|Review||Sleepless (2001)||Director||Dario Argento|
|Writer||Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini and Carlo Lucarelli|
|Cast||Max Von Sydow, Stefano Dionisi, Chiara Caselli, Roberto Zibetti, Gabriele Lavia, Rossella Falk, Paolo Maria Scalondro and Barbara Lerici|
“We have the same issue. Remembering. You can do it but you don’t know it. I know it but I can’t remember” – Moretti
Torino 1983. Inspector Moretti (Von Sydow) enters a crime scene where a woman has been viciously murdered with a musical instrument. He speaks with her distraught son and vows that he’ll find her killer even if it takes him the rest of his life. Seventeen years later a prostitute (Lerici) is killed on board a train by her client when she accidentally lifted a blue folder from his apartment on her way out. The police deduce that the killer may be a copycat from a killing spree in 1983 and whose perpetrator was nicknamed “The Dwarf”.
The inspector in charge of the case back in ’83, Moretti, has since retired and his memory isn’t the best. After the authorities consult him he takes an active part in the investigation and is joined by Giacomo (Dionisi), the same boy whom he’d promised to locate the killer. “The Dwarf” apparently killed according to a nursery rhyme about the slaughtering of animals and he left paper cut-outs of the animal he was symbolically dispatching of. Three cut-outs were left at each scene in ‘83. The case was deemed closed and solved when a dwarf named Vincenzo was accused and soon after found dead. Then the murders stopped. Are Moretti and Giacomo hunting a new foe or a ghost from the past?
Italian director Dario Argento had a remarkable run of form from his debut with “The Bird With the Crystal Plumage” (1970) up until “Opera” (1987). He pretty much perfected the “Giallo”; an Italian type of lurid thrillers that were incredibly popular in the early 60’s and throughout the 70’s. He even ventured from the thriller format and into supernatural territory with “Suspiria” (1977) and “Inferno” (1980) and still his CV was pretty much flawless. In 1989 Argento teamed up with George A. Romero for the double Edgar Allan Poe adaptations “Two Evil Eyes” with pretty mixed results and then made his first US film with “Trauma” (1993) that was mediocre at best. He went back to Italy and entered psychological horror with the excellent “The Stendhal Syndrome” (1996) before delivering, in my opinion, his worst offender with a remake of “Phantom of the Opera” (1998). 2001’s “Sleepless” was, therefore, a kind of return to his original style of filmmaking with a traditional “Giallo” and it was hotly anticipated by his fanbase.
In short; Argento delivered the goods with “Sleepless”. For all intents and purposes it seems appropriate to label the film as a kind of Greatest Hits assembly of what came before in his “Giallo” filmography. Those who know his previous thrillers will notice a bunch of borrowed ideas from “Plumage”, “Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1972), “Tenebre” (1982), “Phenomena” (1985), “Opera”, even “Suspiria” and A LOT from “Deep Red” (1975). All his thrillers have had a similar structure to an exent; an unresolved past trauma gets triggered and surfaces, childhood experiences get distorted and manifest violently later, a lot of memory distortion and the simple usage of vision and perception gets mixed up regularly and the likes. And this being Argento the films are loaded with great visual style and memorable musical scores. All of this is accounted for in “Sleepless”.
The plot is an absolute masterclass in playing with the audience and it has a killer resolution. It does not hold up to scrutiny and there are a number of instances where the story moves forward too conveniently (and a few plot holes to nitpick at) but the overall arc is ingeniously conceived. The detective story elements are well realized and how the characters gradually piece together the mystery unfolds well enough. With a few well placed red herrings Argento manages to keep the audience from spotting the villain (and there are a number of decent hints) but my hunch is most will have ventured a correct guess without knowing exactly why.
Along with the terrific mystery Argento also delivers a few knockout suspense set-pieces in very brutal fashion. His films have always been violent but here he’s extremely brutal with his victims and the gruesome parts are mostly very well handled with decent make-up effects. Like in “Deep Red”, among the nastiness here is the kind viewers can relate to; i.e. the cutting of nails very close to the skin and the smashing of teeth against a hard surface. It all helps in making “Sleepless” just that bit more nasty. Visually Argento is also firing on all cylinders, particularly in the great opening scene where a prostitute is stalked on board a train. Throughout the movie there are also some very good visuals and they’re well served with a fantastic music score by Goblin, who’ve been more or less responsible for the outstanding soundtracks of Argento’s career.
Acting wise “Sleepless” is a fairly mixed bag. Argento always chooses well his lead performers and Von Sydow is excellent as Moretti. Dionisi, Caselli, Scalondro, Lavia, Falk and Zibetti all deliver somewhat wooden performances but they’re radically different depending on which audio option is chosen. It really does make that much of a difference. The English dub is especially dubious with the supporting characters coming off very badly. It‘s so bad on occasion that even suspenseful scenes suffer for this. Thankfully Von Sydow provides his own voice so the whole experience is tolerable. The Italian dub is much more preferable and the whole film benefits greatly. It‘s sad to lose Von Sydow‘s actual voice but at least the performer dubbing him does a good job.
Not perfect but certainly one hell of a ride from a true Master of horror and a „Giallo“ maestro as well.
A personal note
Dario Argento is one of my favorite directors and he‘s the only one I‘ve had the pleasure of meeting in person. I had the privilage of hosting a Q&A session in 2012 when he was the guest of honor at The Reykjavik Film Festival and he was there promoting „Dracula 3-D“. He was very gracious and forthcoming when discussing the film and his career in general. My personal favorite of his films is „Tenebre“ but the one I‘ve probably seen the most is „Deep Red“ (the shorter version as I find it more compact and efficient). His style of filmmaking appeals to me enormously, his taste in music is terrific and his uncanny vision of what‘s horrific and what‘s „bellissimo“ continues to amaze me. Even his lesser work is something I can re-watch and always I see something that makes me appreciate a certain film a bit more the next time. He‘s also one of the few people I can watch in filmed interviews time and again when he‘s talking about his movies; he‘s very honest when discussing them. He‘s one of a kind and I feel lucky to be a member of the „In-Crowd“ that gets him and truly appreciates his work.