Review: Misunderstood (Incompresa)

I was fortunate enough such that the stars aligned and I was able to attend a New York Film Festival screening of Asia Argento’s latest feature-length directorial effort: Misunderstood (the original Italian title being Incompresa). Asia as a director came to my attention with the release of The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, a film that was among my favorites of 2006 and of the past decade. It’s hard to remember which came first but there was a rather fortuitous symbiosis of my discovering both her work on/off the screen and that of her father internationally renowned Italian horror and giallo director Dario Argento.

In certain ways there are parallels between her latest effort and The Heart is Deceitful… in terms of visual motifs and story tropes. However, the main difference is one of intended tonality. With the prior film it’s a much starker, more harrowing journey for a mother, but mainly her child. Whereas here while there are some serious, heavy growing-pains dealt with there is also a lot of humor, warmth, sensitivity and joie de vivre. The reason for this is that there is each of these past two films and honest understanding of intention of how emotion and mood could be evoked. Whereas before Argento’s eye was the lens through which she refracted J.T. Leroy’s then-purported-to-be-true memoir, here she turns her sensibilities towards a story of her own making.

There has and can be much discussion of how much of this film is autobiographical with protagonist, Aria (Asia’s birth name), being the daughter of a famous father and other things. However, regardless of that she is the auteur of this oeuvre directing and co-writing the script and the music. It’s her vision and the truth she finds in this story is a universal one. For nine-year old Aria (Giulia Salerno) there are many rites of passage, both large and small, that occur in this film. As idiosyncratic as her family is, as caricatured as her parents are, there is still a kernel of truth at the core of the film that allows it to speak to you whether you’re Italian, American or Chinese; man or woman; straight, gay or otherwise; fairly young or old.

The characters’ foibles is also where her directorial sleight of hand comes into play. The film is told from Aria’s perspective and when it does slip into flights of fancy it doesn’t blare it from the mountaintops but allows it to wash over you fluidly and then for you to realize what had occurred. The key to this film keeping its feet on the ground while reaching up is that at her core Aria doesn’t seek changes or make ultimatums she merely wants to be loved and essentially accepts everyone as they are warts and all.

Misunderstood (2014, Orange Films)

Due to the fact that this was a festival screening we were treated to a Q & A after the fact and one of the many insightful answers Miss Argento gave were about the young star of the film, Giulia Salerno. Asia having been a young actor herself, having children, and also teaching acting to children has a keen eye not only for talent but for kids who she says “are pushed into and kids who want it [acting].” Salerno is type who wants to act and it shows in her performance as she effortlessly communicates emotion, is engaging and charismatic.

A testament to the way this film moves and structures itself in small, somewhat isolated sequences that form a coherent whole allow characters whom are typically over-the-top-types; Mom, a party girl who refuses to settle down in an adult relationship (Very convincingly portrayed in a bilingual performance by Charlotte Gainsbourg), and Dad, a short-tempered, superstitious, vain actor (Engagingly brought to life by Gabriel Garko), to have moments and to let down their façade and be more human. Argento also did well in crafting the script and picking actors who could emote beyond merely the text and convey their characters through action.

The thread that really holds this film together is the music, which seamlessly blends obscure source music from the period (1984), scoring and new songs fashioned to emulate the mid-‘80s sound. It gives the proper emotional tenor as well as transitioning the story between scenes and sequences. It’s one of the rare cases of the music being used in all possible ways to enhance the whole of the film.

Misunderstood
is refreshing inasmuch as its a coming-of-age tale that does not focus solely on one rite. It’s a slice of life for Aria’s character with many of the usual concerns: schools, friends, first crushes and the like, as well as some other concerns conveyed in somewhat more unorthodox circumstances such as her relationship with her siblings with the spiritual world and more. It’s a film that wants you to laugh along with it as it’s trying to strike that universal chord that rings true to all regardless of circumstances. Misunderstood is aptly named very ably portraying not only its protagonist’s being misunderstood but also understanding her at a deep, fundamental level and conveying her story clearly.

8/10

Bad Movies I Love (Part Two of Four)

This is yet another post that has been inspired by Bob Freelander and his wonderful blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks. Check it out, if you haven’t already.

I’ve ruminated on this list long enough I believe. In the spirit of my recent post about lists not really being finished, I’ll just go with what I have at my disposal currently and spitball it. For the mutual convenience of myself and whomever may read this, I will split the list into four posts.

