Dark Glasses (Occhiali Neri) review – Dario Argento returns with baffling shocker | Berlin film festival 2022


Dario Argento’s return to directing after a 10-year absence has its moments of macabre and melodramatic invention – there’s a genuinely unsettling opening sequence – and a small, sympathetic role for his daughter Asia Argento. Maybe Occhiali Neri may in time be awarded its own minor cult status. But a lot of the time it is bizarre in the wrong ways, with clunkingly absurd plot transitions, sudden B-picture-type money-saving closeups on the mangled, bloodstained faces of people who’ve supposedly just been stabbed or hit, and Argento has some very odd ideas about how guide dogs for blind people are trained – like police dogs, or serial-killer dogs, they are, apparently, able to launch into an attack at a given signal.

It is Rome in summer, in the middle of an eclipse, and a serial killer is at large, slashing sex workers as they emerge from hotel lobbies. High-class escort Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli) joins the crowds gazing upwards at the sun as it is gradually occluded: she has to wear her dark glasses to look at it. A bad omen. Later, the wacko chases Diana in his white van and her car crashes into someone else at an intersection. The killer escapes; the accident blinds Diana and there are grave implications for the Chinese couple in the other car, whose young son Chin (Andrea Chang) later escapes from foster care in a nunnery and comes to live with poor Diana, now compelled to wear her dark glasses full-time, even while she is servicing clients in her saucy lingerie – gallant men who are moved by her disability. Meanwhile Rita (Asia Argento), a carer for visually impaired people, becomes her pal. But the killer is still around.

The pure weirdness of that opening is watchable enough and it has that where-are-we-going-with-this quality which compels a certain attention. But really the movie’s second and third acts are taken up with Diana and Chin going on preposterous sleuthing adventures and having to be rescued by Rita, which in turn leads to a ridiculous, gory mess. Just for good measure, Argento lands Diana and Chin in the middle of a nest of snakes while they are lost in a forest. A creepy few minutes there before we move on to something else. The question of who the killer is, and whether he is (possibly) in league with one or two others, is not revealed in any very interesting or convincing way.

Maybe Argento intended some memories of Audrey Hepburn’s endangered blind heroine in Wait Until Dark, and Pastorelli gives her role as much as she can – although the director is not particularly interested in the idea of Diana changing or growing as a person in the course of all this. She is arguably empowered at the very end, though she’s alone in that.

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