Do You Like Hitchcock? Review
"The Italian Hitchcock." It's a nickname Dario Argento has always vehemently dismissed, and it's therefore surprising that he would choose to follow up his most recent feature film, The Card Player, with a TV movie that is a clear homage to the work of the Master of Suspense, and not just in name. Indeed, one gets the sense that he is more or less sleepwalking through this, the pilot episode of a projected series of seven homages to Hitchcock helmed by various Italian filmmakers. Certainly, at times, some of the old Argento magic shines through, and gore fans will be pleased to hear that this film is significantly more overtly violent than The Card Player. However, for the director of Profondo Rosso and Suspiria, this is a remarkably limp and dispassionate exercise.
Giulio (Elio Germano) is a student in Film Studies, busy writing his dissertation on German Expressionism. One day, while stopping by the local video store, he overhears two young women, Federica (Chiara Conti) and Sasha (Elisabetta Rocchetti), arguing over which of them should get the last copy of Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. Later, however, he bumps into the two women again, and notices that they have become decidedly friendly towards each other... conspiratorial, almost. That night, he is awakened by screams coming from the apartment directly opposite his own. It turns out that the tenant, Sasha's mother, has been murdered. Much to the annoyance of his girlfriend Arianna (Cristina Brondo), Giulio, a habitual Peeping Tom, begins his own investigation into the murder, and uncovers evidence suggesting that Sasha conspired with Federica to kill her mother. Have the two femmes fatales really concocted a plot based on that of Strangers on a Train, or has Giulio simply been watching too many movies?
The title of the film may be Do You Like Hitchcock?, but Argento doesn't restrict himself to the Master of Suspense when it comes to references. Although the plot is largely a modern-day, Italian adaptation of Strangers on a Train, with a little of Dial M for Murder and Rear Window for good measure, Argento can't help throwing in references to the work of the likes of F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang - an indication, no doubt, of where his true loyalties lies. He also borrows liberally from his own back catalogue, restaging with bathtub murder from Profondo Rosso with some degree of success, in addition to paying homage to the witchcraft motifs of Suspiria and Inferno in a rather ineffective pre-credits prologue. By and large, these homages are dealt with in a straitlaced manner, avoiding the nudge-nudge, wink-wink nature of the Scream trilogy and their ilk: the references are there for those who get them, and for those who don't, they won't disrupt the flow of the story.
Indeed, the script, by Argento and regular collaborator Franco Ferrini, is not bad at all, operating at a slower pace than the likes of The Card Player and as a result allowing us to get to know the protagonists a little better than usual. Sometimes this is effective, as with the relationship between Giulio and Arianna, which is believable and at times amusing. Additionally, Argento makes good use of the various inhabitants of Giulio's neighbourhood, evoking the same sort of effect Hitchcock achieved in Rear Window. However, some elements quite blatantly don't work, the worst being Giulio's mother and her new boyfriend, who prove to be little more than a distraction. Most of the cast members are in their mid-20s, and as a result the overall atmosphere is somewhat more juvenile than usual for Argento, although this does give the film a pleasantly lighthearted tone.
Unfortunately, for all the strengths of the plot, and the performers, who all try their best, it can't be denied that several moments in the film lack sincerity. Much of this, I suspect, is the result of the English post-dubbing, which makes the perfomers of the English overdubbing in The Card Player seem like Oscar contenders. Not having heard the Italian dub, I can't say whether or not it's any better, but it's safe to say that, with none of the cast providing their own voices for the English version, it constitutes a major step backwards for Argento after the naturalistic performances he was able to extract from Stefania Rocca and Liam Cunningham in the previous film.
To some extent, however, the film makes up for this with its distinctly different female leads. Even if the dubbing hampers their performances, all three of them ooze charisma, with Elisabetta Rocchetti in particular leaving a strong impression in the role of Sasha, the local floozy. Chiara Conti, meanwhile, is effective in the blonde femme fatale role, while the tomboyish Cristina Brondo adds a slightly different twist to the rather thankless role of Giulio's long-suffering girlfriend Arianna. Argento clearly enjoys photographing his leading ladies, and indeed at times the film even dips into the territory or softcore erotica. Our first introduction to Sasha, for example, is a slow pan over her body as she struts about wearing only a bra. Given that the theme of the film is compulsive spectatorship (I wonder if Laura Mulvey is listening), this strikes me as being entirely appropriate, and it is one of the few aspects of the film in which Argento genuinely tries something new.
