Wednesday 18 May 2011

The Mother of Tears (2007)

THE MOTHER OF TEARS is a supernatural horror film directed by Dario Argento in 2007.  It stars Dario's daughter Asia Argento, alongside Christian Solimeno, Adam James, Philippe Leroy, the patron saint of delirious actors Udo Kier, and Dario's ex-wife (and Asia's mother) Daria Nicolodi.  It is the much-delayed third film in his 'Three Mothers' trilogy and was released in Italy under the title "The Third Mother".

Dario Argento is perhaps the most critically acclaimed and widely known Italian director of genre movies.  His fame chiefly rests on a string of gialli and horror movies made between 1970 and 1987.  They are renowned above all for their directorial flair, stunning design and inventive set-pieces.  Argento's career has declined sharply since 1987 following the release of several uninspired movies which have diluted his once untouchable reputation.  These days the release of a new Argento film is greeted with indifference by the public, and trepidation by his devoted fans.

Hands are a key image in the giallo, and Argento's films in particular
The announcement that Argento was to make the much rumoured third film in the 'Three Mothers' trilogy provoked a mixed reaction.  SUSPIRIA (1977) and INFERNO (1980) are two of Argento's most fondly remembered films and in some ways encapsulate his entire ouevre.  Some believed that on current form Argento was bound to make a stinker which could never live up to its two predecessors and that he should leave well alone.  Others felt that a return to old, familiar ground might inspire Argento to recapture his best form.

The reality is that there is an element of truth in both of those opinions.  THE MOTHER OF TEARS is probably Argento's best film since TRAUMA (1993) but is nevertheless a long way short of the quality of INFERNO, let alone SUSPIRIA.  It is confirmation, if it were needed, that the skill and verve which Argento once possessed in abundance is gone, almost certainly never to return.

Your 21st century witch travels by plane, not broomstick, and wheels her own luggage
Argento's dazzling cinematic flair often made up for narrative incoherence.  He was less interested in the convolutions of his plots than he was in the potential for show stopping set-piece sequences that those plots afforded him.  At his best, probably in SUSPIRIA, these set-pieces actually became the narrative thereby transcending the traditional Hollywood model and creating a new method of story telling which was uniquely suited to the depiction of nightmares.

The problem with THE MOTHER OF TEARS is that being the third film in a trilogy it imposes upon Argento a lot of backstory which means that he is more or less forced down a particular narrative route, thereby denying him the opportunity to indulge in one-off set pieces.  On the contrary, he is instead obliged to insert several clunky expository sequences for the benefit of viewers who haven't seen or can't remember the first two movies.

The great Udo Kier, expositing like mad

It's a great pity to have to report that the film resembles many dull modern American horror films in that, ironically, it only comes to life when dealing with death.  There are several impressively gruesome deaths, at times bordering on distasteful, but that's all they are.  It's about the worst insult one can imagine to say that this Argento film is anonymous, in that it could have been directed by anybody.

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