When the sun is dark

If you walk in Rome, on every street corner you will see a picture in which history and present, profane and sacred, art and politics are closely intertwined. According to legend, the city was founded by the brothers Romulus and Remus. Abandoned as babies in a basket on the Tiber, the brothers drifted into a muddy bank, where a she-wolf picked them up and nursed them. After their involvement in the overthrow of tyrant Amulius Alba Longa, they were allowed to establish their own city on Palatine Hill. Romulus won the controversy over the city’s naming and political supremacy by killing his brother.

In the case of the rescued wolf, Mama Loba, the narrative plays out in a literal double sense. Because the Latin word “lupa” refers not only to a wolf, but also to a courtesan: the city of Rome was born out of a series of violence, political uprisings and prostitution. Italian horror veteran Dario Argento may have had a similar basis in mind for his latest movie, Occhiali neri.

Argento has been a fan of cinema throughout his 50-plus year directing career. This means that his films have never required a complex plot.

These are quiet days in the eternal city, midsummer streets and squares are almost deserted, and most of the locals are on vacation. Argento immediately rejects all fantasies of picturesque Rome, and the temperatures seem to have suddenly plunged into the abyss. Rome in “dark glasses,” as the international title goes, is cold and forbidding. An eclipse of the sun descends over the roofs and sends public life into a pathological standstill.

At night, a prostitute killer chases his victims with a white van. Call girl Diana (Elenia Pastorelli) barely survives her attack, but loses her sight in the process. There’s no doubt that a sadistic serial killer won’t give up so easily, so Diana searches for allies to fend off the stalker: Chen (Xinyu Zhang), who is orphaned by a car attack, and mobility coach Rita (Asia Argento) guide dog.

A principled, adventurous stance typical of Dario Argento, which looks almost comical on paper – certainly in the director’s favour. Argento has been a fan of cinema throughout his 50-plus year directing career. This means that his films have never required a complex plot. For Argento, cinema is desire and trauma, escape and persecution, and above all: criminal commission, victim and testimony. With Argento, these components are operated according to the logic of an escalating dream. Most of his films end abruptly and offer no convincing sense of meaning, their conclusion being the equivalent of waking up in a sweat.

In the early 1970s, Argento emerged as one of the main exponents of Giallo, a crime/horror film subgenre whose name derives from a specific tradition of Italian dime novels covered in yellow. Formally, Alfred Hitchcock and Michelangelo Antonioni in particular were Giallo’s godfathers. Hitchcock’s cynical disinterest in “whodunnit?” , in exposing the perpetrator, as well as the unjustly suspected civilian hero, and last but not least the archetypal blend of visual pleasure and depiction of violence for “Psycho” from 1960’s.

On the other hand, Antonioni’s 1966 “blow” inspired an unexpected episodic narrative structure in which the protagonist becomes a fleeting observer of a crime. Whether the photographer played by David Hemmings actually discovered a body in one of his shots is irrelevant in “The Bombing”. Visual perception is always a fetish, no matter what the protagonist sees: objects of art, the bodies of photo models, or a corpse in the garden. In the giallo, the mistakenly observed crime turns out to be an ingenious artificial arrangement that simultaneously covers another crime. The most stylistically extravagant movie to date, 1975’s Profondo rosso is a remake of Blow-up. It is no coincidence that David Hemmings also plays the main role here.

But with the beautiful opening sequence to Dark Glasses, Argento nodded to Antonioni’s earlier film, 1962’s L’eclisse (German distribution title: “Love”), with which Monica Vitti and Alain Delon share a cold love affair. The last minutes of the film no longer show the couple, but rather the deserted streets of Rome, as a solar eclipse gradually develops from one shot to the next, giving the film its name.

Where Antonioni ends, Argento begins. Watching the two films back-to-back wouldn’t be the worst idea. Diana, on her way to a customer, gets out of her car and looks up at the dark sky, mind you without protecting her eyes. The social need to punish sexual deviance strikes at Giallo on a visual level. There is hardly a literary genre that uses blinding as a tyrannical punishment for having sex in a classic Freudian manner.

In “dark glasses,” a solar eclipse becomes a harbinger of the violence of a misogynistic serial killer. Behind Diana, passersby whispered that even at the beginning of Roman history people feared that the world would end when the sky was dark. And other whispers that it is not possible to face the sun like death. Everything seems to be there, the approaching threat is almost physically palpable, and escape is out of question.

Argento, who has received plenty of undeserved criticism from critics and fans alike over the past twenty years of his career, appears intent on avoiding heated tensions in his new film. He replaces the radiant joy of his previous film experience with Stoic methodology. However, without much ado, Argento increased the pressure on all levels of the film. torrents of blood shed, and the soundtrack pulsates; The director seems to want to point out that he hasn’t lost any accuracy or speed.

The result is, paradoxically, that the “dark glasses” still feel deeply oppressive and lonely, despite their unreservedly formal language. Aside from the opening sequence, the images lack anything unexpected or sensual. The film does not show the stated return to Giallo, particularly to Argento’s early Roman works. Think of his beautiful first movie “L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo” from 1970, in English “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage”. A bird of paradise from shock cinema in the truest sense of the word, its shimmering plumage reveals new sides with each scene.
A similar ambiguity similar as at first can be found only in the last photos of the “dark glasses”. Rescued Diana and her dog stand out larger than life, like legendary figures who have leaped into the present, among the tangled people at the airport terminal. Diana, the Roman goddess of women’s guardianship – and her “Mama Lupa”.

Dark glasses (IT/FR 2022). Writers: Dario Argento, Franco Ferini, Carlo Lucarelli. Directed by Dario Argento. Cast: Elenia Pastorelli, Asia Argento. Movie release: June 16th

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