Defining the Giallo Film

This essay is by our guest writer, Toni Stanger.

I first watched Suspiria (1977) and Tenebre (1982) before I ever knew what “giallo” was. These two films–both directed by Italian filmmaker Dario Argento–are some of the more defined classics of the giallo genre. I also remember watching Don’t Look Now (1973) at university around the same time, which–although not typically cited as a one–does carry some of the key characteristics of the giallo film. A few years ago, I started to get more into this mysterious Italian genre, and set out to broaden my viewing and understanding: Blood and Black Lace (1964), Deep Red (1975) and Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970) are definitely some of my favourites. I researched giallo films online and, amongst all the £30-£40 specialist books, I found some people discussing on various blogs what a giallo film is to them–along with explanations of why it’s such an underrated genre. With that in mind, I want to continue to add to the conversation by outlining what a giallo film, in my eyes, actually is.

What is “giallo”?

The word “giallo” (plural: gialli) means “yellow” in Italian. It’s used in reference to the cheap paperback novels that were published by Mondadori from 1929. They were known for their outlandish yellow covers and were part of the “Il Giallo Mondadori” series, which features novels from the likes of Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler and Edgar Wallace. The series was mainly written by British and American writers and then translated into Italian. It eventually became so popular that other publishing houses began to mimic their yellow trademark covers in order to sell their own mystery and crime novels. After this, the word “giallo” became synonymous for “mystery,” which brings us to the giallo film. A giallo is often cited as a 20th-century Italian murder-mystery film which contains elements of both horror and thriller. However, some would argue that this simple description isn’t the only trait that makes a film a giallo. Some say the height of giallo film occurred between 1968 and 1978 even though there are many key films that came in the early ’60s. The years 1971–1973 were particularly successful with sixty-five giallo films being produced in this two year time period, mostly from the prominent directors of the genre (including Argento and Mario Bava). Giallo did continue into the ’80s where it eventually died out.

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The lavish and vivid set design in Blood and Black Lace (1964)

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Cannes 2018 Review: ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Strips the Wonder from the Iconic Character

One would expect that a film should be critiqued on its own merits, but sometimes outward factors force the film to be observed in a new light. In the case of Solo: A Star Wars Story, its troubled production history is impossible to ignore. Original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were reportedly fired by Kathleen Kennedy over their shooting style—their improv-heavy methodology not exactly sliding with the well-oiled machine of Lucasfilm. Rumours were also circulating that an acting coach was hired for Alden Ehrenreich—a painfully ironic mirror to the actor’s role in Hail, Caesar! as a young movie star struggling to give a good performance. Its reputation as an unrivaled disaster occluded the final product itself. Would that it were so simple.  

Walking into the Grand Lumiere for a repeat gala screening—and feeling more glamorous than I ever will—what I was thinking (other than “DO NOT FALL OVER”) was: “Can they really salvage a good film out of this?” Replacing Lord and Miller with Ron Howard seemed like the safe option—and it really was. Ron Howard’s career as a director is dominated by films that are generally well-liked but are rather unremarkable. He’s prolific too, and so his films maintain a middling quality that means they leave the cultural conversation as quickly as they entered (does anyone actually remember In the Heart of the Sea?). My expectations with Ron Howard at the helm were met, but I was still disappointed. Star Wars films shouldn’t just be solid, they should be exhilarating, but emotionally resonant—and that is nowhere to be seen with Solo. What is revealed by this replacement is that the puppet masters over at Lucasfilm prefer a director who won’t step out of line over a director with a fresh, innovative perspective. Solo: A Star Wars Story is so concerned with playing it safe and appealing to the masses that the end result is wholly underwhelming. To put it bluntly, Solo is downright bland.

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Emilia Clarke and Alden Ehrenreich in ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ © Disney/Lucasfilm

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“We Truly Love Our Country” — An Interview with ‘Rafiki’ Director Wanuri Kahiu

This interview is by our guest writer, Redmond Bacon.

The Cannes film festival made history this year with the inclusion of Rafiki, the first Kenyan film to premiere along The Croisette. Playing as part of Un Certain Regard, it is also a ground-breaking piece of Kenyan filmmaking for its loving depiction of a same-sex relationship. I sat down with the director Wanuri Kahiu to discuss the ban on the film, the importance of religion in Kenyan culture, and why homophobia is un-African.

