Scarlet Diva
review by Gregory Avery, 6 September 2002

She can't even stop to get a cuppa coffee! In the volcanic Scarlet Diva, Asia Argento plays Anna Battista, an international star who, at one moment, is picking up an award for Best Actress (the Amarpolo d'or), the next she's fleeing from the attentions of an ardent producer who lures her up to his hotel suite and ends up chasing her down the hallway wearing only his boots (He's American, you know). In between, she stops to get that much-needed first cup of coffee in the morning, first sip, then -- "Aye-e-e! Anna Battista! -- "Two guys, on both sides of her, snapshot, autograph, snapshot, how about those tattoos of her's? She says they're fakes, then, "ciao, ragazzi," out the door, into the car, speeding down the road like a hunted animal. "Where's she going?" one of the two men asks.

In Locarno, she's interviewed by a man (Paolo Bonacelli) who, at one point, asks if he can hug her, on-camera, and he presses his aged flesh as close as he can to the young star. In Paris, she stops by to visit her friend Veronica (Vera Gemma), only to find that she's been tied up and left alone in her apartment by her sadistic boyfriend -- Veronica tries to rationalize this horror like crazy, while Anna replies that she should stop acting like those "American housewives" who "get beaten up and don't rat on their men." In Los Angeles, she shows up to do tests for a movie, "Cleopatra's Death" -- where she's supposed to be co-starring with Robert De Niro, and directed by Gus Van Sant -- only to find it's all phoney-baloney and she walks off and ends up at an IHOP with a friend. She also does a fashion shoot for "Vogue," posing in an indoor pool, only someone gives her a snort of "Special-K" (the animal tranquilizer, not the cereal) and she almost drowns. Back in Rome, a girl walks into her apartment as if she knows the place, claims she and Anna know each other from before, and then hops on top of the bewildered actress. Anna also gets a call from her doctor, informing her she's pregnant, then, in the next breath, he asks, "What do we do now? Another abortion?"

Anna is tough (she's made 20 films in 20 years), worldly (she speaks Italian, French, English, and -- in one scene where she scores some drugs off a dealer played by rap musician Schoolly-D, street argot), and, it turns out, she's looking for love, the real, solid-gold-plated kind. Anna falls in love-at-first-sight with Kirk (Jean Shepard), a musician from Australia with disheveled hair who sings, in a neo-Jim Morrison sound, fashionably alienated songs like "Disillusionness Forever" ("Your cage is painted picket-fence white...."). She and Kirk get together briefly, but it's obvious to us that he's only interested in having a casual encounter, and Anna, who's not above having an occasional ka-bing-ka-bang-ka-boom herself (as the film's opening scene demonstrates), hasn't seemed to have fully figured out the rules to this, yet.

Asia Argento, who currently appears opposite Vin Diesel in the action flick XXX, made 17 films in 12 years prior to writing and directing Scarlet Diva; she played two lead roles in films made by her father, the suspense maestro Dario Argento, who co-produced Diva, and cast her real-life mother, actress Daria Nicolodi, to play Anna's mother in the film, who in flashbacks is seen scolding the young girl and raising her to feel shameful about herself. (Nicolodi had guts to take this role, considering the obvious conclusions most audiences would leap to.) Asia films the scenes between Anna and Kirk so that they have a dank, humid, hot-breathed quality to them, and the oily blacks and colorless brights the digital cinematography lend to her make Anna sometimes look as if she were a vampire crawling out of her crypt.

But Scarlet Diva -- a movie I expected to be perfectly demented from the advance word I'd heard about it -- isn't some self-pitying vanity project, or a movie that's just content with having a good roll around in the gutter. It doesn't shy away from the seamier aspects of Anna's whirlwind life (Argento has teasingly hinted that some of the sex in the film isn't simulated, because she wanted to capture how people's faces really looked while they were in the midst of copulation), but it also gets some genuine human emotions into the proceedings. Argento records Anna's carousel existence as a media celebrity, but she doesn't whine about it or beg for our sympathy: this is what Anna chose, and if she wanted to become a convenience store clerk, she most certainly would. The movie is essentially the story of a girl who thinks she's strong but isn't quite there, yet, which is why she pushes her life and herself to such punishing extremes.

Argento also knows what she's doing in directing the film -- the picture is fast, but focused, and sometimes uproariously funny, the only real flaw being it's open, rather frustratingly ambiguous ending (a problem with some of her father Dario's pictures, as well) -- Argento has suggested, in one interview, that the key to the film's ending is the religious icon that Anna sees, not the mysterious, backlit male figure who faces her. Scarlet Diva also has the best performance I've seen Asia Argento give since she appeared in Patrice Chereau's 1994 Queen Margot. (There's this terrific moment, at the beginning of Scarlet Diva, where you see Argento's Anna in the back of a closed care, looking out the window, looking at us, and you see how totally off-guard she feels, and you feel how she must feel at that particular moment.) She might be able to make some significant films if she can slow down a bit -- making one film at full tilt is one thing, making three or four the same way is another. In Scarlet Diva, Argento shows a penchant for fearless, yet rigorous, insight, a brave quality that could result in some film work that would stand up on its own very well while giving her the last laugh over any detractors.

Written and
Directed by:

Asia Argento

Starring:
Asia Argento
Jean Shepard
Vera Gemma
Schoolly-D
Paolo Bonacelli
Daria Nicolodi

Rating:
NR - Not Rated.
This film has not yet
been rated.

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