Wednesday, September 24, 2008

This Can't Be My Mater Lachrymarum

***I wanted to point out before my look at Dario Argento's Mother of Tears that several of my favorite online associates have written some excellent positive notices on the film, including Steve at The Last Picture Show and Mr. Peel over at Mr. Peel's Sardine Liquer. Everyone should check out their posts for a balanced perspective on a film that has split Argento's fan-base like no other...I wish I liked the film as much as they did. Another favorite post on the film, although a much more mixed one, comes courtesy of Tim Lucas at Video Watchblog, and I wanted to provide the link to that as well. Despite my extreme dislike for Mother of Tears, I am still greatly anticipating Argento's upcoming Giallo and have lost none of my faith in the man's ability to completely rock my world.***

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Among my favorite moments in all of cinema is when Ania Pieroni suddenly appears as the overwhelmingly beautiful and cruel Mater Lachrymarum, The Mother of Tears, in Dario Argento’s 1980 masterpiece Inferno. It’s a brief and hauntingly odd moment that only Argento in his prime could pull off, as Pieroni does and says nothing but somehow communicates all of the strange magic that is at the heart of the magnificent Inferno.

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As re-imagined 27 years later, The Mother of Tears has transformed into Moran Atias, a ridiculous silicone based adolescent fantasy right out of a bad mid eighties Goth Rock video. Atias, a beautiful and charismatic woman in real life, is just one of the many problems in Argento’s long awaited Mother Of Tears, a film that I rank along with The Phantom of The Opera as his absolute worst.
Mother of Tears is the first Dario Argento film I have failed to connect with at even the most basic level. Even the few films he has made in his remarkable career that I haven’t liked (the aforementioned Phantom and Do You Like Hitchcock) at the very least were interesting and I understood what he was attempting. Mother of Tears, on the other hand, just left me completely and totally baffled and finally very depressed.

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Argento’s final film in a trilogy that includes the astonishing one-two punch of Suspiria and Inferno, is a hollow, cheap and rushed feeling production that, minus a couple of really inspired moments, never works for me. The work, filled with many allusions to past Italian Horror productions from the likes of Bava, Fulci and Argento himself, might have been intended as some kind of culmination to more than fifty years of Italian fright, but instead it feels like a sad reminder that the once strong genre has been reduced to less than a shadow of its former self.

I found so much wrong with the film that I don’t know where to begin. Stylistically it is as far removed from the colorful extravaganzas that the first two were as possible. While I admire that Argento was attempting to make Mother Of Tears very much its own film, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the picture, as shot by Frederic Fasano, is a flat looking production that reminded me more of a television movie rather than one of the major films of Dario Argento’s career. Honestly I feel Asia Argento’s flawed but brave Scarlet Diva (2000), Fasano’s first feature, is a visually more imaginative and striking production than this one.

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Technically the film is just a mess. From some of the weakest visual effects (courtesy of a Canadian Company that worked on Argento’s superior Masters of Horror productions) I have seen in a long time to many instances of poor editing that manages to spoil most of legendary Sergio Stivaletti’s makeup effects, Mother of Tears just feels poorly conceived at best throughout its 102 minute running time. The film’s final confrontation is especially spoiled by a particularly poor visual effect that frankly looks like something out of a Troma or Misty Mundae production; only at least they would have had the intelligence to play it for laughs. Here, Argento doesn’t seem to realize how truly terrible many of the effects look, something downright tragic for a man responsible for some of the most unsettling imagery in film history.

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The film’s many tributes to other films typically only serve to remind lovers of the genre of much more powerful productions, and they lack any real visceral impact for the most part. Take for example an early murder sequence that is clearly inspired by one of Fulci’s more brutal moments, but as done here it feels like something out of one of Lucio’s later productions (like Demonia or Anigma) when he had run out of money and artistic steam to really mount it the way it should. All of the murder’s here in Argento’s film feel like he’s trying too hard and for all their gruesomeness, they lack any real punch.

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The cast is doomed as well as they really have nowhere to go here. Atias feels right for the part when you watch her interviewed on the disc’s documentary but in the film itself she is ill conceived at best. Her followers that reek havoc on Rome throughout the film are even worse in how poorly thought out they are, as they play more like a shoppers at a local Hot Topic rather than signals of a world coming to an end. Many familiar faces pop up from Udo Kier to Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni but they all just serve to remind the audience that they deserve much better material.
Particularly unforgivable is the wasting of Daria Nicolodi, who is forced to perform her entire role hidden behind one of the cheesiest special effects imaginable.

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Cast in the underwritten lead role is Asia Argento and even she struggles with the material. Shot in the midst of some truly stirring films like Breillat’s The Last Mistress and Assayas’ Boarding Gate, in which she gives two of the most powerhouse performances of her career, Asia looks exhausted here and just doesn’t have anything to work with. Compared to the miraculous performance she gave for her father in the masterful The Stendhal Syndrome more than a decade ago, the part written for her in Mother of Tears becomes among the most disappointing of one cinema’s most remarkable modern careers.