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Rafiki (2018)

Redmond Bacon: Can you explain the situation regarding the decision to ban the film in your country?

Wanuri Kahiu: The film was banned. This means it can’t be broadcasted, exhibited, distributed or be in anybody’s possession within the Republic of Kenya. That includes the poster and the trailer, although the trailer cannot be suppressed because it’s on the internet. But if we were to get a poster here and take it back home [then] we would be breaking the law. And it is possible to appeal, but you have to appeal to the same board that banned the film. So right now, what we’re doing is just concentrating on being here and being present in Cannes to represent the film. Once we get home we’ll figure out what the way forward is.

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Cannes 2018 Review: Jury Prize Winner ‘Capharnaum’ Examines the Brutal Realities of Poverty

 “Why do you want to sue your parents?”

“For giving me life.”

This is how Capharnaum begins its onslaught of bleakness, in a statement reflective of emotional exhaustion rather than genuine financial interest. The origin of these words is twelve-year old-Zain and his decision that comes after a lifetime of abuse, neglect, and poverty. The film’s narrative expands as the child explains what has led him to the courtroom in which he stands, through a series of flashbacks leading to his arrest for “stabbing a son of a bitch,” and his counter-accusation against his parents.

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Zain Alrafeea in Cafarnaúm (2018)

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The Futility of Ideals in Greta Gerwig’s Screenwriting

For many of us, the world sets unrealistic expectations of being materially or academically successful at a young age, leaving behind a lingering emptiness for the rest of our lives when we fail to achieve that in our 20s, maybe even our 30s. It’s the heavy wistfulness of wishing you were more, and the resonating regret because you weren’t. So we keep on chasing an ideal just within reach, but never losing the race. 

The films co-written by Greta Gerwig explore what it’s like to be trapped in this liminality, exposing the futility of dedicating your efforts to create a place you can call your own, only to look around and realise it doesn’t exist. Continue reading “The Futility of Ideals in Greta Gerwig’s Screenwriting”

’13 Reasons Why’ Season 2: Review

Netflix’s thought-provoking and controversial series, 13 Reasons Why, returned for a second season after its popular first. In the premiere season, the thirteen episodes were structured around the thirteen taped recordings the late Hannah Baker, played by Katherine Langford, left behind before committing suicide, each explaining why thirteen of her peers receiving the tapes were the reason she decided to take her life. This time around, there are no more structurally-convenient tapes and the show uses the testimonies made during the case surrounding Hannah’s death as the new guide. The latest episodes do a great job of encapsulating where each character ends up following the aftermath of discovering the tapes and Hannah’s death, but major missteps take away more attention.

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’13 Reasons Why’ © Netflix

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In Shogun World, ‘Westworld’s’ Female Characters Must Suffer to Be Strong

Episode five of Westworld picks up from episode three’s cliffhanger where a mysterious man wielding a katana charges at Maeve. Enter Shogun World–this is the park where guests come when they find Westworld too tame, a concept which emphasizes guests’ desire for a stereotypically “exotic” experience. In an entertaining and cinematic episode, writer Dan Dietz and director Craig Zobel play with the nostalgia of Westerns and samurai films. While it featured stellar performances from Rinko Kikuchi and Thandie Newton, this episode shows how Westworld continues to subject its female characters to trauma to prove their strength.

When Maeve and company enter Shogun World, writer Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) reveals that, in an effort to write as many stories as possible, he took their Westworld storylines and gave them a stereotypical Japanese twist to make it “new.” It is fascinating to watch these “doppelbots” recognize each other, particularly Maeve and the geisha, Akane (Kikuchi). They’re both sex workers, seen as pieces of meat to hosts and guests alike; they want to protect their own (Maeve and her daughter, Akane and Sakura, a young geisha); they both must suffer to grow.  

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Maeve discovers she can now mentally control other hosts. But, this new ability only comes after being beaten and choked by a ninja. As she gasps her last breaths and her eyes roll back into her head, Maeve realizes she can stop her assailant, even when she can no longer speak. Her suffering to gain this new ability is only one example in this episode of female characters needing to experience trauma to prove their strength.

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