Mother of Tears: The Third Mother

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LA TERZA MADRE Italy/USA. Horror/Thriller/Fantasy. 102 minutes. Directed by Dario Argento. Starring Asia Argento, Cristian Solimeno, Adam James, Moran Atias, Valeria Cavalli, Philippe Leroy, Daria Nicolodi, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, Udo Kier, Robert Madison, Jun Ichikawa, Tommaso Banfi, Peolo Stella, Clive Riche, Massino Sarchielli, Barbara Mautino. Cinematography by Frederic Fasano. Edited by Walter Fasano. Production Design by Francesca Bocca, Valentina Ferroni. Art Direction by Gretel Fatibene. Set Decoration by Maria Castrovilli. Music by Claudio Simonetti. Casting by Morgana Bianco. Costume Design by Ludovica Amati. Special Effects by Sergio Stivaletti. Visual Effects by Mike Goddard. Written by Jace Anderson, Dario Argento, Walter Fasano, Adam Gierasch and Simona Simonetti Produced by Claudio Argento, Dario Argento and Giulia Marletta.

11 November 2008

Well, this is how I look at it: There is no third part in Dario Argento’s ”Three Mothers” Trilogy. The film fans have kept hoping for and anticipating since the masterpieces of horror that were Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980), was never made. And will never be made.

Sure, technically, The Third Mother is the final installement to this Holy Trilogy of Eurohorror movie buffs. But in our hearts we know that the follow-up to the bizarre, hallucogen that was Inferno was made sometime during the 80’s, by an artist in his talent’s prime. Only, of course, that it was never made.
What was made, eventually, was The Third Mother, 27 long years later in another time by another director. Now, I’m not putting this movie down. It would be so easy to bring out the chainsaw and burn away all your frustration on something that barely has a moment of the stylistic flair of the two previous films. But it wouldn’t be fair, it wouldn’t be realistic and it certainly wouldn’t be intelligent. I hate fanbases anyway. It has been regarded general truth that Dario Argento has ”lost it” in his later years. That his magic has run out on him, that he lacks the imaginative craze of his earlier films.

It’s not true. Yes, I would agree that he hasn’t made a truly great film sinceOpera in 1987, but it is not true that Argento has ”lost” anything. He deliberately stopped making those kinds of films. A blasphemy towards his own godlike genious, you may say. Really? Take a look at Trauma (1993), Argento’s last traditionally stylish horror film. After that one, he has consistently trimmed himself down to a sparse style, peaking of the near minimalism in the, in a sense underrated giallo The Card Player (2004). If you look at Trauma, you might be impressed by some of the dream sequences, the screaming Asia Argento in the thunderous rain storm, or perhaps Piper Laurie’s ever so mean witch looks. But if you’re honest, you will also see Argento making an Argento film. I can easily imagine him being fed up at that point, realising that he’s close to wearily entering repeat mode. Who can blame him for wanting to do other stuff? You might argue that everything he’s ever done since has been mediocre, that he’d be better of making another fantasy horror film than boring movies in broad daylight. I disagree. I don’t expect any masterpieces from Argento, in my mind the man’s retired, he’s past 60 for God’s sake and he has given us some of the most memorable classics of the horror genre. Give the man some rest. Beisdes, a good director is interesting no matter what your overall impression of one of his films are. That’s another discussion, but I find many moviegoers lack of interest in the actual film art and medium, quite depressing.

Anyway, point is: Only an optimist close to insanity could ever expect The Third Mother to be anything near what was Suspiria and Inferno. Not because Argento would have failed, but because he doesn’t make those movies anymore. It’s over, it’s done. The Third Mother would, inevitably, be an Argento movie from the 00’s.

So with that out of the way, what do we have here?
To be an Argento movie, the story takes an unusual amount of time to get into. Asia plays your average Argento movie heroine – a normal girl, working at the Museum of Ancient Art in Rome – who by opening a creepy, mysterious urn (”Go for it!”) releases the spirit of Mater Lacrimarum, The Mother of Tears – which is the final, most beautiful and by far the most cruel of ”the three mothers” (in case you didn’t notice, Suspiria and Inferno dealt with the two others). After this unfortunate slip, the entire city of Rome enters a state of chaos and anarchy when all the witches of the universe come to join the party as we enter the very apocalyptic ”second age of witches!”. That is, unless Asia can stop her. Because, and I never thought I’d say this about an Argento movie, there is this Harry Potter thing going on, as it turns out that Asia’s mother (Daria Nicolodi) once fought Mater Lacrimarum but was killed and now Asia has gained her powers. So now it’s up to her to track down the most evil witch of all time, and try to sharpen up her magic skills as she goes along.

Had this movie been made by Argento in, say, 1983, no doubt would it have been a viceral, epic, thunderous and heart-stopping film. Or, well, maybe not, but it would have had a lot of colors. The Mother of Tears is stylishly what you’d expect, a lot of external shots, use of daylight, broad images, fairly long takes of Rome and Turin – Suspiria and Inferno both took place in a strict no man’s land, a fantasy realm and a fairy tale land, but Argento is constantly in the real world in The Third Mother, making great deals of it that of a conventional thriller – there is a police investigation, Asia is on her own trail, looking up weird people (did I say weird? I meant Udo Kier) to the sound of a  Claudio Simonetti score that does wink at the previous scores by Goblin and Keith Emerson, but pretty much focuses on being just a mainstream moody-broody-thing. Unlike the other films, there aren’t that many characters in this film to knock off, so the victims of this film are a little random, Asia kinda picks them up in one scene for them to be killed in the next.

