Ti Piace Hitchcock? (FR - DVD R2)
Argento does Hitchock for TV, and Gabe Powers does his best to stay interested
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When he first came on the scene with his blockbuster animal title themed giallo thrillers, Dario Argento was quickly referred to as the Italian Hitchcock by the world press. Though Argento thrives in the whodunit genre, his films have always been much more flamboyant than the super-controlled work of the master of suspense. Hitchcock also had a much better grasp of drama and character, something Argento only really managed in his fifth film, Profondo Rosso. Argento spent quite a bit of his interview time over the years trying to dissuade the comparison, but with the release of his latest made-for-Italian-TV feature he seems to have cemented the association for the ages.
Giulio is a listless college student with an affinity for (wait for it...) Hitchcock and a nice view of a naked girl through his rear window. One night, he witnesses what might be a murder, and when the cops don't immediately solve the case, Giulio decides to take matters into his own bony, frail hands. Much to the chagrin of his actual girlfriend, whose not a fan of his peeping, he insists on pursuing his leads, which amount basically to the fact that the daughter of the deceased had rented Strangers on a Train a few days before the murder. Like any good film geek Giulio has more than a little trouble separating fiction from reality.
I'd like to ask Argento why he felt the need to make this film. Seriously, I love the guy, but Ti Piace Hitchcock? basically adds nothing new to an already floundering career. The film parades all the director's weaknesses while stifling his strengths. The dialogue and character motivation is as stilted as ever, but the audience is never allowed to ignore it in favour of thrilling, colourful visuals. I understand that we're working with a television budget, but would it've killed Argento to try something new?
The film's near saving grace is the ‘spot the reference’ game that viewers more attuned to the cinema of old Hitch can play. The murder plot is first lifted from Strangers on a Train, then switched to that of Dial M for Murder. There is an attempted murder in a bathtub, complete with the slow tearing down of a shower curtain (for that matter there are several showers on display in general), and a key murder weapon is a Norman Bates style butcher knife. Also taken from Psycho is the presence of mothers, one as an overbearing bother, another as a victim of murder. The most obvious parallels, however, can be drawn to Rear Window, including the voyeuristic nature of the protagonist, the fact that he witnesses events through his rear window, and the fact that he breaks his leg and is feebly confined to his apartment.
The Rear Window comparisons delve a little deeper as well. Giulio's girlfriend is a near-perfect specimen, physically and emotionally (though she's no Grace Kelly, hubba, hubba), and his ignorance of her love is the real mystery of the film's first half. When she finally realizes his suspicions are at least somewhat accurate, she willingly puts herself in danger to gather evidence while he looks on helplessly from his apartment window, unable to run to her aid due to his broken leg. Jimmy Stewart's L. B. Jefferies is all about ignoring his suitress until the moment he's faced with his ultimate impotence. It's an interesting characterization, but not nearly as interesting the fourth or fifth time around.
Argento, not content with referencing only Hitchcock manages to reference himself as well. Brian DePalma infamously did this for years, a fact that has kept him from receiving full praise from a bevy of film critics the world over. This is either a symptom of Argento being lazy or being playful, and it's very hard to tell which. I, personally, was happy to see a triple cut to a running faucet, as well as the murder by car of the film's red herring (both lifted from Profondo Rosso). The problem is that I'm not sure if I was just proud of myself for noticing, or if I was truly delighted by the spectacle.
And here, again, we arrive at the reason this particular film fails, familiarity. If you've seen three Argento gialli, you've seen this movie. If you've seen three DePalma Hitchcock semi-remakes ( Body Double, Dressed to Kill, Obsession, Raising Cain) you've seen this movie. Ti Piace Hitchcock isn't nearly Argento's worst film (that'd be his version of Phantom of the Opera), but it is another in the steadily increasing line of average, no chances taken—no choices made films that have alarmingly infiltrated the Maestro's cannon over the years.
This French DVD release is, as of this writing, the only English language version available on the non-bootleg market. It is presented in the film's original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, but is unfortunately not anamorphically enhanced. The good news for English speaking viewers with 16x9 sets is that the zoom function masks a fair amount of the forced French subtitles, though I suppose it's a bummer to deal with forced subtitles in any case.
The image is overly dark, and detail is lost in the backgrounds especially. Low-level noise rears its head occasionally, as do other forms of digital blocking. Bright colours, such as reds, have a tendency to bleed, and flesh tones are unnaturally cross-coloured at times. The daylight scenes are far more serviceable than night scenes, but still suffer from some edge enhancement. Overall, this is a merely passable transfer that perhaps reveals a little too much of the film's television origins.
Echo...Echo...Echo... If you chose to watch the film in English because you understand neither French nor Italian, you are in for a treat. Apparently the English audio was mastered in a cavernous pit with large, metal-coated walls. Everything, especially dialogue, reverbs and doubles. At some points it sounds like two actors are speaking at once. Perhaps the audio engineers misunderstood the idea of stereo-surround and decided they needed to utilize every channel to its full potential, despite the fact that the film is dialogue based. The only time the over-done effect works is during the outdoor storm chase sequence, where the echoing channels sound natural. If you can speak Italian or French, stick with the Italian track, which though undistinguished, is at the very least cantered.
Zero extras adorn the disc.
Like so much of Argento's recent work, this one is for fans only. Had I not been an avid fan already, I may have hated the film, which doesn't speak well for my scoring system. There are a few moments here and there, and the reference game is a fun one to play (maybe with some friends and hard liquor), but for the most part there just isn’t much to get excited about.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 15th February 2006
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Italian
Subtitles: French (Forced)
Easter Egg: No
Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Elisabetta Rocchetti, Cristina Brondo, Ivan Morales, Elena Maria, Lorenzo Federici, Elio Germano
Length: 885 minutes
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