Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are the married couple visiting a wintry Venice after the death of their child. Sutherland's character is a whiskery restoration expert working on the crumbling architecture of the city. After a walk along the side of the San Marco Canal, they walk into what is called Hotel Europa and go upstairs. They talk, she bathes. A naked Sutherland works on his art and architectural drawings. Finally, they have sex. Roeg's technique of intercutting their sex with a later scene of them getting dressed for the evening is justly celebrated - Steven Soderbergh included a homage to it in Out of Sight.
Roeg used two locations for the scene - the lobby and exteriors are the Hotel Gabrielli just east of the Piazza San Marco. The actual room where the scene takes place is in the slightly more upmarket Bauer Grunwald on the Campo San Moise. The scene was filmed early on in the production - indeed, the first time the couple had ever met - after torrential rain slowed down the outdoors shoot. Christie was by all accounts nervous, but Roeg followed the standard practice of a reduced film crew to make her more comfortable. The scene proved so convincing that rumour still persists that the sex was real.
The music is worth remarking on. While he was already filming in Venice, Roeg bumped into a producer friend named Ugo Mariotti riding on a vaporetto water-taxi. Mariotti was travelling with the little-known composer Pino Donaggio who had no experience of writing for film. Mariotti introduced them. Roeg was enthralled. Despite resistance from the producers, Roeg persisted in believing that their meeting was fated and he wrote the score for the film; as a result, Donaggio went on to become a very successful film composer - his music for Brian De Palma (in Carrie, for example) being the best known. The piercing, melancholic flute motif in the love-scene is played by Donaggio himself.
This one piece of warmth in the entire chilly film wasn't improvised as legend has it. Roeg had actually planned the love scene shortly before coming to Venice because he felt the script was too full of arguments between Christie and Sutherland and he wanted something to lighten the mood.
Perhaps the reason the scene is so powerful, thinks Roeg, is because of their silent desire to have another child and finally overcome a family tragedy that had left them crippled. Roeg notes: "Somewhere in there they'd reached that point - but they wouldn't have spoken it."
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