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.

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.


Review- Alabama Moon

Uriah Shelton, Jimmy Bennett and Gabriel Basso in Alabama Moon (Faulkner-McLean Entertainment)

Alabama Moon is a film whose road to distribution was a long and winding one. In fact, it’s eventual home video release (which is how I ended up seeing it) was delayed because it finally got a limited regional release in the Gulf states, mainly Alabama (naturally). It’s worth noting that this model is not unusual. The straight-to-video release isn’t as profitable as it once was, and for some reason just as maligned even in this Streaming Age, so limited releases will act as a springboard for DVD sales.

Alabama Moon tells the tale of young Moon Blake, a boy who is raised in the woods by an eccentric father who is wary of both modernity and the government. Very early on, and rendered rather dramatically, Moon loses his father and much of the film will deal with how Moon tries to cope on his own, while trying to avoid authorities like a bumbling quasi-humorous cop played by Clint Howard or the clutches of a reformatory.

The standout of the film is the performance of Jimmy Bennett, who plays Moon Blake. He was most recently JJ on No Ordinary Family but is perhaps known for playing young James T. Kirk in the Star Trek reboot. While Bennett has played in much grittier, darker and dramatic vehicles before such as Trucker and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things this may just be his best performance to date. This role demands a lot of him not just in terms of highly-charged emotional scenes but also some comedic timing is required and he needs to be a grounded normal-seeming character in the film’s goofier moments. As I tweeted immediately after watching it he basically makes it worth watching on his own and is “crazy good.”

There are other performances of note as well. Those deserving first mention are Moon’s friends played by Gabriel Basso and Uriah Shelton respectively. They play very different kinds of characters but are equally good foils because it never seems unnatural that Moon would befriend either because they both seem to reflect disparate aspects of his personality both a fighter and a quiet, solitary type.

The adult casting offers more mixed results. John Goodman’s character thankfully plays a more crucial role later in the film than it seems he will early on and is very well played. Then we come to the last key figure which is the police officer played by Clint Howard. Now merely casting Clint Howard, or that you can cast him in the part, is already an indication of how you intend to play a part. Howard can play a creepy menacing type but more often than not he’s goofy and here he’s like a mean-spirited Barney Fife only less competent.

It’s in that writing and casting decision where the die is cast that the tone of the film will be a balancing act between very serious drama in a coming-of-age vein and lighthearted borderline screwball comedy that must counterbalance one another. It is to this film’s credit that it manages to keep them both in check and make the film both light viewing and emotionally engaging at the same time and also some of that credit once again goes to the cast.

The film manages to deal with quite a few themes in a subtler than expected manner despite the variegated tone. One of the main ones being individuation from parents specifically that one can accept their parents’s faults, love them for who they are and learn from them but must eventually learn to see the the world, and interact with it, in their own way.

It may be easy to read this review and see why this film has fallen through the cracks as it’s not exactly the easiest to pigeonhole, however, I hope that in reading this review you have also found it is worth your time.

I was rather pleasantly surprised by this film and I’m very glad I tracked it down.