It should be no surprise to any of our regular readers that the staff of A Fistful of Film are big fans of Dario Argento. In celebration of his birthday some years ago, we revisited some of our favorite films of his. We have written several reviews and thinkpieces regarding his highly influential works including Suspiria (1977) and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970). I think it is fair to say he is most likely one of our collectively favorite filmmakers.
But the last few decades have not been kind to the man once referred to as “the Italian Hitchcock.” Ever since his last acclaimed film, Opera in 1987, it has mostly been a downward spiral for Argento. The only films I can say received some positive reviews are Trauma (1993), The Stendhal Syndrome (1996), Sleepless (2001), and Mother of Tears (2007). The rest have nearly all been universally panned. His last film Dracula 3D (2012) in particular became the target of negative criticism and many fans derided it as his absolute worst film. There were discussions of future projects, one involving Iggy Pop and a possible video game, but for a while I suspected we might have reached the end of Argento’s cinematic journey. But the old fox surprised us all and has now returned with his first film in ten years, one not even COVID could halt. That film is Occhiali Neri, or as it is known internationally, Dark Glasses.
Dark Glasses is, in many ways, a somewhat return to familiar grounds for Argento. It is a fairly typical giallo that happens to have been made in 2022 rather than 1972. The script itself, co-written by Argento with frequent collaborator Franco Ferrini, dates to the early 2000s and was most likely meant to be Argento’s next film following Sleepless, but due to financier Vittorio Cecchi Gori’s bankruptcy, the project was canceled. It has now resurfaced and branded as a master’s return to their familiar stomping grounds.
A recently blinded Italian escort named Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli) becomes the target of a vicious serial killer in Rome. When trying to escape, she encounters a Chinese kid named Chin (Xinyu Zhang). Together they form a duo who must solve the case or end up dead themselves.
As previously stated, the plot itself is nothing particularly revolutionary, neither for the giallo nor for Argento himself, with many elements being ones Argento have dealt with before. A blind main character who forms a duo to solve a mystery is straight out of The Cat O’Nine Tails (1971). A dog that viciously attacks someone is from Suspiria (1977) and Tenebre (1982). Isolation in the countryside is reminiscent of Deep Red (1975) and Phenomena (1985). There is even a hint of Tenebre’s brutalist architecture, and the alien urban landscape of Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971). And of course, we can not forget the black gloved killer. How else would we know it is a giallo?
Dark Glasses is effectively a hodgepodge of earlier Argento tropes. Similar to his often compared counterparts Hitchcock and Brian De Palma, Argento consistently revisits motifs, themes and ideas film to film. In Dark Glasses, it is surprisingly effective, even when it doesn’t reach anywhere near the heights of previously mentioned films.
Where the film falters is in its length. This is a criticism I rarely give to movies, but I must say I think the film is way too short. Even if nothing in the film felt terribly rushed, I think it would have benefited from some longer scenes showing character relationships being formed and developed. Diana and Chin are a fun duo that one rarely sees in movies, a blind prostitute and a Chinese boy in Italy, which could be another addition to Argento’s preoccupation with outsiders and odd couples. But because of the film’s 85 minute runtime, there are relatively few scenes for them to interact with each other in a way that, although it may not have advanced the plot, would have enhanced and enriched their relationship. This is the main aspect I think a younger Argento in the 1970s could have handled smoother when one looks back at his films from that period.
On a technical level, the film is efficient and slick in its cinematography and editing, although slightly more routine for Argento at this point and less inspired than the early films. I guess that is to be expected from an older filmmaker. Not everyone can be a Scorsese or Spielberg still knocking out bangers in their late 70s. But that does not mean the film feels like someone operating on autopilot. In fact there are a few moments that feel like classic Argento material in the way the camera photographs environments and spaces. Even the music by Arnaud Rebotini felt like a really solid Goblin score, although I wonder how much cooler and unique it could have been had Daft Punk scored the film before they broke up. Alas, we are left with a solid electronic score that accomplishes what it sets out to do, and one cannot ask for more than that really.
In the end, even if Dark Glasses does not reach those classic Argento heights with his early films, it is still nice to see the old master still has what it takes to deliver a suspenseful yarn.