Sleepless Review

The Film

Occasionally genre cinema attracts actors of quality to projects that aren't necessarily obvious choices for such people. Think Alain Delon and Toshiro Mifune in Red Sun, think the respected theatre actor Gian Maria Volonte in films by Leone or Sollima, and consider David Hemmings, Karl Malden, and, pertinently, Max Von Sydow in the work of Dario Argento. The latter examples are particularly interesting given the reputation of the giallo for dodgy acting and the primacy of directorial style over cast performance in Dario's films.
Sleepless is Argento's best film this century, which is sadly not the claim I'd like it to be. This return to the giallo form benefits from a great score from a reformed Goblin, cameos from genre favourites Gabriele Lavia and Rosella Falk, and some inventive murder sequences mixed with the director's usual self-referential subtexts. Yet what I find easiest to celebrate is a great actor creating one of the most interesting characters that Argento has ever presented.

Von Sydow as Ulisses Moretti is a former genius detective whose age has caught up on him as he fights a dodgy memory. Sleepless follows this retired detective as he returns to the dwarf murders that he had made his name with as a younger man. His character's investigation runs in competition to a younger, technocratic detective as brusque impersonal technology battles old fashioned intuition. Argento and Ferrini's script contrasts the two approaches and satirises the new world that has passed Moretti by.
Von Sydow's performance is immensely sympathetic and there is a genuine affection for what his character represents in the face of a quicker and more superficial world. This same fondness for times gone by casts Deep Red suspect Lavia in a suspicious role and Falk too is a character who misses the past. It is interesting to compare how these older characters are treated as the bodies pile up; intriguingly, violence is visited on the young, and frailty and fear cause the fate of their elders.

This nostalgia lends the thriller a warmth that its entertaining plot capitalises upon. The animated sequence of the Death Farm poem is wonderful, and the carpetcrawl ending in the swan murder, latex head aside, acts as a wonderful satire on the genre set-piece. This tongue in cheek approach allows some of the errors in continuity and logic to be looked upon with some indulgence, and similarly the younger cast's lesser skills are compensated for by the more experienced actors.
Since this film, Argento has not worked with performers of Von Sydow's quality, and he has discarded the old, in the shape of his co-writer Ferrini, for younger collaborators. His desire for self-reference has grown and a propensity for re-imagining scenes he has shot before has perhaps been over indulged. Sleepless was a triumphant return to the genre that made his name but it was the personal touches of the sixty year old Argento in writing his forgetful detective, along with Von Sydow's ability to play it, that mark it out as more than a competent re-tread.

Transfer and Sound

From the Italian inserts used in this presentation, this is clearly a different transfer to the existing MIA disc. After closer inspection, the colouring of this transfer is different too, I have collaged together an image comprising two screen shots from the two transfers, the left side is from the MIA disc and the new Arrow release is shown on the right:

The MIA part of the image is darker and lacks the blue hue of the Arrow transfer. Detail seems slightly improved on the Arrow disc, skin tones seem more natural here as well, but there is less information at the top of the frame on this new release. Along with the Italian inserts throughout the transfer, this leads me to the assumption that the Arrow Video release is probably the same as the existing Medusa disc. You might like to visit Michael Mckenzie's site for a comparison between the Medusa and MIA transfers here. This new transfer also boasts a much larger file size, about 6.5GB, compared with almost half that size on the old MIA disc.

Soundwise, there are two options - a 5.1 mix which is recorded at twice the rate of the existing MIA disc(448kbps), and a stereo mix recorded at the same rate and that shows up as 5.0 on PowerDVD. Not including an Italian track, especially the DTS option available on the Medusa disc, is unfortunate and whilst these two options are fine they are far from exceptional with the reproduction of the score not as strong as I'd like and a general lack of definition being a disappointment. Compared with the MIA disc though this is a clear improvement in both audo and visual terms.

Discs and Special Features

The making of documentary from the Italian DVD is ported over with reasonable subtitles and this shortish piece features main cast members, not Von Sydow though, talking about the film and the director. It's a teasing pre-release piece which offers little in the way of replay value but it is a welcome inclusion anyway. An original featurette follows that, with help from Joe Dante and Sergio Stivaletti, talks about the giallo genre and Argento's return after almost twenty years to the murder setpieces that made him so famous. This piece won't be too novel to those already in love with the director or this type of movie but it may introduce it to those unaware of the work.

A short trailer and a picture gallery complete the extras on this dual layer disc. The picture gallery is a series of stills from the film that morph into one another using dissolve effects. The disc comes with dvd-rom extras too including poster art and the script in English. The menus are sympathetically rendered and reversible cover art is available with the sleeve.


Argento's film is a success because it delivers the genre thrills that are expected along with a humane nostalgia. Arrow's transfer seems an improvement on the MIA disc, it's uncut and it's not going to break your piggy bank.

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