Coming of age in a broken home has rarely looked better than it does in Asia Argento’s Misunderstood. The co-writer/director’s images have a faint glow about them, like memories recalled more fondly than they perhaps deserve, and the narrative is similarly (if also less pleasingly) inchoate.
Not yet ten years old, Aria is keenly aware of the world around her but helpless to do much about her parents’ failing marriage in Rome circa the 1980s. Being something of an outsider among her own family without fully understanding the implications thereof grants her a certain ignorant bliss; as with most children hungry for parental approval, her reaction to displeasing them with a new haircut or other perceived transgressions is to wonder what’s wrong with her rather than what’s wrong with them.
Respite, when it comes, arrives in the form of hazy montages and groovy dance numbers, which are where Argento’s skills shine brightest — her approach is more conducive to image-making than storytelling.
More remarkable is the central performance by Giulia Salerno, whose scenes with Charlotte Gainsbourg (as her mother) in particular feel painfully authentic. Both Aria and the film as a whole are very much in their own head, which is a nice place to visit but probably not the healthiest environment to grow up in.
Directed by Asia Argento
Opens September 25, IFC Center