Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mother of Tears: Mother of God...

Let's get the bad news regarding Italian horror maestro Dario Argento's new film out of the way first: Mother of Tears is patently absurd, pitched stratospherically over-the-top, and presented with absolutely no restraint or subtlety whatsoever. The good news, meantime, is that Mother of Tears is patently absurd, pitched stratospherically over-the-top, and presented with no restraint or subtlety whatsoever.

Regular visitors to the Dish know that I've been a big fan of Argento's oeuvre for years. He devises stunningly engineered, extremely gruesome chillers where visual magnificence skips merrily alongside nightmare logic and occasional flat-out goofiness. And while Mother of Tears probably isn't the most ideal introduction to the man's work (go here for some background and recommendations), it's his wildest, wooliest, and most entertaining feature in years. It opens in Seattle for a limited run at the Varsity Theater July 4.

MOT details the vale of woe that erupts when a team of art restorers opens an ancient, cursed urn and releases the spirit of the powerful witch Mater Lachrymarum (AKA The Mother of Tears). The sorceress's essence soon gets down to lethal business, killing desecrators and throwing all of Italy into an apocalyptic tailspin as one of those restorers, Sarah (Dario's daughter, Asia Argento), flees--then stands up to--Mater's supernatural armada.

So, yeah, superficially Mother of Tears resembles your typical end-of-days horror flick, but it's way, way weirder than that. The best blanket of similes I can cough up is Baz Luhrman and David Lynch co-directing The Omen or The Ninth Gate with a little DaVinci Code-style religious skullduggery stirred in, during one lulu of an acid trip (asking for linearity from a Dario Argento film is like asking for a Tarantino flick without cinematic references, or a Bergman movie sans introspection).

Just a small sample of the strangeness within: cackling goth-cum-Japanese-schoolgirl witches; a toothy, chrome-domed assassin with a two-pronged eye-gouging implement; former Argento muse (and Asia's real-life mom) Daria Nicolodi lending a spectral hand like some Mediterranean Obi-Wan Kenobi; mass suicides; baby-chucking; Udo Kier; and the kinds of elaborately-orchestrated, gruesomely-creative onscreen deaths (strangulation by ones' own intestines? Okeydoke!) that have cemented Argento's status as a gorehound icon.

For the movie's first ten or fifteen minutes, the broadly silly (even by Argento's standards) dialogue and wildly-gesticulating cast don't inspire much faith. As it unspools, though, Mother of Tears actually revels in its silliness, and there's a self-aware subversiveness that reflects favorably on the movie's director. This is the Final Chapter of sorts to Argento's Three Mothers Trilogy (the first being the masterful Suspiria and second the erratic-but-still-pretty-mindblowing Inferno), and he both satirizes and homages those earlier works here.

At certain points Argento also extends a middle finger at fans' and critics' expectations. He largely refuses to duplicate the wildly saturated colors and dreamlike rhythms of his vaunted seventies output, and pushes everything else--performances, pacing, onscreen violence--to the proverbial eleventh notch on the volume knob. All along, the Maestro's visual elegance and fluidity remain in place alongside the blood, excess, and absurdity.

The crimson-spattered universe that Argento's been crafting for almost forty years thrives the most when he completely cuts loose and indulges his wildest, most outre impulses. That's what he does, to the nth degree, in Mother of Tears. After a good decade-and-a-half of delivering diluted variations on the styles and themes he innovated, Dario Argento has once more allowed himself to go completely and categorically nuts.

1 comment:

Stephanie M said...

Okay, this has nothing to do with your post. I figure I spent the better part of the morning watching and rewatching the Watchmen trailer (go to Chud, follow signs). Took 15 minutes to load (and I have a swift server) but boy, I just kept hitting replay over and over again.

It reminded me of when the mags came out month by month, and how hyperventilated I would be at the new arrival, how it blew my mind and rearranged the world. My nephew kept saying "I've seen that already" during the trailer, and I had to remind both of us that purt much everything we know about supers and comics has been influenced by that title.

My god, I'm hyperventilating again.
Stephanie M