At 81, Italian horror maestro Dario Argento is busier than ever.
The director of a string of cult chiller classics starting in the 1970s, including “The Bird With the Crystal Plumage,” “Suspiria” and “Deep Red,” was at Cannes last July with his acting debut in Gaspar Noe’s “Vortex,” about a pair of old lovers. Argento was also celebrated last year with a new book by Italian critic Steve Della Casa and a retro at New York’s Lincoln Center. This spring he’s set to be honored with a big show at Italy’s National Museum of Cinema in Turin.
More significantly, having returned to the director’s chair after a decade, Argento is back with “Dark Glasses,” which he describes as a classic thriller, or giallo, as the violent crime genre is known in Italy.
“Dark Glasses,” which is set in present-day Rome, screens on Feb. 11 as a Berlinale Special Gala, marking Argento’s first time in Berlin as a director, though he was on the fest’s competition jury panel in 2001.
The pic is about a serial killer who strangles prostitutes with cello strings and is pursuing a luxury escort named Diana. But there is a twist. Diana is blinded by a car crash with the killer and gets help from an orphaned Chinese boy. A social worker played by Dario’s daughter, Asia Argento, also comes to the rescue.
It was Asia who made “Dark Glasses” happen, 20 years after its inception.
Argento was supposed to make the film in 2002, produced by Italo mogul Vittorio Cecchi Gori, who went bust while they were doing location scouting. So he put the screenplay in a drawer.
Then one day Asia was looking for material for her autobiography, the helmer recounts. “She was looking around my house for some papers and notebooks and she found this screenplay that she hadn’t really heard of.”
Asia read it, loved it, and said: “Dad, you’ve got to make this film,” and brought France’s Wild Bunch on board, specifically its co-founder Vincent Maraval, who entrusted its physical production to Italy’s Conchita Airoldi and Laurentina Guidotti.
Besides starring in the pic in a secondary role, Asia serves as its associate producer. But she was also instrumental, along with Noe, in getting French techno composer Arnaud Rebotini (“BPM (Beats Per Minute),” “Blair Witch”) to score the film after Daft Punk allegedly dropped out because they broke up.
Twenty years later, “Dark Glasses” is “a bit different from the original, but it has the same wild and crazy spirit,” said Argento, who reworked the script and also shot the film during the pandemic.
As its protagonist, Argento cast Ilenia Pastorelli, who had a breakout role broke in Gabriele Mainetti’s genre-bender “They Call Me Jeeg.”
Casting a Chinese boy to play Chin, the orphan who becomes the blind Diana’s eyes, was more complicated. Eventually the production found a “very mature” boy named Xinyu Zhang (pictured above with the maestro) in Milan, home to the second-largest Chinese population in Europe.
The tender rapport between Diana and Chin in “Dark Glasses,” which features plenty of Argento’s trademark blood, gore and trauma, marks a departure of sorts.
“The motherly relationship with the child, who protects her and becomes her guide; it’s a novelty,” said Argento, adding that this dynamic “pushed me to make a better film.”
In terms of visuals, the director chose young Berlin-based Italian cinematographer Matteo Cocco, winner of Italy’s David di Donatello prize for lensing Giorgio Diritti’s “Hidden Away,” which premiered at Berlin in 2020.
And Sergio Stivaletti, who has worked on every Argento film since the 1985 Jennifer Connelly-starrer “Phenomena,” handled the “Dark Glasses” special effects.
“Dark Glasses,” which is being sold by Wild Bunch, will be released in Italian theaters by Vision Distribution Feb. 24.
But now Argento just wants to enjoy the Berlin in-person premiere of his new giallo.
Still a rebel, he is even hoping that Rebotini will manage to find a Berlin night club where he and some German musicians can play some of the film’s tracks during an after party, even though parties are not officially allowed by the fest this year.