As you watch Dark Glasses, Dario Argento’s first film in a decade, it’s nice to think back on his recent performance as the aging film critic in Gaspar Noé’s Vortex—a man who wistfully quoted Edgar Allen Poe’s theories on dreams as he wandered through an apartment covered with canonical posters and movie detritus—only to look back up and see the blind protagonist of his latest film, and the young Chinese boy who has become her valet, attacked by a pack of unruly river snakes. Yes, Dario Argento’s first film in ten years is pretty fun, for a while—and no, not near his best.
Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli), the blind woman to be, works as a high-class practitioner of the world’s oldest profession (she describes it as “public relations, psychology sessions”). Argento includes an enticing prologue: Diana, driving her car as the opening credits appear, gradually notices that everyone on the street is looking toward the sky, at what turns out to be a solar eclipse. She stops, looks up, and winces from the glare. It proves a bad omen.
Anyone familiar with Argento’s work, whether directly or from one of his many disciples, will know the cues. But the director has made a lively readjustment to his most enduring signature: the score, while giallo to begin, breaks into banging techno. The villain, of course, is a prostitute-killer who we learn has already struck twice (the second we see in queasily sharp detail). According to the IMDb synopsis, said killer is called “The Cellist” and chokes women with a cello string; this is not in the movie. Either way, he has chosen Diana as his next target.
Dark Glasses comes into its own in the second act, the section that is also the least violent. After being pursued by the killer’s van Diana gets into an extraordinarily brutal car crash that leaves her blind and orphans a boy named Chen (Andrea Zhang). Wracked with guilt, Diana soon reaches out to him and the two form a bond when Chen runs away from his home––one that is as fun and unlikely as it is definitely illegal. On top of this, Diana continues to see her regular Johns, one of whom appreciates not being seen. (“I’ve always considered myself ugly, a monster,” one says, in a surprisingly tender moment.) Diana also makes friends with Maria (Asia Argento), a helpful blind person’s advocate; the whole thing’s actually a real vibe. The film is at its most earnest and surreal in these sequences—Pastorelli’s performance comes close to slapstick, but has an endearing quality—and perhaps at its best when Diana and Maria go to pick out a guide dog, which also turns out to be a defense dog. (Eat that, Chekhov.)
Unfortunately for everyone, and indeed the film itself, there is still a killer on the loose. His motive, which is eventually revealed, might be the strangest thing about Dark Glasses, although I did enjoy the peek at his bad guy den. Argento’s decision to move action to the countryside and some murky nighttime sequences seems unnecessary, given Diana’s affliction, and sacrifices much of the clarity and sense of fun in those earlier passages. Yet there are, ultimately, far worse ways to pass one’s time.
Dark Glasses premiered at Berlinale 2022.