Saturday, December 18, 2010

MOTHER OF TEARS

(Dario Argento, 2007)
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Despite the buzz and excitement surrounding this film's release, it somehow managed to divide and alienate many of Argento's fans. At first glance, Mother of Tears seems almost like a rush job done only to please the fans of Suspiria and Inferno. The majority of the acting in the film is sub-par, even by Argento standards. Daughter Asia Argento, beautiful as she is, has never made a convincing lead actress. Her real life mother, Daria Nicolodi, who was cast as her mother in the film, is given a woefully small (and cheesy, thanks to the cheap CG effects) role. Udo Kier also puts in a brief appearance, but seems rather disinterested in the proceedings.
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I guess I should probably tell you what the story's all about, now that I've gone and bashed it to pieces. Mother of Tears is the final installment in the so-called Three Mothers Trilogy, the other two being Suspiria and Inferno. MOT is about the return to life of the sole remaining sister, Mater Lachrymarum (Mother of Tears; Mother of Sighs was killed in Suspiria, and Mother of Shadows in Inferno).
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Excavations in a churchyard reveal the casket of Varelli, the alchemist who designed the cursed houses in which the witches dwelt. Strapped to his coffin is a large urn, the inscriptions upon which alarm the priest present, and it is sent away for study. Art restorer Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento) and her colleague Giselle (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni!) are the first the open and inspect the contents. Sarah is sent to find a text on ancient languages, and no sooner is she out of the room, Giselle is brutally (and I mean BRUTALLY) torn open by a trio of hooded demons and an evil monkey. Let that sink in.
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Sarah narrowly escapes the ghouls herself (with some help from the other side), and calls in the police, who initially disbelieve her testimony. What she doesn't know is that she and Giselle have brought back to life a very powerful witch who intends to bring about the fall of Rome by driving its populace to madness, murder, and extreme kink! The chaos begins with a handful of isolated incidents, but soon spreads as more and more witches convene on the capitol. For reasons not yet known, Sarah and her boyfriend Michael find themselves targeted by the ruthless forces of Mater Lachrymarum, who kidnap Michael's son and leave a cryptic message scrawled in blood on his headboard.
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The symbols in the message take Sarah to Father Johannes (Udo Kier), where she also meets Marta, a psychic who was friends with Sarah's deceased mother, Eliza (Daria Nicolodi). From Marta, Sarah learns that her mother was a powerful white witch who had died fighting Mater Suspiriorum. Sarah is taught (briefly) how to tap into her own innate magical ability (invisibility), and how to communicate with her mother, both of which prove useful. Sarah has little time to rest between stops, however, as Mater's forces are always close, and have a nasty habit of slaughtering anyone who helps her. The only way for Sarah to stay alive is to defeat Mater Lachrymarum herself.
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If the story sounds a little derivative, you'd be correct. Dario threw in every cliche, and obviously borrowed more than a few ideas for the creation of MOT, many of them from his earlier films. I may also mention that MOT is choc-full of bad CG effects, and I mean painfully bad. Now that I've gotten the worst out of the way, it's time for praise!
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One aspect of MOT that angered many was the lack of the trademark colored lighting previously employed in Suspiria and Inferno. Face it, folks: as much as we love those crazy Argento films of the 70's, they can never be reproduced. Even if they were, there'd be bitching and moaning about how Dario was only repeating himself. If one pays attention, he actually does play with color and lighting, but in a much more subtle fashion. They intensify only towards the end, when Sarah is in the witches' lair.
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Argento went with a modern look here, again facing criticism for it. The witches aren't gnarled old hags; rather they look EXACTLY how someone who claims, nowadays, to be a witch would look: Goth-ish makeup, piercings, frizzy hair, and a complete lack of social skills! Still, they are more silly than menacing. Mater Lachrymarum herself, the "youngest and cruelest" and "most beautiful" of the Three Sisters, looks exactly the part.
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On the technical side, Dario did make this a good-looking film with many memorable scenes and images. He's never really has a problem with photography and pacing; only the actors and stories seem to suffer in his productions. The gore and creature effects by Sergio Stivaletti are bang-on yet again, with the exception of one rubbery-looking witch-head. Another Argento regular, composer/ musician Claudio Simonetti, provided an unusually lackluster score for the film. I'd wait on viewing this one until you've seen the far superior Suspiria, and its confusingly bizarre sequel, Inferno. Buy it here.
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