this one is surely his breakout masterpiece, the rare iconoclastic thriller that builds as well as tears down. Donald Sutherland & Julie Christie are phenomenally well-paired as a married couple in a crumbling Venice, trying to move past the tragic death of their daughter. But an offhand meeting with a blind psychic and a serial killer on the loose in the old city gets in the way of things . . or does it help them along? The film is all mood (very tense), atmosphere (very dank), color-coding (very red slicker/very boysenberry overcoat), and sex (very good). And if the infamous scary ‘got’cha’ denouement now looks less frightening than facile plot clean-up, the pleasures in holding on while the narrative lines come into linear focus remain very satisfying.
DOUBLE-BILL: Career-wise, Roeg really took it on the chin in the ‘80s, but briefly returned to form on THE WITCHES in 1990, one very scary Kid-Friendly pic.