Rome, Italy. An opera house where two Japanese young women want to skip the performance on their last night in the city and do something fun. At the nightclub, the two young women separate, one meets a handsome young man while the other decides to take a taxi back to her hotel. The young woman flags down a cab and gives the driver her destination. The driver takes the woman on an unfamiliar route, apparently in the opposite direction of her hotel. The following day at a fashion show, runway model Celine (Elsa Pataky) receives a phone call from her sister, Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner), a flight attendant who has just arrived in Rome. Celine is busy with the show but makes plans to see her sister later in the evening. After the show, Celine flags a taxi to meet Linda at a restaurant. Linda calls Celine on her cellular phone while she is in the taxi and hears her sister yell at the taxi driver that he is driving in the wrong direction. Celine never shows at the restaurant or comes home which prompts Linda the following morning to visit the police. She meets Inspector Enzo Avolfi (Adrian Brody) who is working on a murder case involving young women victims.
The first act of Dario Argento's latest film, Giallo (2009), is extremely well-executed and focused. The initial collage of scenes which set up the intrigue for the film's mystery are tight and each sequence serves to advance the plot. When Brody's character is introduced, with his questioning of Seigner's Linda, he immediately appears as credible. While he is curt with Linda (and perhaps lacking sensitivity to Linda's stress over her missing sister), Avolfi only asks relevant questions to his investigation. Giallo then focuses on Avolfi as main character and in a following scene, he exits the police station to drive his car in Rome. As he is driving, Avolfi notes that he is being followed by a cab. In an unexpected turn, Avolfi stops in the middle of the street and confronts the cab driver. No chase through the middle of the city. Avolfi means business. Likewise, Avolfi's character never wavers throughout the duration of Giallo. As an inspector, he is logical and deductive, able to identify the relevant clues, make associational links between them, and advance his investigation.
During his first twenty years as a director, beginning with L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo (1970) and leading up to (but not including) Due occhi diabolici (1990), Dario Argento is clearly an auteur. With his subsequent cinema in the twenty years up to (and including) Giallo, I am reticent to label him as one. This is not a criticism nor is it a flaw. If it is a flaw, then it is one with the criticism and not the film maker. Giallo is a very good but not great film. Those seeking the magic from his initial twenty years as a film maker, where nearly all of his masterpieces reside, will not find them within Giallo. In fact, the film's title is not Argento's return to the old genre but a reference to an important clue within the story.
Giallo is born from two influential American films, Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and David Fincher's Seven (1995) which has spawned (at least in the United States) the obsession with profilers and their investigative techniques. Identifying the killer's modus operandi is the key, since serial killers have their own motives different from most who commit homicide (with traditional motives, such as spurned love or money). Giallo follows suit as Brody's character is an FBI profiler working in Rome. He is Italian and was born there but spent his youth in New York before returning. Avolfi has an inclination towards finding killers, bordering on obsession. Photographic evidence is key, and early in the film, it is revealed that Avolfi has identified the killer's m.o. Giallo's second and third acts depict his investigation as finding the relevant clues as to now catch him.
Nearly everything is Giallo is focused: Brody's character, the plot, and even the photography by Frederic Fasano is clean and well-lit, so the viewer misses little of the action. There are no audacious compositions and even the subjective dream sequence only has a tilting camera effect. After La terza madre (2007), Argento's film feels even more conservative and mechanical. Despite the fact that this is a Dario Argento film (of whom I am a huge fan), I am perhaps not the right reviewer for this film. While I admire and very much enjoy both Lambs and Seven, I have seen little of the films made in their commercial wake nor do I watch Crime Scene Investigation-type television shows. Despite the film's director and title, I believe this is the audience for which Giallo is seeking. In fact if it weren't for the film's director, I perhaps never would have seen the film (although Adrian Brody and Emmanulle Seigner are an attraction. They are fine actors, seek diverse roles, and are always interesting to watch. They are both very good in Giallo.) I purchased the Polish DVD of Giallo which is region two and is in anamorphic widescreen. It includes the film's original English audio but has forced Polish subtitles during its play.