***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.***
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.