Monday, 19 May 2008

Profondo Rosso (1975, Italy, Dario Argento)

Upon discovering that the Fashion in Film season ( contained a number of giallos by Argento and Bava, I was inspired to revisit one of the most prominent and regarded films of the genre; 'Profondo Rosso', where all the aspects of Argento's work combined to dizzying effect. The last decade or so of Argento's career seems to have been characterised by a number of poor films; so much so he has even returned complete the trilogy that 'Suspiria' and 'Inferno' were part of, in a bid to restore his fortunes. Not that 'Mother of Tears' has enjoyed particularly great press thus far. 'Terror at the Opera' probably remains the last good Argento film, but that shouldn't impair our judgement on one of his finest films.

'Profondo Rosso' starts his a dazzling dream or memory sequence, scored by a nagging nursery rhyme that is used significantly and often throughout the film. With the use of low level camerawork, Argento indicates he is showing us a child's eye view of an event. What's happening isn't certain though. All we see is a dropped knife and the legs of a child entering the scene. I was reminded of the scene in Hitchcock's 'Marnie', when she remembers the death of the sailor at her hands as a child. Whether this is direct homage, I don't know, though Argento is obviously inspired by Hitchcock. It sets the tone for the film, giving us an impression of what we think we perceive, but in true Argento style, the narrative is never straightforward.

Then at a conference for the paranormal, a psychic identifies a murderer, who then of course is herself killed by the person she addressed (don't ask how she didn't know she was going to be killed - it's probably Argento's sense of humour at work) - a murder witnessed by Marcus Daly, a British pianist. The casting of David Hemmings is an obvious nod to Antonioni's 'Blow Up', in which an unwitting individual witnesses a murder but where there's more than meets the eye and what one thinks one sees isn't often the truth. Faced with a skeptical police force, he collaborates with a tenacious reporter, Gianna (Daria Nicolodi) to investigate the crime, though the murderer always manages to stay one step ahead of them, as well as eliminating all those who might identify him/her or assist the investigation.

So the narrative's a bit loose and holes can be picked quite easily, but plotting has never been Argento's interest. Instead, he's mostly concerned with style and image; dazzling the viewer, whilst offering them violence and death in abundance, in ever more gruesome fashions. There's a terrific set piece at the start, during the paranormal conference. The camera moves elaborately, roaming, and even the curtains literally open for the camera. This is typical of Argento; the camera is seldom still, always frantically in motion, capturing a dizzying and disorientating effect. Themes of childhood are prominent, but always given a dash of disturbance about them; dolls are decapitated and hung, a sinister life-like doll (like something out of 'Dead of Night') emerges through the door of the professor's study just before he is killed. Whilst the increasing brutality of the deaths are enough to shock, the non-violent episodes are likely to be considered just as strange. One has to suspend logic when watching an Argento film. Not everything makes sense and the films often lack any kind of substance. Never mind though. The sheer style and confidence of 'Profondo Rosso', as well as 'Suspiria' for instance, were enough. 3.5/5

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