I watched Sleepless again earlier this evening. It's a film I can appreciate but have not been able to quite embrace whole-heartedly. I think I'm starting to understand why: I just find it to be too calculated, too concerned with giving the audience what it wants. I realise that this was what Argento needed at that point in time, coming off the disappointing critical and commercial responses to Trauma, The Stendhal Syndrome and Phantom of the Opera – the first two being films I think are much maligned, perhaps on account of being more authentic and personal works, and which I find continue to get better with each additional viewing and passing year.
What also struck me this time is how the film seems very much like the inverse of Phenomena, as a similar exercise in revisiting past themes; that way in which with both films you can almost go through them scene by scene, picking out the intertextual reference points and allusions.
One difference is that with Phenomena, I get the sense Argento was making a film for himself and trusting that his core audience would have faith and come along for the ride. With Sleepless, 15 years later, I gets the sense that he was no longer confident of this audience – if indeed it even still existed, or had not changed composition dramatically – and accordingly sought to make a film for them, for better or worse. (Trauma would, I suppose, be midway between these two positions, for its simultaneous adoption of elements of the slasher film and its subversion of the same with the giallo and an overriding seriousness.)
Another difference is that with Phenomena I still get that sense of a film-maker going forward or at least underscoring a phase in his career. With Sleepless, however, it at times seems more like a scoring out of the previous decade's work, of saying that it represented (perhaps necessary) dead ends and digressions.
There is one significant exception: with the character of Ulysses Moretti I think we see Argento – no longer of course, a young man, even if my (our?) mental image of him remains as such – addressing issues of ageing and mortality in a new, genuinely mature, way. Perhaps its the Bergman influence exerting itself through the presence of Max Von Sydow in the role, perhaps the expressionist influence on both filmmakers, but for some reason I'm reminded of Wild Strawberries...