At the noble age of 68, I find it honorable that Dario Argento has the will and the ability to make the films he wants to make. Any creative mind will have to find it’s own way to express itself, and not get caught in what is expected. I never understood fanbase criticism of Argento’s later work, specifically the idea that Argento has somehow ”lost it” (lost what?) and suddenly, out of the blue, lacks any talent he mysteriously and inexplicably seemed to have 30 years ago. I can understand that a lot of people are depressed not to find his ”trademark” visuals anymore, since the flamboyant flair and elegant violence was what made people like him in the first place. But I think it’s quite a shallow admiration if all Argento has ever done well is killing girls in sexy fashion. In Giallo, there is a scene where the killer masturbates to his own images of his bloody murder victims. I wouldn’t know for sure of course, but I think this is a self-ironic comment to these upset fans. And to the Argento of the 70’s and 80’s as well.
Naturally, Argento knows exactly what he is doing, and he has purposely abandoned his old style of surreal fantasy horror to make quite the opposite; thrillers, first and foremost psychologically oriented, that works on a meta level in first hand, with plot somewhere down that priority list. Style isn’t even a concern. The color scheme of both Giallo and The Card Player, is gray, white and black. I can be a tad sad and nostalgic about it too, but I think it’s time we get over it. It’s not like Argento didn’t try to keep doing movies as if ”Argento” was a genre of it’s own – Trauma, The Stendhal Syndrome, Phantom of the Opera and even Sleepless, in part, all express the same thing: A legendary master of style on spare fumes. They were automatic, obligatory, they all express one thing and that is that ”it’s over”. In contrast to those titles, his latest movies are vivid, fresh, interesting, here and now. And I dare to say, once you care to take interest in Argento as a film maker, a movie like Giallo is just as interesting as Inferno or Opera. But if you just want his old, stylized gore, don’t bother even watching anything he has done or will do post Opera. Rob Zobie’s Halloween II is probably something you’ll enjoy more, so I guess I’m actually recommending it.
What has always fascinated me about Argento has been a theme that Giallo incidentally picks up on quite a lot; the morality of death and murder. What is the proper definition of evil, and who kills who and for what reason, are questions I find here and there in all of his films, Tenebrae and Opera being some of the most intriguing examples and even in his lesser films (say The Phantom of the Opera) dualism between heroes and killers are definingthematical traits. The key to Giallo is Adrien Brody in the title role, a bitter cop in Italy on the trail of an outlandish killer who traps beautiful girls in his taxi to make them just as ugly as he is and then kill them. It becomes clear after a while that the movie’s focus is by no means directed towards the plot (which is so straight and automatic that it seems as if it’s designed for the audience to more easily get it out of the way). What the movie is about is Brody’s character and the disfigured killer and the similarities they share. When you consider the invisibility of the plot in contrast to the extremely noticeable casting choices, I think it’s fair to say that Argento isn’t interested in doing a giallo. Rather, it seems like he is doing some serious re-evaluating of the genre: the movie is not a giallo, it’s an anti-giallo named giallo – and the killer isn’t smart, diabolical or effective but merely messed up, over the edge and so ugly it’s amusing. He is also a buffoon, as clumsy as they come, and it basically takes one clue in the investigation to track him down. What is interesting is that he comes off as more or less an outraged victim, where Brody’s cop is a mellow executioner. Both characters are results of a traumatic past, both live isolated in two separate cellars (literary speaking), they are both killers, the killer is guilty of crimes of passion and the cop, with one exception from the past, is guilty of simply just killing, without emotion or conviction. While Brody does an often amusing parody of cop language ála cigarette-by-the-autopsy-”whatawegot” (he does it straight, which even makes it subtle) the nature of his character is deeply unsettling. He has no life. And I don’t mean he seems bored and unimaginative, I literary mean that he walks and talks and kills but that’s it. He’s nobody to root for. And besides his badge and good looks, he is no different from the killer. Argento makes that very, very, VERY clear.
Against Brody, we have Emanuelle Seigner as the character who is to deliver the emotional punch. Unfortunately, well, she sucks. And bad acting certainly isn’t the only flaw in Giallo. More backstory and straight-to-the-wall suspense wouldn’t have hurt. But Adrien Brody is a riot and, I found, truly wonderful to watch. Giallo becomes thoroughly entertaining because of him. While he acts it out to the limits of deliberate over-acting scene by scene, Argento experiments with parody, duality, his own heritage and the movies he has made in the past. While Mother of Tears came off as a more campy self-parody, Giallo is far more complex. One of the murder victims at one point, for no reason, screams that she’s actually absent and ”not in this body” or something similar. It’s as if Argento for the first time acknowledge that he has always been killing vacant characters in vanity, and now actually tries to tell a story where a kill is a kill, no matter who pulls the trigger or jabs the blade into the heart.
Sure, complexity alone doesn’t make Giallo a masterpiece. However, I liked it as intelligent entertainment. And if the stabbing is still more important to you, feel free to watch Suspiria for the 45th time. I’m awaiting the DVD release for Giallo with excitement.