Scarlet Diva

2000, Movie, NR, 91 mins

Review

SCARLET DIVA
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Actress-turned-writer/director Asia Argento's angry, outspoken, semi-autobiographical rant of a film is strident and occasionally juvenile, but it packs an undeniable wallop. Twenty-four-year-old Italian starlet Anna Battista (Argento) is a hot commodity, but she's headed for an emotional meltdown. Awards and adulation do nothing to assuage her feeling that acting is hollow and futile, so Anna mouths off to journalists, has joyless sex with a string of men and women, scores drugs in sleazy neighborhoods and nearly drowns in a pool after recklessly snorting a line of Special-K during a fashion shoot. Her self-destructiveness is driven by a single-minded determination, as maddening as it is absolute, to follow every impulse to its ultimate conclusion, and her restless search for meaning fuels a fruitless odyssey from Rome to Paris, London, Locarno, Amsterdam and Los Angeles. She's tormented by memories of her junkie mother (Daria Nicolodi, Argento's real-life mother), who OD'd when Anna was a child, and embroiled in a one-sided affair with touring rocker Kirk Vaines (Jean Shepard), who leaves her pregnant and alone. Anna's desperate to get her debut directing project, "Scarlet Diva," off the ground, but no one takes her ambitions seriously; sleazy producer Mr. Paar (apocalyptic painter Joe Coleman) feigns interest only long enough to make a spectacularly crude pass. Beneath the film's obvious determination to shock at any cost lies considerable skill and determination, backed by sheer nerve — few people would willingly, let alone enthusiastically, portray themselves in such an unflattering light. And while the film's overall aesthetic is harsh and deglamorized, Anna's K-fueled bum trip — which begins at the pool shoot and ends with a hallucinatory freak-out in a bathroom mirror — is a stylish mini-horror film of nightmarish proportions. The daughter of Italian horror director Dario Argento, Asia Argento began acting as a 9-year-old and had appeared in more than a dozen films (including three for her father) when she directed her debut feature, which is intertwined with her first book, I Love You Kirk (1999), a bilingual novel in the form of poems, pictures and diary-like jottings. More reminiscent of the films of down-and-dirty New York director Abel Ferrara (she co-starred in his notoriously troubled NEW ROSE HOTEL), than her father's exercises in lushly imagined horror, Argento's feature has a brash, punk sensibility that's all her own. (In English and Italian with English subtitles.) leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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