Stephanie Zacharek, Salon:
...And that's why I loved "The Mother of Tears." I haven't seen any recent Argento -- I've been warned that his newer movies don't have the nutball stylishness of earlier pictures like "The Bird With the Crystal Plumage" or "Four Flies on Gray Velvet" or, my favorite, "Suspiria."
But "The Mother of Tears" is so unapologetically loopy and lush and ridiculous that I found it irresistible. Now look, I'm not going to tell you that there isn't some sick stuff in this thing: When a trio of crazed demons began strangling a woman with her own entrails -- and this is within the first 10 minutes -- I began to think that a peaceful afternoon spent searching for that Clooney earlobe didn't sound like such a bad thing. But I sure as hell wasn't leaving that theater. In "The Mother of Tears" Argento revisits lots of favorite motifs, to use a noun that's perhaps more delicate than is warranted: There are the usual instances of knives being plunged into women's chests (I think I read somewhere that that's a kind of phallic symbolism. Y'think?), as well as an occurrence of what a friend and colleague calls "the old pike up the vag," a chestnut Argento has used so many times it's almost endearing.
I don't particularly like watching that stuff; I confess to being a proponent of the watch-through-the-fingers thing. But Argento's sick violence is of the old-school kind. It's swift and uncluttered; he gives you five seconds to anticipate it, another five to get it over with, and then he's on to the next thing. That next thing might involve an ingenious eyeball-stabbing device (and this is where I highly recommend the tried-and-true watch-through-the-fingers technique), but again -- 10 or 15 seconds, and it's over.
And then you're left to simply enjoy the squirrelly riches that Argento tucks so lovingly around the blood and gore, which is very obviously and exuberantly fake, anyway. In "The Mother of Tears" two Rome museum curators -- one of them, the heroine of this tale, is played by the wonderfully brash and sensuous actress Asia Argento, Dario's daughter -- receive a curious stone urn and can't resist opening it. Inside are three fat stone statues with ugly faces, a primitive jeweled dagger and a scrap of cloth that we learn is a ceremonial dress from pagan times. The thing looks like -- no, wait, I'm telling you, it is -- a cut-off sweatshirt decorated with mysterious runes written in glitter glue. It also happens to be a minidress: When the powerful witch Mater Lachrymarum slips it on, it barely covers her bum -- and what a bum it is!
But I'm getting ahead of myself. In "The Mother of Tears," the opening of that urn restores the powers of the beautiful and deadly Third Mother, one of three witches responsible for spreading pain, tears and darkness throughout the land. Now that Mama Lach is back in action, witches from around the world are headed to Rome for her big house party-slash-orgy -- dressed in black miniskirts and Patrick Nagel-style eye makeup, they descend upon the city like Beelzebub's "Girls Gone Wild." Violence erupts in the streets: Crazed, possessed maidens run around topless; priests who know a little bit too much about the occult face gruesome ends. "The Mother of Tears" is wild and untamed, a celebratory feat of gonzo artistry. Argento clearly didn't have a lot of money to spend on the picture, but it still has a sort of cheapie-luxe look: The women's clothes, for example, aren't expensive, but they nonetheless give you a pretty clear sense of what a Satan doll's idea of glamour would be.
"The Mother of Tears" is as sick as hell. But at least it's got class.
Thomas de Quincey, from Suspiria de Profundis:
What is it the sisters are? What is it that they do? Let me describe their form, and their presence; if form it were that still fluctuated in its outline; or presence it were that forever advanced to the front, or forever receded amongst shades.
The eldest of the three is named Mater Lachrymarum, Our Lady of Tears. She it is that night and day raves and moans, calling for vanished faces. She stood in Rama, where a voice was heard of lamentation,—Rachel weeping for her children, and refused to be comforted. She it was that stood in Bethlehem on the night when Herod's sword swept its nurseries of Innocents, and the little feet were stiffened forever, which, heard at times as they tottered along floors overhead, woke pulses of love in household hearts that were not unmarked in heaven.
