Misunderstood – A poignant, yet brutal, coming of age tale
Directed by: Asia Argento
Asia Argento is widely known, in the film world, as being a few things: 1) The daughter of horror master Dario Argento 2) An incredibly talented actress and 3) A beautiful, wild-eyed poster child for all things “Cool”. Well add “Director of one of the better films in an over-populated genre” to that list. After a long absence from the director’s chair, miss Argento has returned with a new, powerfully effective style in her film “Misunderstood” (“Incompresa”).
It has been heavily noted that this film is an autobiographical one, for Argento. Instead of delving into the details of that though I am going to focus on the film itself. Nine year old Aria (Salerno) has what would seem, from the outside, to be the perfect childhood life. Her Mother (Gainsbourg) is a concert pianist and her Father (Garko) a famous movie star. She lives in a lovely home with them and her two sisters Donatina (Argento’s daughter Anna Lou Castoldi) and Lucrezia (Poccioni). However, things are not so wonderful for Aria as her parents are on the verge of divorce and spend what little energy they have left, after their frequent screaming matches, doting on the other girls. The lack of attention is actually preferable to the attention she does get from her parents, who constantly criticize her and blame her for anything and everything that bothers them.
When the unfit parents finally do split up they each claim their “Own” daughter, leaving Aria to be passed back and forth like a human hot potato. She gets sent packing so often that at one point she actually ends up staying a night on the street (which sadly is one of the only times we see Aria seemingly happy). Even the teachers and other students at school want little to nothing to do with the poor girl. Fortunately, Aria has a cat and a best friend (Alice Pea) who help see her through her pre-adolescence and offer her the only love and companionship she has ever known.
With all of this, Aria is not just a sympathetic character. She has a strength and intelligence to her that let us occasionally laugh at some of her misfortune, because we know this little girl is going to grow up into a resilient, well-rounded woman. That from all of these trials she will grow, and one day look back and laugh herself. It is an impressive feet accomplished by Argento. She manages to craft a sad (at times downright brutal) tale with an unspoken optimism. The fact that her two female leads Salerno and Gainsbourg give absolutely masterful performances lift Argento’s work from a painting to a masterpiece.