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The film thankfully has some positive elements that are worth noting. Claudio Simonetti’s score for the most part is a rousing operatic success (although the rap metal song that ends the film is an embarrassment) while Stivaletti’s effects that aren’t spoiled by amateuristic editing are very memorable. Overall though, Mother of Tears is the most disappointing Italian Horror production since Stivaletti’s The Wax Mask in 1997, a film that is a masterpiece compared to this one.
Mother of Tears, which amazingly got Argento some of the mainstream critical acclaim that has alluded him throughout his career, probably would have broke my heart if I had seen it before hearing anything about it. A year’s worth of many fans (and the revered Alan Jones) disappointment with it tempered my expectations. Seriously though, as someone who counts Sleepless as one of his favorite films of the decade and has great admiration for The Card Player, I was surprised by just how much I disliked Mother of Tears…and more than a little disheartened.

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There is one moment though that almost grabs some of the magic that Suspiria and Inferno had in nearly every frame. It is a touching little scene that sees Asia’s character going through a box of old family photographs. Argento’s die-hard fans will of course recognize these are real mementos from her life, and the tears she starts to shed feel just as real. It’s a splendid reminder of what a film obsessed by digging up the past could have been.

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Despite my dislike for the film though, I’ll never count Dario Argento out and I will view Mother of Tears as just a mistake. Curbing my disappointment last night after watching this, I whispered “oh well, it’s only a movie” and quickly realized it was the most damning phrase I could have muttered as the life changing duo of Suspiria and Inferno were oh so much more than that…I wish Dario had left Mater Lachrymarum as just that unforgettable vision of Ania Pieroni in Inferno, as cinema’s darkest witch deserved much better than Mother of Tears.

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16 comments:

Steve Langton said...

Nicely written review which pointed out exactly why you didn't like the film and I have great respect for your opinions. While I liked the film, I can see why it has drawn criticism and would have liked to see Nicolodi handed pen and paper to write the script.It's a shame that Argento didn't make this film years earlier and have a bigger budget to play with.
I share your feelings re Giallo: I'd never write Argento off. I almost gave up on him after Sleepless, Phantom & Card Player (which I rate as his worst films), but still hope for great things with Giallo. I'll give Mother another look when I'm able to buy a copy and will perhaps alter my opinion on a second view.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Steve,
I was really hoping I would love this one but it really left me cold. I'll be curious to see what my reactions are the second time through...great soundtrack though which I am looking forward to picking up eventually. Thanks very much for the comments.

The King Of Cool said...

I have not had a chance to see this film. I've heard a lot of mixed reaction to it. I've had some people give really positive feedback on it, while many others seem to view it negatively. I had really high hopes for it. I'm so disappointed that it sounds like a rotten mess. I value your opinion a lot. I think that's why it breaks my heart to read your review. I had hoped you would be able to convince me that Argento had made a good film (maybe not a masterpiece, but still a good film). I still want to see it. I'm a big fan of him and his daughter. I'm just sad that it has so many serious flaws.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Keith,
Absolutely give it a look as you might find a lot to admire...it just didn't work for me.

J.D. said...

Ouch! I appreciate your brutal honesty, Jeremy! I still have yet to watch this film yet - I got sidetracked last night watching the first season of FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES which is *finally* out on DVD. As others have noted, I'm glad you backed up your feelings and why you felt it was a stinker. I think everyone can relate to a film that you go into really wanting to like and it still leaving you disappointed.

Mr. Peel said...

But Jeremy, what did you really think about the film?

I'm sorry you didn't like it but I understand what you're saying. I remember my response to Phantom and I've never wanted to see that one again. You make enough good points that I'm not going to debate how you feel about it. But a few months ago I was talking with a friend of mind who also hated it. Talking about some of the things I liked, I mentioned the lunacy of the bookstore scene, to which he replied, "Oh, THAT scene I liked." So maybe you'll find things to appreciate in there in time. Then again, maybe not. Like I said, I've seen Phantom so I know where you're coming from.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks JD,
I'm looking forward to hearing what you think of the film...I want to get that FRIDAY series box as well.

Thanks Mr. Peel,
I hope my feelings towards it warm on my next viewing whenever that might be. I did enjoy the documentary on the disc for the most part though. I appreciate the comments and know what you mean about PHANTOM.

Tim Lucas said...

My opinion of the film is far less mixed now. What made Argento great, once upon a time, is long dead. I think the only sensible reaction to MOTHER OF TEARS is to laugh at it.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Tim,
This film was truly one of the most depressing experiences I have had in a very long time.

Guillaume said...

Wow,that's so sad that you were disappointed by MOTHER OF TEARS Jeremy,especially that you seem to like very much SLEEPLESS (IMO,Argento's weakest film with PHANTOM OF THE OPERA)

I've seen only once time MOTHER OF TEARS,but i really liked its fast pace,crazy extreme ideas,tongue in cheek and satirical approach to its thematics.

