This is hard for me. But let me stand up in front of the room and say this: my name is Sean and I am a recovering Argento addict.
I’ve spent the best part of the last twenty years apologising for him, holding up the increasingly isolated moments of artistry in films such as Sleepless and The Stendahl Syndrome as evidence that he hadn’t entirely lost the plot, looking the other way as he unleashed witless travesties like The Card Player and Do You Like Hitchcock? upon the world, hoping against all evidence to the contrary that he could reconnect with his muse, go back to the well and remind us all what made him great in the first place.
But it wasn’t to be. Mother of Tears is a farrago, a disgrace to the seminal films that preceded it, nothing but a statement of an utter lack of intent. For Argento simply does not care any more. Apologists (and by God, they’re still out there, like whipped dogs continually skulking back to their master) would have you believe that I’m missing the point, that this film’s moronic script and affectless performances are par for the course for Argento, and if you can’t look past things like that, then you were never a true fan in the first place.
This is, in the absence of a more academic term, complete fucking bollocks. The devotion of horror fandom can be an admirable thing, but when it encourages laziness and excuses tired hackwork, it needs a good slap around the face. Sure, Argento was never going to win prizes for his dialogue, but the scripts for such movies as Deep Red and Tenebrae were tight and inventive, and even when he largely threw narrative out of the window, as in Suspiria and Inferno, the films were sustained by their dreamlike atmospheres and surreal set pieces. Because above all, Argento has always been about style. His earlier films are masterpieces of sheer technique, the swooping camera moves, unsettling angles and thunderous scores combining to give us a cinema of complete delirium. But now? It’s not that the emperor has no clothes, more that he’s forgotten how to dress.
Compare the baroque lighting schemes of the other films in the Three Mothers series to the flat drabness of the cinematography in Mother of Tears. Once upon a time, Argento worked with some of cinema’s finest cameramen, Vittorio Storaro, Luciano Tovoli, Ronnie Taylor. But who does he choose to shoot this long-awaited conclusion to the trilogy? The same journeyman who shot his embarrassing TV movie, Do You Like Hitchcock? Similarly, who does he select as his collaborators on the screenplay? Lest we forget, Argento has previously worked with such notables as Bernardo Bertolucci and Bernardo Zapponi, who scripted many of Fellini’s later films. But now all we get are the clueless hacks responsible for many of Tobe Hooper’s recent career abominations. And whilst no one expects revelatory acting in an Argento movie, the fact that the most memorable performance here comes from a monkey says it all.
I suppose I should mention something about the plot (such as it is). Well, it revolves around the eponymous Mother of Tears (apparently long dead at the beginning of the film, although she looked quite sprightly when she made an appearance in Inferno) a magic dress (fresh off the Primark rack) and a bunch of screeching New Romantic witches turning up in Rome to have a big party. Along the way Asia Argento discovers that she has magic powers, until the laughable climax where she forgets all about them. And then the house falls down and everyone laughs hysterically, like they used to do at the end of Police Squad!.
This kind of thing is quite frankly an insult to anyone who cared about his films in the first place. And either Argento is too old to give a damn, or else he spent too much time reading his own press (back when it was good, anyway). Which is why I have absolutely no time for lazy critics giving this disaster a pass on the grounds that, hey, it’s Dario, and it’s all in fun, and at least this is entertaining trash. Not good enough. Mario Bava, to whom Argento owes more than he’d like to admit, was critically ignored for most of his lifetime and continued to make masterpieces up until the end of his career. I’ve now officially given up hope of Argento emulating that feat.