Dark Glasses (2022) Directed by Dario Argento
Cheap, juicy and fun. Dario Argento’s return to film directing after a long decade is not the return of the gutsy Italian horror artist who made some of the most significant works of modern horror cinema in the 70’s and 80’s, but let’s just say that in comparison to many of the fiascos of his late period films it is considerably one of his most graceful comebacks, be it for cinephilia in general or just for his ardent fans.
Dark Glasses is a thrilling nostalgic cry to the past, or rather an indulgent retrospective to the most proficient era of the Gialli’s most adept director. It’s not a fresh film, much less a “good” film, and I leave that in quotation marks because I consider that the rating to this film depends a lot on context and perspectives. Argento’s return to gialliesque mannerism explicitly leans toward being a disastrously bad film, though subtly it also leans toward being mildly fascinating. Many factors go into ruffling a transparent definition in trying to pin down whether Argento’s motivation was a blatant exercise in “so bad it’s good” filmmaking or whether his mindset was really focused on bidding farewell forever to his most glorious days. I contend that the second hypothesis is the more accurate, while the first is just the inevitability of an obvious approach to the genre. Or it is possibly both.
Dark Glasses satirizes its own roots, and Dario Argento just wants to have one last bit of fun with it. The pantomimic configuration that Argento articulates in this film is evident, and even overtly curious. And even indiscreet references to his filmic past are found here in an entertaining and self-conscious way; it’s a giallo film doing everything loudly and farcically, ergo it’s Dario Argento taking endless liberties regardless of the result it gives him. Filmically the end product is calamitous, yet the superlative passion surpasses the technical and imbues generous sensations that go beyond what we are seeing on screen. It is as if Argento were soliloquizing, as if he were in his own universe replete with fond remembrances of what he has done throughout his career.
The plot structure navigates only through the simplicities of the genre, leaving aside the complex layers that made giallo cinema so immersive in mystery. By opting for a typical narrative, without any intention of establishing a solid story, the film ends up entering a rather perfunctory territory, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
The repetitive plot introduces a statuesque, titillating and daring escort, ably played by Ilenia Pastorelli, who at the beginning of the film witnesses a gloomy eclipse, a form of premonition to the vicissitudes she will have to face. Then, the dynamic and maddeningly musical sequences of prostitute murders give way to the dramatic development of an investigation, thus forming the characteristic framework of a giallo film, but without the intricate ingredients of mystery. Not only there is no sense of thriller here, they are not interested in sustaining suspense by hiding the identity of the murderer until the end, it is discovered rapidly. This is a premeditated act, this production plays to the rhythm of the director, and only follows the patterns he dictates.
The late period of Argento’s filmography is objectively the weakest and baddest stage of his career, it feels like a filmmaker who has never managed to adapt to the digital medium, and indeed his kinetic style survives only in the golden past. Dark Glasses should be seen as a memento of the past materialized in the present, it vibrates with a nostalgic passion and while its weirdness meanders through the most vacuous and garish of the genre, the reminiscent vehemence is on point. It is the film of an octogenarian filmmaker who no longer has anything to prove in terms of prowess, he has already done that many times, now he just wanted to have fun and most importantly to remember.