«You think you’re telling the truth, and, instead, you’re only telling your version of the truth»
“Iconic”, that is, relating to an image that strikes the viewer, imposing itself in the collective imagination as a symbol.
“Profondo Rosso” (“Deep Red” in English) is one of those “iconic” films that have marked an era and are still appreciated today, regardless of its imperfections. It is no coincidence that it was a resounding success in terms of audience, and it is probably the most loved by Dario Argento’s fans. On the other hand, the critics tore it to shreds. Yet among those who loved the film were a certain Alfred Hitchcock and some man called William Friedkin. Not two common names precisely.
The story takes place in Rome, where jazz musician Marc Daly, who has just finished rehearsing with his band, meets his friend Carlo, an alcoholic pianist, in the square in front of his house. After hearing some screams, Marc witnesses how Helga, a psychic medium who lives in his building, is brutally murdered, and rushes to her flat but was not able to save her. That evening, during a parapsychology conference chaired by Professor Giordani, Helga had sensed the presence of a killer in the room.
Marc begins to investigate on his own, helped by journalist Gianna Brezzi, with whom he begins a relationship. After meeting Carlo’s mother, a former actress, Marc receives death threats from the mysterious killer, who leaves the recording of a child’s dirge as the only hint. Assisted by Professor Giordani, the pianist discovers a legend based on this song and tracks down Amanda, the author of an essay on the subject, but unfortunately she is also identified and murdered by the killer. Professor Giordani visits the crime scene and finds out the name of the murderer, but he is killed as well.
However, Marc manages to find the house to which the legend refers, which is now abandoned, and finds a child’s drawing hidden in a wall. Later, Marc and Gianna discover that the drawing comes from the archives of the local school. They go there and realise that Carlo drew the disturbing picture as a kid. Carlo tries to kill them there but he dies in a terrible accident while he is trying to escape from the police. At this point, however, Marc understands that Carlo was not the author of the crimes. His mother was the killer. She attacks Marc to kill him but dies in the final struggle.
“Profondo Rosso” (1975) represents the hallmark of Dario Argento’s production. In fact, it maintains the “giallo” structure that characterises the three previous films, that is the so-called “animal trilogy” (1970-1971), but integrates it with the addition of innovative themes and stylistic elements, which would later find full maturity. It is worth remembering that the original title of the film should have been “La tigre dei denti a sciabola” (“The Sabre-toothed Tiger”) to underline the continuity with the “animal” motif of the trilogy, but then the much more fitting “Profondo Rosso” was chosen.
In detail, the director reproduces the conceptual structure of the first film in the trilogy, “L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo” (“The Bird with the Crystal Plumage”), but incorporates some elements from early shots of “Il gatto a nove code” (“The Cat o’ Nine Tails”) and “Quattro mosche di velluto grigio” (“Four Flies on Grey Velvet”). To give a couple of examples, it is easy to recognise that the main character is a foreign artist who has settled in Italy, all in all ordinary and a bit clueless, just as in the first film; likewise, here we find the killer’s mental illness and the figure of a terrible parent, in other words those “Hitchcockian” themes already investigated in the third chapter.
The result is, however, a completely new film, in which we notice a decisive and further turn towards a violent note, but also towards less realistic atmospheres. All this with Dario Argento’s trademark: the director, like in all his films, leads us to solving the enigma more by intuition than by deduction.
The film was written by Dario Argento together with Bernardino Zapponi, whose merit was to make the fear present in the film real. For example, as the latter himself admitted, the brutal murders refer to cuts, splinters, impacts, burns, which refer to common sensations that everyone may have experienced. Dario Argento, on the other hand, contributed to elevating the realism of the script to a more dreamlike and symbolic dimension. Nevertheless, the screenplay is affected by some complexity, with some drops in tension, also because it was defined, at least in part, “on the fly”. The famous soundtrack, originally by Giorgio Gaslini, also contributes to this: alongside the disturbing tracks composed or rearranged by “progressive rock” band Goblin, other original tracks, more jazzy in style, are not very effective. There is nothing to object about the special effects- excellent for the time- created and executed by Carlo Rambaldi. A few years later, Rambaldi, together with artist Hans Ruedi Giger, would win an Academy Award for “Alien” (1979), Ridley Scott’s masterpiece.
As far as the cast is concerned, David Hemmings gives a good performance as Marc as well as Daria Nicolodi as his companion, Gianna, even if the theatrical panache of the interpretation of the director’s future wife and collaborator is at times a little too exaggerated. Conversely, the performances by Gabriele Lavia, as Carlo, and Clara Calamai, as his mother, are excellent. It is interesting to note that Clara Calamai actually plays herself, as she was a successful actress at the time (now forgotten), and perhaps not everyone knows that she was also one of the first Italian actresses that appeared topless in an Italian sound film in the 1940s. It is precisely these meta-cinematographic and transgressive elements which introduce a further level of interpretation.
On a closer look, the scenarios are rather unreal, as can be seen in the obscure little square where the first murder occurs. In it, set designer Giuseppe Bassan recreates a fictional “Blue Bar”, complete with virtually motionless extras, inspired by the famous painting “Nighthawks” (1942) by hyperrealism artist Edward Hopper. This small square is the prototype of a non-place suspended in an indefinable space-time, and becomes a symbol of solitude and disorientation. The two friends, Marc and Carlo, a “bourgeois” and a “proletarian”, meet there and discuss the meaning of their lives and, in situations almost typical of the theatre of the absurd, they communicate with difficulty. The modern world is in fact separated into social and political divergences, and characterised by relativism and the difficulty of communication. In other scenes, on the contrary, it is not a “deafening” silence, but chaos which highlights the lack of communication, like when Marc, in a bar, tries to phone Gianna at her newspaper office. Absurdities that are repeated when the police appear, with characters that look almost like caricatures. This underlines the madness, the lack of sense, that frequently characterises modern times, in which new female figures appear, embodied by Gianna, an emancipated journalist, and a different vision of sexuality emerges, represented by Carlo’s homosexuality.
“Profondo Rosso” is, therefore, a film that goes beyond movies, that reflects on and questions cinema itself. It is no coincidence that the director tests the viewer’s perceptive capacities by revealing the killer right from the start, even if only for a fraction of a second. Similarly, it is no coincidence that the killer’s hands, clad in black leather gloves, are actually the director’s hands: the distance between the author, the actor and the viewer is thus totally neutralised.
Modernity should have eradicated violence, but it has not. We see this already in the “everyday” violence of the opening credits, interspersed with the bloody knife at a child’s feet, and this is confirmed when we witness the brutal murder of psychic medium Helga. Her flat, where in fact everything begins and ends, is a meander of the mind, populated by symbols and figures that the director would explore in his subsequent films, “Suspiria” (1977) and “Inferno” (1980). And it is precisely here that, settled down in the subconscious, lies the key to the mystery: a truth revealed through a mirror.
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