It’s not often that a director gets up on stage before their film’s screening, but in this case, the audience patiently withstood the fifteen minute delay to await Asia Argento’s brief introduction to her newest feature film, Misunderstood. Clad in all black and sporting a pixie cut, Argento is the embodiment of a true badass. She took the stage with both grace and authority and offered up a simple Hawaiian prayer for the inner child: “I love you. I am sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.”
After thunderous applause, the lights dimmed. On our way to the theater, the friend who accompanied me to the screening told me that, in a review he read, Misunderstood was described as ‘narcissistic , boring and childish.’
“That’s why I don’t read reviews before I see films.” I told him. Why cloud my own judgment with others’ opinions? But it was too late. I heard the words and they registered, and my expectations automatically lowered just a tad. Perhaps that is why I was so pleasantly surprised by the two hours that followed.
Nine-year-old protagonist, Aria (Giulia Salerno), is the daughter of a famous actor (Gabriel Garko) and a concert pianist (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Both have older daughters who they favor from previous relationships, and it is clear from the get go that they hate each other’s guts. It is also clear that Aria worships them, and is starving for positive attention – she gets plenty of negative attention as the family scapegoat.
When her parents call it quits, Aria is bounced back and forth between their homes as it suits their egomaniacal needs, and often thrown into situations that are wildly inappropriate for a child of her age. Despite being forced to hold court with adults in her home life and sometimes wander the streets when neither parent finds it convenient to house her, the parts of the story that unfold in her word at school – shenanigans with her BFF and a breath-stopping crush on the skateboard-wielding new kid – allow us to see her for the child that she is.
Despite an outstanding performance by Gainsbourg as the sexually-charged ‘Madre’, by Garko as the comically self-obsessed ‘Padre’, and a great supporting turn by rocker Justin Pearson, there’s not a moment in the film where young actress Giulia Salerno steps out of center stage. Her performance had me incredibly invested in Aria’s welfare – I could feel her dejection in my gut and her small triumphs made my heart sing.
Misunderstood is not a seamless film. There were several scenes that could have gotten to the point more quickly, and there were a few scenes that make me profoundly uncomfortable. I don’t mind feeling uncomfortable while watching a film – in fact, I usually equate that with well developed characters. However, I don’t like to be manipulated into feeling uncomfortable for the sake of being uncomfortable, especially if it doesn’t serve the plot. That said, my overall impression of the film was positive, and its overall message was moving.
Perhaps there were some moments in the film that were childish. But shouldn’t there be? After all, the central character is A CHILD, and I believe Argento intended for her parents to be too childish, themselves, to properly parent. And, yeah, maybe the film could’ve been about fifteen minutes shorter, but I was never actually bored. As for narcissistic, well, who better qualified to explore the effects of fame on a family than someone who was raised in a famous family herself?
I might have raised my hand during the Q&A with Argento had another audience member not asked the exact question that I had in mind: ‘Was this autobiograhical?’ Argento, who is the child of actress Daria Nicolodi and legendary horror filmmaker Dario Argento, deflected the question with sarcasm delivered in a DeNiro-esque voice, “Who, me? My Life? Whaddya mean?”
When asked about how she saw Aria’s future, whether she was worried that this traumatic childhood would translate into a troubled adulthood, Argento scoffed. “I’m not worried about Aria. Aria’s a warrior. She’ll be just fine.” If this film is, in fact, autobiographical, and Asia Argento’s own bright career and her ability to throw some proper f-bombs during a Q&A is any reflection – then, yeah, Aria will be just fine.