It proved extremely reliable to pay attention to the press dossier for "Incompresa" (Misunderstood, Italy/France 2014) directed by Asia Argento that debuted in Un Certain Regard on May 22 at the Cannes Film Festival. The film is not autobiographical but fictional and Argento leads critics away from facile assumptions: ”Alright, let’s start by dispelling any misunderstanding. There is no point in drawing any parallels between Aria (the lead character of the film played by Giulia Salerna) and Asia”.
The third time director is the daughter of legendary helmer Dario Argento and the leading lady in many of his gothic horror films, Daria Nicolodi. Asia executed a memorable performance in "The Stendahl Syndrome" (Italy 1996) directed by her father, playing Detective Anna Manni, a cop that transforms after an attack by a sadistic serial murderer. She wisely chose the Cannes best actress award winner Charlotte Gainsbourg for the lead in "Incompresa". On Twitter, Asia Argento lists herself as "Ex actor, Filmmaker Screen & Song Writer Red Witch Poet Priestess".
Aria’s parents ’Mother’, a classical pianist (Gainsbourg) and ’Father’, a famous movie actor (Gabriel Garko), have separated. Lucrezia, the first born in his first marriage goes with him, and Aria and Angelica stay with Mother. Aria soon finds herself a go between for their moods, incurring the ilk of her superstitious father and her increasingly feral mother.
Mother’s many lovers include drug dealers, punk rockers and greasy Casanova’s with money. To her daughter’s question about why so many men love her, Mother answers that she is a witch that practices “red magic”, the magic of love. Father tosses Aria back to her mother when black cats, pigeon fathers and broken mirrors change his luck, but takes her to a rock concert when her presence helps him land a role in art cinema. The realities of life are beyond the clever maneuvers of a nine year old but she will learn about that later. As for now, she is honest about the boy she wants, the clothes she wants and her wish for peace between her parents. Giulia Salerna is excellent as the child who must grow up before becoming an adult.
The maestro skills of Argento are detectable in every crevice of the breathtaking mis en scéne, cinematography, editing and sound by her talented crew.The script is by Argento and Barbara Alberti and Asia composed some enchanting original music.
The Italy that loves the family and Roman Catholicism depicted in national cinema know that Argento follows a strong tradition of trailblazers that have departed from sacrosanct imagery including Pasolini, Rossellini and Fellini. Marcello Mastroianni’s gesture on the official Cannes poster this year may not be ‘the finger’ but Argento knows how to do that too, as evidenced by her humorous posturing on the steps of the Cannes “Palais de Festival” last year and a production photo for "Incompresa".
"Incompresa" is a compression of image and sound that is both artistic and precocious. The colorful characters and mischievous dialogue show how children can be cruel to each other, those who might have parents repeating the insanity of their own guardians. Aria is surrounded by the best and the worst types, and also winds up embodying the best and worst of her lovable parents.