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October 07, 2008

Mother of Tears

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La Terze Madre
Dario Argento - 2007
Dimension Extreme Region 1 DVD

Were my expectations lowered by decidedly mixed reviews for Dario Argento's "return", or were those who had seen Mother of Tears last year or in its theatrical release anticipating the equal to Suspiria, still Argento's best film? Either way, Mother of Tears is for me a better film than I Can't Sleep or The Card Player, and Argento's best film visually since The Stendhal Syndrome. There are still the elaborate traveling camera shots but they are more functional within the context of the narrative. I also imagine that it may take a few more years before Mother of Tears is better understood on its own terms, rather than the reviews which mostly emphasize the connection to Suspiria.

The basic story is of a witch, the titular Mother of Tears, who is accidentally unleashed when a construction crew accidentally digs open her grave just outside a church. The opening of an urn with several small statues of unearthly creatures and an red robe becomes the Pandora's box of nightmares. Random violence occurs throughout the streets of Rome. Witches from around the world fly in by jet, instead of broomsticks, to be with their "Mother", and usher in a new age of witchcraft. It is up to Asia Argento, as Sarah, a student of art restoration, to harness her unacknowledged psychic powers to defeat the Mother of Tears. The witches resemble goth club kids on the loose, diminishing their threatening presence. There is some discussion referring back to Suspiria and Inferno. And while Mother of Tears is touted as the followup to those films, Argento integrates other reminders of his past work, most notably an evil monkey, a reminder of Phenomena, and an eye examination that recalls Four Flies on Gray Velvet. The initial set-up is a contemporary reworking of the set-up for Mario Bava's Mask of Satan, in which long dead vampire Barbara Steele is revived by some accidental drops of blood that drip in her open coffin.

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What struck me about Mother of Tears is a connection, perhaps not fully intended, with The Stendhal Syndrome. In that film, police woman Asia Argento literally gets lost in a painting at a Florence, Italy, art museum. While this condition is not part of the narrative of Mother of Tears, it seems significant that all of the major characters are surrounded by books and art. Not only is there the massive library in the art museum where Sarah works, but the homes Sarah visits are filled completely from floor to ceiling with books, while there are always paintings on the walls. When Sarah is pursued by the police, she runs into a book store. One shot of Asia Argento frames her behind a shelf with graphic novels, comic book versions of Moby Dick and Ligeia. In this scene, Sarah, literally disappears among the books. Mother of Tears should be understood as being about the tension in how horror is represented in art.

Consider that Argento has mentioned Edgar Allan Poe as an influence, and that several of the his films have literary sources of inspiration. In horror literature, there is no limit in what can be imagined by the writer or the reader. For the visual artist or filmmaker, the challenge is to recreate what is seen in the mind's eye. While the horror, as presented by Argento, is graphic, due in part to his own predilections, and perhaps due to audience expectations, the images owe much to images of horror in painting. Argento's horror and violence may seem less over the top when placed next to Hieronymus Bosch's vision of hell or the darker paintings by Goya. In this regard, as in Argento's other films, it is not the narrative elements that are of as much importance. What makes Argento continually interesting is his theme of how horror is expressed, whether in literature or in the visual or performing arts. Asia Argento's journey that descends into the literal bowels of hell is only one part of Mother of Tears. The other part of Mother of Tears is the indirect autobiography of a filmmaker continually inspired by artists of the past, while trying to make his own art meaningful to the present.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 7, 2008 05:04 PM


"Mother of Tears is for me a better film than I Can't Sleep or The Card Player, and Argento's best film visually since The Stendhal Syndrome."

All that may be true, Peter, but I still found it profoundly disappointing compared to the first two films in the trilogy, "Suspiria" and "Inferno."

As an Argento fan, I think "The Stendahl Syndrome" was a far better, far more memorable film. It was interesting as a WHOLE compared to "Mother of Tears" which has a few good moments strung together with a lot of dead time. I even think that Argento's Masters of Horror episodes ("Jenifer" and "Pelts") show more genuine inspiration.

Posted by: C. Jerry at October 10, 2008 08:11 PM

I've been avoiding this film because I'm pretty sure that I'll be disappointed with it, but it's nice to know that you as well as Robert Monell over at his blog both found things to enjoy about the movie. It seems to be dividing people whose opinions I respect which is always interesting.

I haven't really enjoyed any of Argento's films since Opera. I didn't care for Stendhal Syndrome even though I liked the concept, but I did find one or two things to like about The Card Player. But as a whole it didn't do much for me either.

Posted by: Kimberly at October 14, 2008 09:00 PM