Her eyes are sweet and subtle, wild and sleepy, by turns; oftentimes rising to the clouds, oftentimes challenging the heavens. She wears a diadem round her head. Arid I knew by childish memories that she could go abroad upon the winds, when she heard that sobbing of litanies, or the thundering of organs, and when she beheld the mustering of summer clouds. This sister, the elder, it is that carries keys more than papal at her girdle, which open every cottage and every palace. She, to my knowledge, sate all last summer by the bedside of the blind beggar, him that so often and so gladly I talked with, whose pious daughter, eight years old, with the sunny countenance, resisted the temptations of play and village mirth to travel all day long on dusty roads with her afflicted father. For this did God send her a great reward. In the spring-time of the year, and whilst yet her own spring was budding, he recalled her to himself. But her blind father mourns forever over her; still he dreams at midnight that the little guiding hand is locked within his own; and still he wakens to a darkness that is now within a second and a deeper darkness. This Mater Lachrymarum also has been sitting all this winter of 1844-5 within the bedchamber of the Czar, bringing before his eyes a daughter (not less pious) that vanished to God not less suddenly, and left behind her a darkness not less profound. By the power of her keys it is that Our Lady of Tears glides a ghostly intruder into the chambers of sleepless men, sleepless women, sleepless children, from Ganges to the Nile, from Nile to Mississippi. And her, because she is the first-born of her house, and has the widest empire, let us honor with the title of " Madonna."
The second sister is called Mater Suspiriorum, Our Lady of Sighs. She never scales the clouds, nor walks abroad upon the winds. She wears no diadem. And her eyes, if they were ever seen, would be neither sweet nor subtle; no man could read their story; they would be found filled with perishing dreams, and with wrecks of forgotten delirium. But she raises not her eyes; her head, on which sits a dilapidated turban, droops forever, forever fastens on the dust. She weeps not. She groans not. But she sighs inaudibly at intervals. Her sister Madonna is oftentimes stormy and frantic, raging in the highest against heaven, and demanding back her darlings. But Our Lady of Sighs never clamors, never defies, dreams not of rebellious aspirations. She is humble to abjectness. Hers is the meekness that belongs to the hopeless. Murmur she may, but it is in her sleep. Whisper she may, but it is to herself in the twilight. Mutter she does at times, but it is in solitary places that are desolate as she is desolate, in ruined cities, and when the sun has gone down to his rest. This sister is the visiter of the Pariah, of the Jew, of the bondsman to the oar in the Mediterranean galleys; of the English criminal in Norfolk Island, blotted out from the books of remembrance in sweet far-off England; of the baffled penitent reverting his eyes forever upon a solitary grave, which to him seems the altar overthrown of some past and bloody sacrifice, on which altar no oblations can now be availing, whether towards pardon that he might implore, or towards reparation that he might attempt. Every slave that at noonday looks up to the tropical sun with timid reproach, as he points with one hand to the earth, our general mother, but for him a step-mother,—as he points with the other hand to the Bible, our general teacher, but against him sealed and sequestered;—every woman sitting in darkness, without love to shelter her head, or hope to illumine her solitude, because the heaven-born instincts kindling in her nature germs of holy affections, which God implanted in her womanly bosom, having been stifled by social necessities, now burn sullenly to waste, like sepulchral lamps amongst the ancients; every nun defrauded of her unreturning May-time by wicked kinsman, whom God will judge; every captive in every dungeon; all that are betrayed, and all that are rejected; outcasts by traditionary law, and children of hereditary disgrace,—all these walk with Our Lady of Sighs. She also carries a key; but she needs it little. For her kingdom is chiefly amongst the tents of Shem, and the houseless vagrant of every clime. Yet in the very highest ranks of man she finds chapels of her own; and even in glorious England there are some that, to the world, carry their heads as proudly as the reindeer, who yet secretly have received her mark upon their foreheads.
But the third sister, who is also the youngest! Hush! whisper whilst we talk of her! Her kingdom is not large, or else no flesh should live; but within that kingdom all power is hers. Her head, turreted like that of Cybèle, rises almost beyond the reach of sight. She droops not; and her eyes rising so high might be hidden by distance. But, being what they are, they cannot be hidden; through the treble veil of crape which she wears, the fierce light of a blazing misery, that rests not for matins or for vespers, for noon of day or noon of night, for ebbing or for flowing tide, may be read from the very ground. She is the defier of God. She also is the mother of lunacies, and the suggestress of suicides. Deep lie the roots of her power; but narrow is the nation that she rules. For she can approach only those in whom a profound nature has been upheaved by central convulsions; in whom the heart trembles and the brain rocks under conspiracies of tempest from without and tempest from within. Madonna moves with uncertain steps, fast or slow, but still with tragic grace. Our Lady of Sighs creeps timidly and stealthily. But. this youngest sister moves with incalculable motions, bounding, and with a tiger's leaps. She carries no key; for, though coming rarely amongst men, she storms all doors at which she is permitted to enter at all. And her name is Mater Tenebrarum,—Our Lady of Darkness.