Indeed, in most other respects it's business as usual for Argento, who delivers his least flamboyant thriller to date. The camerawork, by Frederic Fasano (Asia Argento's Scarlet Diva), is perfunctory at best, although his lighting has more depth than either Ronnie Taylor's work on Non Ho Sonno or the hack job Attila Szalay performed on Jenifer (the hideousness of that project being abated only by the fact that few of its stablemates in the Masters of Horror TV series were any better). Oh, and contrary to popular belief, it was shot on 35mm film, not digi-beta. To his credit, Argento does provide a handful of decent set-pieces, including the aforementioned attempted bathtub murder and the impressively staged (and satisfyingly violent) killing of Sasha's mother. For every successful one, however, there is a misfire, with a moped chase involving a broken-legged Giulio and an irate victim of his Peeping Tom antics (Giuseppe Loconsole) coming across as cringeworthy in the extreme. (This particular scene was actually used as part of a promo reel designed to attract foreign investors. Why this of all sequences was chosen beggars belief.) At least Pino Donaggio, doing his best Bernard Herrmann impression, is able to provide a thoroughly enjoyable score that is light years ahead of his previous collaboration with Argento on Trauma, while Sergio Stivaletti dishes out the gore sporadically but to great effect.
Do You Like Hitchcock? can be summed up quite succinctly as "okay". As a light-hearted homage it's not that bad, and its occasional flashes of inspiration do hint that a talented and experienced filmmaker is behind the camera. These are few and far between, however, and while it is far from the worst thing Argento has ever done (that particular honour is reserved for Hitchcock's immediate successor, Jenifer), this sort of material is, frankly, beneath him. Many of the problems can, admittedly, be brushed aside with the proviso that it's "only a TV movie", and as such was never intended to be the next Tenebre. However, the very fact that Argento's two most recent projects have been made for television may be sufficient cause for concern in itself. Perhaps, after managing to keep his head above the water for so long, he is finally sinking into the same low budget, straight to video territory occupied by Fulci, Lenzi et al in the 1980s and 90s. All eyes, I'm sure, will be on Mater Lachrymarum, set to be his return to the big screen, and to the world of Suspiria and Inferno which he has not visited in over 25 years.
Do You Like Hitchcock? arrives on DVD in France courtesy of Studio Canal, who really haven't done a good job at all. Despite the claims on the packaging of a 1.85:1 16x9 transfer, it is in fact non-anamorphic, and the aspect ratio looks closer to 1.66:1. Even allowing for its lack of 16x9 enhancement, it's still not a particularly good transfer, characterised by an overall softness, some frankly brutal edge enhancement, and a good deal of artefacting (the packaging claims that this is a DVD-9, but it is in fact only a DVD-5). In this day and age, I'm surprised that a large studio would release such a poor-looking DVD for a recent film, even allowing for its TV origins.
Two audio tracks are provided: English and French, both in Dolby Surround 2.0. Because of the nature of the way Argento shoots his films, a carry-over from the old days of Italian cinema, don't bother looking for an "original Italian" track. Do You Like Hitchcock? was shot in English and then entirely post-dubbed, so the English track is probably the best way to watch it anyway. As I mentioned in the main body of the review, it's not a good dub, but at least the dialogue seems largely to fit the actors' lip movements, even if there is a slight echo to it, and Pino Donaggio's score sounds fine despite the 2-channel origins of the mix.
French subtitles are provided and, unfortunately, are forced when the English audio track is selected. Potential buyers who don't have the ability to bypass such restrictions may wish to bear this in mind before ordering a copy of this release.
There are no extras. Nada. Zilch.
Studio Canal's release of Do You Like Hitchcock? is a real disappointment. Even considering that the film was made for television, the results are really not acceptable, and one can only hope that another distributor will come along with a better version somewhere along the line. Hopefully this bare-bones and thoroughly unimpressive release will simply be a stop-gap until then.
Last updated: 25/06/2018 20:12:14