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Dario Argento Panico review – homage to a lifetime of dark, strange film-making

Guillermo del Toro, Nicolas Winding Refn and more sing the Italian director’s praises in this dexterous look back over his career – but his dark side still shines through

There’s a revealing moment at the end of this sturdy documentary about the Italian film-maker Dario Argento, when his daughter Asia remembers his state of mind when he came home from the David di Donatello awards, Italy’s version of the Oscars, in 2019. Over the course of his career – which is still ongoing – 84-year-old Argento had never won a David for any of his strange, unique films, such as Profondo Rosso (1975), Suspiria (1977) or Tenebre (1982) to name just three of his best known. But that year, the Italian Academy gave him a lifetime achievement award. Asia recalls that when they got back from the ceremony, he shrugged and said “sticazzi” – “who cares?”. He only really cares about the work itself, she explains, not the acclaim it might or might not generate.

And yet this film feels eerily like one long lifetime achievement homage, packed with superlatives and fond anecdotes about Argento’s high spirits on set and his intense focus on details, such as the time when he kept checking the sewing needles taped perilously close to actor Cristina Marsillach’s eyes while filming Opera (1987). Or that the makeup department had sufficiently covered up Asia’s stomach tattoo while they filmed a scene where she lost her virginity in The Phantom of the Opera (1998) while her grandmother sat nearby on set. It’s sort of impressive how much director Simone Scafidi allows Argento’s dark side to show through all the hype about his genius.

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