Execrable: Misunderstood

Misunderstood (2014)
Directed by Asia Argento
Written by Asia Argento, Barbara Alberti
Produced by Mario Gianani, Eric Heumann, Maurice Kantor, Lorenzo Mieli, Scott Derrickson, Guido De Laurentiis
Starring Giulia Salerno, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Gabriel Garko, Alice Pea, Carolina Poccioni, Anna Lou Castoldi, Justin Pearson, Andrea Pittorino, Sofia Patron, Riccardo Russo, Gianmarco Tognazzi, Max Gazzè
Of all the celebrities who annunciated #MeToo, Argento was among the most suspect; who sustains a sexual assault, then repeatedly returns to her lumpily misshapen rapist for a lustrum to improve her professional prospects? Evidently, one who lies as reflexively as ineffectively. This second pseudo-autobiographical flick by Italy’s most catastrophic fortunate daughter is less trashy but just as untruthful as her preceding features. In the putative mid-’80s, a prepubescent Roman (Salerno) suffers her classmates’ scorn and neglect of her squabbling parents — a neurotically liverish leading man (Garko) and an abusive concert pianist (Gainsbourg) fond of countercultural affectations and scummy boyfriends (Gazzè, Tognazzi, Pearson) — who both favor her senior half-sisters (Poccioni, Castoldi). As their divorce looms, the maladroit miss consorts with degenerates, plays pranks with her best friend (Pea), crushes on a prickish skateboarder (Pittorino) topped by an anachronistically stupid haircut, and does nothing to remediate her situation until a few relatively marginal embarrassments spur her first suicide attempt. Argento and Alberti can’t tell a story, so they’ve taken wild liberties while unregenerately stringing together a series of incidents that dramatize Argento’s childhood, and gawkily express the frivolous frolic, daft drama, dinky destruction, and piddling contretemps in which she pretends to languish but actually delights. Her cast do justice to their rankling roles; as grotesque caricatures of Daria Nicolodi and Dario Argento, Gainsbourg’s and Garko’s truculent spunk actualizes the fever dream heretofore confined to their daughter’s addled skull. Nicoletta Ercole’s clownishly loud costume design is every millennial’s misapprehension of day-glo garb in the ’80s; only a few cars and consumer electronics even hint at the period. Even worse, atrocious music by Argento, Pearson and collaborators, Brian Molko, The Penelopes and others maculates the soundtrack, excepting Rachmaninov’s sonata in B flat minor and Mozart’s requiem in D minor — selections as clichéd as the protagonist’s escapades. Many (if not most) Xers born to well-off families were no strangers to the parental overindulgence, negligence and occasional abuse that molded our generation’s complexion, but only from Asia’s self-absorption did these 100+ minutes of total tedium arise. Forget how her relationships (public and otherwise) have been foredone by her promiscuity, she’s publicized herself by flooding media with tirades bemoaning her dysfunction for decades, she traduced the woman whose direction realized the best role of her career, or that any objective account of her mythomania is to her a violation of “her truth,” and pity the poor, punic, pampered, privileged prostitute! She does.

Execrable: The Stendhal Syndrome

The Stendhal Syndrome (1996)
Directed by Dario Argento
Written by Graziella Magherini, Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini
Produced by Dario Argento, Giuseppe Colombo
Starring Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann, Marco Leonardi, Luigi Diberti, Paolo Bonacelli, Julien Lambroschini, John Quentin
Would that Asia were born a decade earlier, so that she might’ve starred in those last of her father’s best pictures rather than this byword of the gaucherie so individual of his latter work. Sadly, she’s cast as a Roman detective investigating a rash of rapes and murders spread from the capital to Florence, where she swoons before Bruegel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus exhibited at the Uffizi Gallery whilst suffering the titular disorder’s psychosomatic hallucinations shortly before the perpetrator (Kretschmann) she’s tracking seizes her for a vicious bout of rape and torture. His overt demise hardly slows a mounting body count, but even those most obtuse viewers who can’t prognosticate this tardy thriller’s “surprise” twist will probably be too restive for its conclusion to care. That a major motion picture helmed by an auteur whose experience spanned a quarter-century could be so amateurishly shot and cut bewilders Argento’s casual admirers and devotees alike. A few imaginative moments that recall Argento’s masterful past can’t counterpoise silly rotating shots and shabby CG, never mind cheesy dialogue that’s hammily dubbed in the mode of an anime distributed by U.S. Manga Corps — an unusually ill-advised attempt to engage Anglophone audiences, especially considering the Engish fluency of its leads, and most of the supporting players…all of whom are horrendously directed. A repetitive minacity inherent of Morricone’s score is euphoniously arranged, but the vocals of its monody are as risible as anything else heard in the soundtrack. This is the threshold of Argento’s degradation, as unfortunate for the decline of a genre innovator into a cheapjack of mozzarella as for its simultaneity to the blossom of his loveliest, most gifted offspring.

Favorites: The Last Mistress

The Last Mistress (2007)
Directed by Catherine Breillat
Written by Jules-Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly, Catherine Breillat
Produced by Jean-François Lepetit
Starring Fu’ad Aït Aattou, Asia Argento, Claude Sarraute, Roxane Mesquida, Yolande Moreau, Michael Lonsdale
A decade of shared lubricity, adoration, hardship and heartbreak bind the fates and souls of a sullenly sensual Spanish peeress (Argento) and her roué (Aattou) of passion matched who first spurns, then aggressively courts her before braving death by duel with her elderly English husband to win her hand and heart. Rived by tragedy and accompanying acrimony, their ardency seems stinted well ere his betrothal to a pristine, virtuous yet insipid noblewoman (Mesquida) with whom his devotion is reciprocal, but this renewal may not long survive a quiescent warmth for or the resolution of the foxy virago he thought he’d forsaken. Rococo costumery, hairstyling and Parisian venues of Breillat’s greatest critical and commercial success prove vivid 19th-century accoutrements to complement emotive niceties and incandescence educed from familiar players. As often before and since, she inspires treasures in redoubtable veterans and relative neophytes (as Mesquida, her most frequent favored actress) alike, but under her command, Argento’s coruscation as the fast and fickle noblewoman nearly eclipses her co-stars, consummating what may prove the role of her career — a fantastic feat that she’d never achieve under her father’s baton. One of d’Aurevilly’s most cunning ironies resides in the observations of an aged countess (Moreau) and her blasé husband (Lonsdale) who’ve acquaintance with all concerned, and whose tendencious adjudgements are more objective than any others pondered herein. Less ironic is Breillat’s sympathy for d’Aurevilly’s novel; echoing the precedent Prévost, his fascination with the full purview of a patrician woman’s pull and power in a predominately masculine society to verify the fugacity of fidelity and love’s endurance was undoubtedly irresistible to the finest living (if yet unacknowledged) feminist filmmaker.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Barry Lyndon.