Giallo: a film by Antoine Waked

Marc Dalmas (Serge Jamo) returns to Beirut after studying in Paris. Upon arriving at his home, he discovers the lifeless body of his sister, Anna. Informed by the police that his sister is one of three women to be murdered under similar circumstances within a week, Marc drowns his sorrows in alcohol and inadvertently witnesses a fourth murder. With the police unable to do anything, he teams up with Daria (Raia Haidar), a friend and colleague of Anna, resolved to find the killer himself.

Giallo, by Lebanese filmmaker Antoine Waked, is a 25-minute short film that pays homage to the particular brand of Italian thriller from which it takes its name (giallo is Italian for "yellow", the usual colour of the covers of the literary versions of these stories). In particular, Waked's work is inspired by the films of Dario Argento, whose signature style is all over this effort. Streets bathed in primary colours, half-remembered clues and a pounding, Goblin-esque score conspire to create a film reminiscent of the Maestro of Horror's golden age of late 1970s to early 1980s.

Shot over the course of 10 days on a budget of only $800, it's quite amazing just what Waked has managed to achieve here. Despite the miniscule budget and a running time that is around a quarter of the length of most gialli, he has created a film that stands as a microcosm of the genre, incorporating a vast number of its most cherished quirks and ending up with a movie that functions in its own terms rather than merely being an empty homage. It's fun to point out the shots and plot elements that were inspired by Profondo Rosso, it's true, and there is a certain level of fanboyish charm in the names of the two leads, but Giallo also tells a great story of its own with the same Freudian psychology that gave the genre's best offerings more depth than the average slasher.

From the moment we catch our first glimpse of Marc Dalmas, standing in front of an airport bathed in blue-green gel lighting, we are plunged into a decidedly alien world of colour and intrigue. Belying its Beta SP origins, Giallo's cinematography, which features intense reds, blues and yellows and deep shadows, evokes the look of Argento's Suspiria and Inferno, and Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace, with the precise framing, beautifully captured by cinematographer Nicolas Khoury, giving the film a decidedly professional sheen. The score, provided by Nijad El Assaad, is highly reminiscent of progressive rock group Goblin's contributions to Argento classics like Profondo Rosso and Tenebre, and is used to evoke a variety of different moods. One of the most powerful moments in the film, where Marc discovers the body of his sister, is achieved almost entirely due to a fabulous combination of the sorrowful, minimalist music and the moody lighting, which bathes the whole room in cold blue except for the shirt of Anna, which is a striking yellow.

To be sure, the film has its flaws. Most noticeably, the earlier day scenes lack the visual intensity of the darker moments and call attention to the budgetary limitations. Additionally, with only 25 minutes of running time inclusive of credits and an opening introduction to the giallo genre, Waked is hard pressed to create any real mystery involving the identity of the killer. The cast is extremely small, with only two individuals really presenting themselves as potential culprits, and only one of them being developed in much detail. As such, the climactic reveal of the killer's identity doesn't come as much of a surprise. To Waked's credit, however, he maintains the momentum by focusing not on the villain's identity but on his/her motives. The scene in which Marc finally realises what has been staring him in the face all along is brilliantly executed, using a series of images rather than dialogue. It is a shame, therefore, that the epilogue, in which the killer's psychiatrist explains her motives, feels so expository. That said, lengthy explanations such as this are really a staple of the giallo and indeed the murder-mystery in general.

Antoine Waked's Giallo is a fantastic achievement, a visually-impressive and tightly-plotted thriller that can arguably stand alongside the very films it seeks to bear homage to.

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