Tuesday, 13 May 2008

La Terza Madre (Mother of Tears: The Third Mother) (2007)

Who knew that witches looked like David Bowie fans circa 1972? Dario Argento did.

I'm a big fan of Dario Argento, so when I heard that he was finally going to complete his "Mother" trilogy of Suspiria and Inferno, I was excited, but also wary. The last film of his I'd seen was The Phantom of the Opera, which wasn't great. It took a few unusual deviations from the original story. For instance, the deformed phantom was now a man who was raised in the sewers by psychic rats. I suppose you could call my position: optimistically cautious.

Plot has never been one of Argento's strong points, but here goes. An urn is uncovered near Viterbo that contain some mysterious artifacts. It is sent to the Museum of Ancient Art in Rome, where Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento) and her friend work as restoration technicians. As soon as they open it and start pawing the contents, her friend is gruesomely killed by cackling demons and the urn stolen. There's also an evil monkey, what's up with that? Sarah escapes, thanks to a mysterious disembodied voice.

The urn has fallen into the hands of Mater Lacrimarum, the Mother of Tears. The magical golden t-shirt inside gives her witchy super-powers, or something. As a result, Rome is becoming infested with witches that look like extras from a glam-rock video. They are constantly cackling and giggling to themselves. I don't know if they're scary (the Japanese one with the gold tooth is kind of freaky, though) but by God are they annoying. In addition to all these goth witches, insanity is spreading throughout Rome resulting in a rash of suicides and violence in the streets.

After some cat-and-mouse games with both the witches and the cops, Sarah travels to visit an occult expert who spills the beans about her past. Turns out that the ghostly apparition that has been guiding Sarah is her deceased mother Elisa (Daria Nicolodi), formerly a white witch. Although Sarah has been raised to believe she was killed in a car crash, she was actually killed in magical battle with Mater Lacrimarum. Now Sarah has inherited her mother's powers and must use them to put a stop to the evil witch's plans for world domination. It's like Harry Potter, except with Asia Argento instead of that fucker Harry, Udo Kier instead of Dumbledore and Voldemort is a hot, naked chick. I know that sounds like the best movie ever, but her powers don't really figure into the story all that much, unless you consider the manipulation of a pointed stick to be witchcraft (I don't).

How did Dario manage to produce Asia Argento? It is one of the world's greatest mysteries. He continues his tradition of putting her in totally hot nude shower scenes, which is kind of creepy. She isn't a fantastic actor, but she struggles through. It's cool seeing Daria Nicolodi in an Argento film again, but she isn't given a lot to do. Morian Attias makes an impression for the five minutes she is on screen as Mater Lacrimarum, by which I mean she is hot and naked.

The dialogue is laughable, the characters are hastily sketched and the climax is resolved far too quickly. Nothing new for Agento there, but more importantly there isn't the same sense of style. There are scenes in Suspiria and Inferno that are so beautifully composed it's like looking at a painting, but there's nothing on that level here. No vibrant colours or meticulous art design. That's not to say it's a bad looking film, it just doesn't push the envelope like his earlier films did. The score, by Claudio Simonetti of Goblin fame, is pretty good but the tunes won't burrow into your brain like the music from Suspiria or Tenebre. It's probably not fair to continually come back to Argento's earlier films, but because it's meant to be tying together the other two films I didn't expect such a completely different style.

One thing you can't fault this film for is a lack of gore. You've got a girl getting a drill shoved in her mouth, disemboweled and then strangled with her own intestines, like in Story of Ricky. You've got a priest being stabbed in the face. You've got lesbians getting their eyes poked out and spears shoved in special areas. You've even got a baby being tossed over a bridge, which is bad enough, but because it's an Argento film it smacks into a pylon on the way down. Argento's films have always been gory, and this is his goriest yet, but it just seems sleazier this time around. Argento has a way of making unbearably cruel death sequences seem operatic and even kind of beautiful. This looks more like Lucio Fulci. The gore is mostly well-realised old-fashioned physical effects. The CG effects are a bit phoney looking, but luckily there isn't a lot of them.

Mother of Tears has lost the dreamlike atmosphere that made Argento's films so enduring. It may have been at attempt to make the film more grounded in reality, but it had the unwanted effect of placing the nonsensical plot and weirdo dialogue in sharp relief. You expect faulty logic and strange dialogue in a dream. In reality, not so much. Did I mention that Mater Lacrimarum was hot? Because she was pretty hot.

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