Friday, March 1, 2013


I don't know if I actually like Asia Argento's semi-autobiographical feature film debut but it is intriguing to say the least. I do give her respect for working triple duty as director, writer & actress but this film has quite a few problems. On one hand Scarlet Diva comes off like that wasted guy or girl at a house party that keeps spewing out all their personal problems to people they hardly know just to get attention. On the other hand it’s entertaining and sometimes clever. Not only is it filled with good ol' fashion sex, drugs & rock n' roll and inside references to the movie industry, but there's also a funny jab at Vincent Gallo (Argento's ex) which you might miss if you blink. I guess part of me likes certain aspects of Scarlet Diva because it comes from the same school as other personal/autobiographical rarely seen underrated films shot in the same digital handheld style like; Ivan's XTC & Kreutzer Sonata (both directed by Bernard Rose of Candyman fame) as well as Ellie Parker (essentially a comedic Mulholland Drive that coincidentally stars Naomi Watts and a few other actors from the Mulholland Drive cast). All the aforementioned films, along with Scarlet Diva, deal with broken dreams, redemption, the dark side of the entertainment business, talented artists spiraling out of control, etc.

Much like how Ivan's XTC is loosely based on the real life of former movie agent: Jay Moloney, Scarlet Diva takes us inside the life of a semi fictitious actress based on Asia Argento. Scarlet Diva & Ivan's XTC, both released in the same year, also happen to be two of the earliest digitally shot features. Personal films shot in an experimental style can be a gamble because if you aren't careful you end up laying out all your inner chaotic turmoil on the table for people to either quickly dismiss as silly or to laugh at. There’s nothing worse than sharing an intimate part of yourself only to have people not take it seriously. Scarlet Diva was a bomb upon its release but part of me feels like no one gave it a chance because it came from someone who was not only an international sex symbol (in the art house world at least) but Asia Argento is also the daughter of one of the most famous cult directors of all time (Dario Argento for those that don't know) and the film is nothing like her father's work. 2nd generation filmmakers are often unfairly judged based on the legacy their parents left behind (Nick Cassavetes, Roman Coppola, Asia Argento etc). There always seems to be this expectation that they’ll make the same kinds of films as their parents and when they don’t deliver on those unfair expectations they get negative press.

Today Asia Argento has set her own path in the movie industry working with the likes of Olivier Assayas, Gus Van Sant & Abel Ferrara. But in the late 90's I imagine it was tough to make a name for herself as a director given she wasnt in to making horror/giallo films like her father (which is actually part of what Scarlett Diva is about). Making Scarlet Diva was probably like therapy for Asia. It almost doesn’t matter whether it’s "good" or "bad" just as long as she works out her demons (it's good). It’s like when a therapist asks a patient to draw a picture or hit a pillow. The act of hitting a pillow or drawing a messy scribbly picture to let out ones frustrations may seem silly to some but for others it’s a way to vent or let off steam. Scarlet Diva is definitely like that messy child's drawing done in a therapy session but there's still a lot of important information & insight in those drawings messy or not.

In the film Asia plays "Anna Batista" - a drug addicted, sex addicted actress who's jaded with the movie biz and sliding down a slippery slope of destruction. She plans to retire from acting soon to become a director yet no one takes her seriously. She tries to pitch her movie ideas to her agent and other film producers but all they see in her is a sex symbol. Throughout the film she has to fight off sexual advances (sometimes attempted rape) from sleazy movie producers, coke dealers and random fans that can’t seem to disassociate her from the sexy persona she displays on the big screen. In one scene she’s harassed by two male fans that can’t respect her personal space and end up literally chasing after her in the street. In between trying to make her dream of becoming a director a reality, she goes through the motions of promoting the latest film she’s acted in, coke binges, random hook-ups with strangers, nearly overdosing, trying to maintain her sanity and preparing for another film she’s scheduled to act in. Reality finally sets in when Ana discovers she’s a few months pregnant. Now she has to track down the father (she has a pretty good idea of who it is) and get her life in order. Anna receiving the news of her pregnancy is just like the moment in Ivan’s XTC when Danny Huston finds out he has lung cancer. Both Anna & Ivan get life changing news that does nothing to change their destructive ways of life. Ivan continues to do drugs until he overdoses and Anna continues to do drugs and live fast months in to her pregnancy until she finally slows down.

Scarlet Diva has a spiritual connection to Lost In Translation as well. Both films, directed by 2nd generation female directors, are about depressing & existential periods in Argento & Coppola's lives. The difference is Coppola took a more subtle route whereas Argento went all out balls to the wall (imagine Lost In Translation on speed). Asia Argento managed to keep her father's name out of the film as to not ride his coattails but it’s still very much a family affair as it was produced by Dario & Claudio Argento (her uncle) with a cameo from her mother.

My biggest gripe with Scarlet Diva is that I wanted it to be longer (I guess that's a good criticism). Asia Argento has never held her tongue about her strained relationship with her father and the movie business as a whole (especially after this movie came out). Growing up in front of the camera under the shadow of a famous director father whose attention you never got when you needed it isn't exactly the easiest thing to deal with. Somehow Asia manages to cram all of that in over 80 minutes without things feeling too rushed.

Scarlet Diva is worth checking out especially for those interested in digital cinematography (this is one of those early digital films that never gets the recognition it deserves) and the filmmaking style of Abel Ferrara more than likely had a subconscious influence on Argento's work (Argento worked with Ferrara a few years prior on New Rose Hotel).


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