For her first directorial effort, Asia Argento has chosen to give us a reasonably close approximation of her tumultuous life, in which we see a young starlet named Anna (Argento) endure the pitfalls of fame, an excessive lifestyle, and the string of events that "rescue" her from herself. The funny thing is, the pitfalls don't seem all that bad, her excessive life looks pretty darn fun, and what she deems a rescue comes off as more of a act of unbridled selfishness and spite. As a matter of fact, after watching Scarlet Diva a couple of times I found myself sort of disliking "Anna", and, in turn, Argento herself. This review is based on watching the film three times. Once while drunk (yay!), once while sober with commentary, and once while sober and bordering on unconsciousness without the commentary. With each viewing I found myself progressively less impressed.
Scarlet Diva (which is also the title of an American film in which Anna is determined to star) follows the young Italian superstar as she jumps from bed to bed, drug to drug, and film to film, all the while aching inside for something more. That something comes in the guise of an American rock star, Kirk Vaines (Shepard) who takes a shine to Anna at a concert, and shows her what "real love" feels like. Anna becomes confused and retreats into her old world for a fashion until she realizes that she is pregnant with Jean's child, and, for the life inside her, she resolves to get her own life back on track. Essentially this is a story that could have been told in five minutes, but, with such a profane sense of self-importance, Argento manages to stretch it out to just over an hour and a half by filling the dead time with music video style montages, poisonous attempts at humor, and a good dose of clumsily orchestrated (and, according to Argento, in many cases non-simulated) soft-core porn. While the porn is a definite selling point, the rest of the film can't keep it....err...up.
Argento's film feels like a video diary made to make her feel better about herself; an argument she validates with an introduction for the film, telling us "it's a good movie" and how it "saved" her life. I am happy that she did something cathartic, but why share it with us as her debut feature? I mean, it seems rather presumptuous to think that a relatively small slice of her own life would make for an interesting film, let alone her FIRST film. C'mon Asia, live a little longer, achieve a little more, and then, maybe, just maybe, we'll give a shit. For now, all you've shown us is that you're an impulsive chick with bad judgment, famous parents and a lot of money. Sure, we see scenes of Anna getting fondled on the casting couch, passing out drunk or on drugs, and screwing strangers, but are these the perils of fame or the thumb to the nose attitude of a spoiled child whose parent's careers deprived her of the attention she so brazenly seeks now? It's not that I'm not intrigued by what makes a person like Asia Argento tick, it's just that once you open the hood and take a look underneath, it's the same engine that putters inside us all. She takes because she wants. She eats because she's hungry. She fucks because she's horny. It's no great revelation, just human behavior amplified by her stature and family's legacy. Were it not for the film's of her father I wouldn't have a clue as to who Asia Argento was, so forgive me if I'm not impressed by her resume or the accolades which befell her in her native Italy. If I hadn't seen her in Trauma a few years ago she'd be as indistinguishable to me as any number of middling actresses from late night Spanish soap operas. Would I want to see a life story about them? Absolutely not. And since this story goes out of its way to avoid any mention of her father (or Anna's, for argument's sake) half of what makes her interesting to me is simply not there. Sure, we get flashbacks of little Anna, but these bits are thrown in haphazardly in an effort to add some credibility as to why Anna is who she is. The problem is, she's boring as fucking hell! I know dozens of people who have used drugs, slept around, and then woke up one day to the epiphany that they had better clean up their act. It makes a great story while playing cards or waiting at the drive-thru at Taco Bell, but as a film it's long winded and masturbatory. Granted the people I know haven't had the luxury to take it to the extremes of Argento, but that is precisely why I find this film so offensive. It's as if she is preaching down to the plebians that it's no bed of roses being beautiful, famous, and wealthy, and we should all be thankful she's there to live that awful life for us.
While I disliked the film as a whole, there were a couple of bright spots. The first is the film's soundtrack, which is an intoxicating blend of techno, trip-hop, Italian standards, and a sparse, experimental score by John Hughes. The second is the fact that Argento does show some promise as a director, with a keen visual style that is most effective when combined with Hughes wonderful music. With the exception of bold use of color, Argento avoids many of the trademarks of her father's style, and more closely mirrors the loose, down and dirty semi-cinema vérité techniques of Abel Ferrara. This approach compliments the film's digital video origins, and heightens the sensation that this is a voyeuristic peek into Anna/Asia's private world. Sadly, the peek is more akin to craning your neck from a car window to ogle an accident on the roadside.
The DVD from Media Blasters presents the film in a widescreen transfer that looks very sharp and clean, and the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is superb. The commentary by Argento is a little difficult to comprehend at times, but she does offer a great deal of insight into what it was she was trying to accomplish with this film (and also reveals a tremendous dislike for actors, something she seems to share with her father!). Other extras include an interview with Argento, stills gallery and the theatrical trailer. I'm sure Asia's legions of fans will make the film a big hit for Media Blasters, but I can't see how anyone who isn't already familiar with the actress will find much to keep them entertained beyond the obviously enticing nudity and sex.
Scarlet Diva is a film that shows signs of future promise for Argento as an auteur, but, here in the present, it's little more than a self-serving temper tantrum caught on tape.