I liked the "bitches" witches,it fits well one of the main film's subjects:
the decadence of our modern society (mothers killing their children,cops being killed,priests being killed,burning churches,rapes,suicides,etc)

Many scenes are really good:

the museum opening,the chase at the Station,the lesbian murder scene,the taxi ride,the wonderful steadycam shot during the film's ending,the too brief orgy scene...i also like the ambiguous and surrealistic final shot.

And Fasano's work...naturalistic yet vivid,sharp,full of darkness,and also with nice touches of colours (blue,orange,yellow...),like in SUSPIRIA and INFERNO.

Guillaume said...

Mr Peel:

i really like the invisible bit in the bookshop scene!
This scene is at the same time funny and suspensful!
I like when the cop is face to face to Asia and doesn't see her!
It's a quite subtle reference to one of Argento's usual obssession:

the Truth is in front of you but you don't/can't see it!!

I add that i had no problem with Moran Atias's portrayal of Mater Lachrymarum,i especially liked her appearance (a striking,unexpected close up of her half hidden face) during the gruesome murder of the lesbian.

I had the feeling that Argento had really a tongue in cheek,satyrical approach to the witchcraft (and overall the urban,modern society) in this film...the witches's behaviour like goth,silly cackling Paris Hilton,and the "hype",fashion Mater model and catwalk...

The only ones Argento that leave me overall cold are PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (an ambitious mess) and SLEEPLESS (an uneven,poorly lit and acted rehash of PROFONDO ROSSO and TENEBRAE)

PS:

On the french dvd,there's a quite interesting interview where you can learn that Frederic Fasano used IN THE SAME TIME for his MOT's cinematography cold and warm artificial lightning,and there was also a digital post-production work on the cinematography,for the use of reflections,etc

Derek said...

I couldn't agree with you more, Jeremy. I watched it back in April and still feel depressed by what a train wreck it was. I sadly wrote Argento off in regards to living up to his astonishing past achievements with the release of TRAUMA in the early 1990s... but I still held out hope, I guess. I liked THE STENDHAL SYNDROME and even SLEEPLESS and THE CARD PLAYER to some degrees. For some reason, though, I let my guard down with this one. I actually thought that it might be a return to form... that the return of Argento to the stygian realms of SUSPIRIA and INFERNO would herald a new... uh, now I'm depressed again. Dreadful stuff.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Guillaume for the detailed comments. Your thoughts on the film are much appreciated...you know how much I wanted to love the film so I am still greatly disappointed.

Thanks Derek...I agree and what can I say? I'm still stunned...

colinrudge0380 said...

I've had the UK edition of The Mother Of Tears for a few months now but have not yet worked up the nerve to watch it! I'm also trying to lower my expectations a little. Anyway, thanks for the review and lets all hope Giallo turns out better!

J.D. said...

Maybe because I was expecting the film to completely suck, I went in with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. The film is deeply flawed - it lacks any real suspense or tension - esp. during the chase sequence through the airport, bookstore and train. But I thought it was typical Argento: gorgeous women and over-the-top gore.

The first half, with its cynicism, detective work by Asia Argento's protagonist, and slightly satiric tone, reminded me a bit of THE NINTH GATE, altho, Polanski's film is much, much better.

I also liked all the exposition scenes where we get the backstory to the 3 Mothers and, in particular, the Mother of Tears.

But seriously, could any film have lived up to the expectations set by SUSPIRIA and INFERNO? Probably not. It's like what happened with the latest Indiana Jones film. Everyone was expecting it to be up to the same standards of the first three films the way we remember seeing them but we've all changed/aged since then. Same with the first two films in Argento's trilogy. Our expectations have changed because maybe our view of the world and who we are has changed. We're not seeing the world through the same eyes as we did when watching the first two films. At least, that's my theory.

Guillaume said...

And that's an interesting theory J.D!

About the lack of tension and suspens in the film,i agree to some extent:

MOT somewhat lacks the scares of SUSPIRIA and the oppressive mood of INFERNO but my theory is that Argento wanted a different mood and feeling in this film,he wanted the film to be chaotic,tongue in cheek and grotesque at times.

The film isn't slow paced like it was the case in SUSPINFERNO,it's more fast paced,'in your face" brutality...the first murder for example isn't especially scary and suspensful but gruesome and crude.

Maybe i'm in the minority,but i had a few jump scares watching the movie:

Coralina's murder,with the "Beast"'s eye suddenly opening...Asia's dream scene with the demon...the cop suddenly taken as hostage in the catacombs and the bald killer suddenly beating Marta the lesbian witch.

The set-up and the murder of the lesbian witch were also quite tense IMO...also this beautiful long steadycam shot at the film's ending has a creepy mood!

The mini-chase between Asia and the monkey at the beginning,the invisible confrontation between Asia and the cop in the bookshop are also in the same time grotesque,weird and suspensful,IMO!