Which leads us to another point, that I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned until now – The Gore. As it has been said, Mater Lacrimarum is by far the ”most cruel” of the three mothers and Dario sure doesn’t kid around with it – in the beginning we have a girl getting her mouth smashed and then strangled by her own intestines. I mean… yeaouch!

The trademark-breaking violence in The Third Mother is one of the things I find most interesting with it. Argento is obviously well-known for his elaborate scenes of violence, the brilliant, almost sensual aestethics of it and throughout his career he has made the most beautiful scenes displaying the most baroque events. We have an Italian counterpart in Lucio Fulci, who’s 80’s films also had an eye for the aestethics but tended to be deliberately ugly with downright gore – and during this films first murder I actually believe I’m watching a Fulci film. The violence goes on with eerie shocks of babies getting killed by their mothers (specially one short, breathtakingly beautiful sequence by a bridge, where Argento in a brief moment totally re-invents himself), standard Freudian things with lesbians getting impaled from one hole to the other (can’t wait to see the reactions of that one) and heads getting smashed into unrecognizable balls of blood. If you want blood, we’ve got it.

There is a deliberate, I think, over the top playfulness with this violence, usually held back and carefully arranged by Argento, and other things in the movie tags along with this. The Third Mother is weird and absurd, quite funny at moments, with a temporary ”villain” being a screaming monkey (some kind of self-parodic reply to Phenomena, for sure), or an alchemist character played by Philippe Leroy in a wheelchair – he’s supposed to be the ”great Belgian thinker Guglielmo De Witt”, I mean what a Donald Duck name, and it doesn’t get less quirky when he interrupts his conversation with Asia just to squirt her in the eye with some weird perfume and pick up a giant optical device, making his headlook like a giant, green marsian. No way did Dario mean for us to be dead serious about that one. I love that stuff.

There are flaws. Unfortunately, some fairly crucial ones. For one thing, I have a hard time getting over the way that Daria Nicolodi is thrown away. She plays Asia Argento’s mother in the film, and the natural attraction here is of course that she is her real life mother aswell, and that Daria co-wrote and starred in most of Dario’s movies while they still were together, in a notoriously stormy marriage. It would have been great to see her finally in a Dario Argento movie, playing against Asia. I don’t know, maybe there would be some kind of hidden reconsile there or something. Well, not quite. Daria Nicolodi (or should we say it like the fans, ”Obi-Wan Nicolodi”) appears as some kind of ghost, giving tips and trades to Asia, who immediately upon seeing her breaks into tears, as she goes along. It is all quite ridicilous and in a dark place of my mind, I actually believed that Dario wrote her in to ridicule her even more than he did in his 80’s movies when she was shot in the eye, killed by monkies, mentally tortured etc…
But there is a bigger story and that is the general flatness of the plot. Apparantely, Rome is in chaos but Asia and the rest just take their time, rarely panics, and visually through the bland cinematography Frederic Fasano and the routine editing by his brother Walter, we are getting no signs of panic. Even visually we aren’t given any proper signs that the entire capital of Italy is actually a burning pot of anarchy. Yeah, it’s a budget problem, sure, but this time around Argento really does seem slightly unintersted in his own story. Quite early on, Asia realises that she has to find the witch and destroy her, and towards the end she does meet her. But during that time it’s like the movie’s only waiting for her to end up there, there are no red herrings, no side stories, no interesting realtions, really it’s not much of anything. That being said, and this does sound weird, The Third Mother is probably Dario Argento’s best acted and perhaps even written movie – ever. But maybe that’s not saying a lot.

And speaking of the Mater Lacrimarum, the ending is the biggest anti-climax I have seen in a long time. Here we have an entire movie that builds up the tention around this big, feared evil mega witch, and an entire film where our heroine has been looking to find her and destroy her – and then we get to the finale and…. well, not only does she look about as frightening as Shakira doing a lap dance, but the way the… er, ”fight”, goes down, well I don’t want to spoil anything, but let me tell you it doesn’t get any more Wizard of Oz than that.

A lot of people have made funny comments about the way the witches look, like someting from a retail 80’s Halloween party. And yeah. Argento was born in 1940. I guess that’s his modern day witches, I don’t know. They just look like kids off to trick or treat or, alternatively, to a Marilyn Manson gig.

So all said and done, The Third Mother is quite flawed but also worthwile and very entertaining at many times. It would be insanity to compare it to anything Argento did in the 80’s. But it is, however, a lot more fun than The Card Player, overall a better movie than Sleepless, ten times Phantom of the Opera and more successfull in it’s aim than The Stendhal Syndrome. I suggest you take it or leave it.

Now, do I miss the ”old” Argento? Sure, occasionally I do, like towards the end, when a screaming Asia Argento is trying to escape the collapsing underworld wading in a pool of shit, filth and dead bodies. That’s like the minute and a half of the ”old” Argento that’s in this movie, and naturally it warms my heart.
But you know what? All you naysayers will miss Dario Argento the day he’s gone and will like the senior works of him as well, just as we still enjoy watchin Hitchock’s Topaz or Family Plot, despite being his lamest efforts. I like Dario Argento’s films and that’s that. I also like to leave things behind me and I like to let go of impossible dreams – like that third part of the Three Mothers trilogy, the one that after all was never made.
6/10