Now, I did, as most who have compiled this list recently, have to examine what makes a movie both bad and one I can enjoy because of that. There were a few different directions I could’ve gone with this list. I could’ve picked some films universally considered to be bad that I like and I don’t care who knows it (A few of those can be found here). I could’ve picked the rare film that’s so bad that it’s good, which in my mind are few and far between, and I won’t argue if you believe there’s no such thing.

What I decided to do instead was to pick movies that I find to be bad, however, that I still enjoy certain things about them (badness included), and in many cases I have given them more than one viewing due to their uniquely awesome awfulness.

Now, without much further ado, my selections:

Demons 2 (1986)

In one a screenwriting course I took, one exercise we did was to read our short scripts aloud, this was done so we could simultaneously share knowledge and offer each other constructive comments. A script I wrote reminded a classmate of mine of Demons. At the time I had not seen Demons, so the only responsible action I could take was to see it ASAP. I loved it. My short and it shared similarities, but were also different enough.

Eventually curiosity got the better of me and I just had to see Demons 2. The film is directed by Lamberto Bava, co-written by Dario Argento, features one of the first screen appearances by Asia Argento and more of the freaky demons. What ends up not working is the film shifts away from the movie theater setting. However, being an Italian horror film, it will be stylish, bloody and at times bizarre and at others nonsensical, which makes it engaging, if not quality.

The Church (1989)

One not-so-good but watchable Italian horror film deserves another. This film has a lot of the same pedigree that Demons 2 has and a lot of the same issues: Argento has a writing credit, Asia makes an appearance, one of its alternate titles is Demons 3, it has a really good idea that doesn’t quite click and I really want it to. I’ve seen this one a few times, I’ve even listened to the score in isolation and I like that. There’s a draw to it that’s brought me back a few times, perhaps with this one more so than the prior choice, it really is the unfulfilled promise that’s been the reason.

Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveller (1988)

There will be another film that makes this list based in part on the audaciousness of its conception. However, I do have to admit that this one handles the execution of its outlandish concept better than the one to come.

As the title implies, in the world of this film you can literally travel by stamp. Now, as a concept that’s something you’re going to either buy or you won’t. The film has its heart in the right place through a lot of it (Such that I almost feel bad including it), it’s just really misguided much of the time, and the caper of bringing back someone lost via ‘stamp travel’ takes a bit away from it I feel. The acting’s not great, nor is the writing, but there is a boldness to the concept.

Also, as a bit of trivia, the film also features a cameo by a young Rufus Wainwright who sings a very catchy song, which is one of the redeeming qualities of the film, another one which becomes obvious as you watch the clip is how incredibly ’80s this film is.

Uncle Sam (1996)

Perhaps one of the best ways to determine a bad movie you love is to gauge just how mixed your feelings on the film are. There are films written by Larry Cohen such as It’s Alive, The Stuff, Q: The Winged Serpent that I would say I love. This one I can’t really defend as staunchly but there are things about it that I do appreciate. Namely, it incorporates militaristic zeal in a horror film in a way I’ve rarely seen. Not only that but note the release date, there was no unpopular or costly (in terms of American casualties) war going on at that time, so there’s a certain gutsiness in telling this kind of tale when dissenting opinions are fairly quiet. The film does end up being sloppy and a bit slow, there’s no Michael Moriarty in it to up the caliber of the cast, but the satire is definitely there which makes it worth mentioning.

The Space Children (1958)

This is a case of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in reverse. Here’s one I saw first and then found an MST3K for, which I don’t do often. I was on kind of on the fence after I saw it and while I can’t ultimately say it’s a quality piece of work, as logic and reason vanish somewhere in the middle of act two, there are things about it I do like. As for the MST3K treatment it’s funny, not one of their best and this is nowhere near one of the legendary duds they’ve covered; in many of the films they watch it’s hard to even ferret out what the plot is supposed to be. Here there are issues but the plot is clear. The tropes of a hivemind amongst children, and some form of other-worldy radiation or possession, are not new but they’re also not the biggest problem. The film is actually consistently interesting, it just emotionally flatlines after a while, which is a cardinal sin, especially when any atomic age sci-fi tale is likely to hook me based on its implications. Michel Ray’s turn as the ringleader is also quite effective.

Part three will be up tomorrow!