Naked Ambition


Asia Argento’s Scarlet Diva is not what you’d expect of a writing-directing debut by an internationally adored movie starlet, but it’s exactly the feverish spew you might anticipate from Dario’s daughter: indulgent, masochistic, brave, and go-for-broke. Indeed, having starred in several of her father’s iron maidens, the brooding, swollen-eyed Argento may be world cinema’s premier gamine victim, but now she’s become her own persecutrix. Scarlet Diva is ’60s-style lurid-and-cool, executed with unmistakable need. The movie’s seemingly artless title corresponds to its triple-threat self-flagellation, an organic spectacle of subjective ordeal in which the 26-year-old star splays herself across the bloodied altar of international show business and fame-privilege backdraft.

Argento stars in a largely unveiled self-portrait as Anna Battista, young Italian model, award-winning actress, and all-around lost girl. She scores hash in a slum alley, globe-trots for the sake of pointless meetings or irritating interviews, wanders into disaffected sexual episodes (she’s getting backdoored in her trailer when we first meet her), nearly gets raped too many times to count (the assholes include a bestial American producer and—only in Italy!—grope-happy fans in a coffee shop), ODs on Special K during a photo shoot, falls in obsessive at-first-sight love with a distracted American guitarist, and so on. Argento shoots her girl’s anti-journey in unpredictable handheld spasms, and the extraordinary lapses in taste balance out the original moments of intimacy. (An entrancing sequence in which the fully nude and very unhappy Anna shaves her armpits, cigarette dangling from her mouth, may qualify as both.)

The achieved tone is both farcical and self-destructive. However generally autobiographical the film is, the detailed excursions into absurdity seem too arbitrary to be pure fiction, particularly when Anna rescues a battered girlfriend left hog-tied and mouth-balled for days, and when a mysterious double-D temptress appears at Anna’s door, alludes to a sexual encounter that never happened, and humps the bedraggled girl on the couch. Scarlet Diva‘s primary whipping post is the movie industry in all of its soulless demands and sexual Darwinism. Anna longs to disembark from the media roller coaster long enough to write and direct the film we’re watching, if she doesn’t have a complete meltdown first.

When twentysomething hotsies make movies about their lives, hard-driving narcissism is a given, but what a world we’d live in if Argento’s Hollywood counterparts—say, Sarah Michelle Gellar, or even Christina Ricci—had this much imagination and nerve. Few of them, at any rate, have Argento’s reserves of lonesome passion and unspigoted woe.

Those reserves are safely untapped for Argento’s blowup-doll role in XXX, a new spy-thriller franchise bid starring Vin Diesel as an antisocial extreme-sports megalith recruited by the National Security Agency for Euro-espionage. Plotted like a first-person shooter but with vast savannahs of unidimensional exposition between the tar-oil fireballs and improbable stunts, Rob Cohen’s movie is at least irreverent enough to maintain that skateboarding skills and tattoos are all a spook needs to triumph over post-Communist Evil. The MacGuffin comes down to rote anarchists angling to start WWIII via a biochemical-dispensing submarine—launched in landlocked Prague, yet. Still, XXX isn’t nearly cheesy enough, a musical nod to The Third Man and a strategically initiated avalanche notwithstanding; Diesel himself has the personality of a golem and a knack for dialogue delivery that suggests recent oral surgery. Action is the proto-genre’s axiom, of course, and Cohen handles the motorcycle leaps and gunspray with a dexterity evocative of The A-Team.

Jill Morley’s self-involved, amateurish, and unoriginal doc Stripped ostensibly delves into the lives of gentlemen’s-club dancers, but it’s a facile muddle in which Morley (a stripper herself for a few years) encourages her empty-pocketed roommate to join the club of aging, balloon-titted, self-deceiving princesses, while the strippers interviewed are nearly all convinced that the job is destroying their lives. (The roommate heroically opts out.) Morley’s climactic trump card is too grim for the rest of the film: One of the subjects went into a coma after a plastic-surgery cock-up, and another (writer Susan Walsh, who bylined a few sex-trade articles for the Voice) has been missing for more than four years. Coy and insight-free, Stripped skirts real misery (for example, nobody’s addicted) and fails to project the milieu’s allure.

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Fever Pitch: Asia Argento Branches Out in the Family Business” by Jane Dark