Friday, June 25, 2010

Dario Argento's Giallo (2009)

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.


Kevin J. Olson said...

Great thoughts as always.

Argento has been pretty adamant about his hatred for this film. The producers came in and mucked everything, demanding a more commercial film, and from the sound of your great review here, the producers did indeed meddle with the material and make it all "CSI"-like. Argento has also stated that there will likely never be a release of his version. This reminds me of when Paul Schrader did The Exorcist prequel years back...the studio freaked, hired a new director, and re-shot the film. That film, however, had a semi-happy ending in that the remade version made enough money where the producers felt confident enough in letting Schrader release his version.

Sadly it doesn't sound like that's going to happen here, and really I can't say that I'm too disappointed. I had high hopes for Mother of Tears and was really unimpressed with it (Argento seemed really lazy too in his aesthetic choices, kind of like what you describe here); however, when word came out about Giallo I was excited again because it had a legitimate actor, and the rumor was that Argento intended for the original film to be a tongue-in-cheek Italian horror film a la Soavi's take on the zombie film Cemetery Man.

Anywho...this was a great summation of the film, and I know that one day I will sit down and watch this even if it technically isn't an Argento film; although, who is to say that we would have been able to tell the difference based on how blase, lifeless, and piss-poor Mothers of Tears was.

Hans A. said...

Thanks, Kevin. I knew little of Argento's thoughts of the film. The end credits reveal about a dozen or so people with a producer credit; so I can imagine the pressure that Argento was under. I just hope that he keeps making films, as I'll pretty much watch anything that he does. Always appreciate it when you share your insights, and I hope you get to see it and share your own review. Thanks again.

Aaron said...

Again a fair and generous write-up, Hans. Way more generous than I would ever be doing a review of GIALLO, that's for sure. For once I'm gonna have to disagree with you, my man. I thought GIALLO was terrible. It was bad enough that I - like a lot of other people - was mislead by the title, but even getting beyond that and giving Argento and the movie the benefit of the doubt, I was extremely disappointed. Brody, to me, felt like he was phoning it in the whole time, and the whole thing was just... I don't know... a mess, for lack of a better word. I at least thought the killer was interesting to a certain degree because of how bizarre his behavior was. I also think Elsa Pataky is extremely hot, so it kinda helped that she was in this. And it WAS better than THE CARD PLAYER. I'd like to watch this again some time though. Perhaps a legit copy of it will do it justice, but I'm not getting my hopes up.

Hans A. said...

Aaron, you've got my respect, and your opinion is always valuable. I understand where you are coming from. What impressed me with Brody's character and performance was how focused it was. For example, Avolfi and Linda do not immediately take the cliched route, cop and would-be victim, who start to fall in love. The cop then chases the killer to save the woman he loves, etc. Brody stays on the job, throughout; he's an investigator first and foremost. Perhaps from my professional background, relevant questioning, as Brody displays in Giallo, is work of art. I appreciate it when I see an investigator who is competent and effective. Brody's a great actor, too. For example, in Summer of Sam, he gives the best performance (along with Jennifer Esposito) in an offbeat, interesting film. I don't watch most modern police procedural-type shows and flicks, so I don't have a base to draw a comparison with Giallo. It will be interesting, however, when this film shows up on US shores and more fan criticism comes out. Be cool, my man.

Aaron said...

Good point about Brody's character. I'm gonna have to watch this one again and keep that in mind. And yeah it's gonna be interesting to see what others think about it once it becomes more accessible. As far as Brody as an actor, I've always been a big fan and I love that he's willing to star in a lot of genre movies. Take it easy... looking forward to your next review!

Pidde Andersson said...

I find it hard to believe that Argento's own cut would be any better than the one released. GIALLO is an awful movie, and face facts: Argento hasn't made a GOOD movie since OPERA. He's made a couple of half-decent ones, like SLEEPLESS, but it seems like the guy has lost everything he once had. Or maybe he's just old and tired.

Aaron said...

Well that's just a matter of opinion. I thought DO YOU LIKE HITCHCOCK was good (for what it was).