Cinema Review: Misunderstood | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, May 23rd, 2024  


Studio: IFC Films
Directed by Asia Argento

Sep 24, 2015 Web Exclusive
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The first thing we learn about nine-year-old Aria is that she wants a kitten. In voiceover, just after the credits, she tells us she will name him Dac. But once the curtain rises on the realities of her home life, the impotence of this simple little wish becomes all too clear. Her parents either ignore each other or hurl insults across the dinner table, unconcerned about the effect it may have on their three daughters sitting between them. They are in no position to provide for these kids and can’t pay attention to their youngest long enough to know that she wants a kitten, let alone help her take in and care for one. As the failing marriage quickly dissolves, neither parent is interested in bearing the responsibility of raising Aria. Instead, she shuttles herself back and forth across Rome between her parents’ apartments. Dac is a pipe dream unless she takes matters into her own hands.

The high drama between Aria’s parents is written like a soap opera. Charlotte Gainsbourg and Gabriel Garko resemble archetypes of unhappy spouses, spouting unsubtle and uncreative abuses at anyone who gets too close. Not quite campy but certainly not naturalistic, director Asia Argento’s unique brand of hip flamboyance (well suited for the 1980s setting) permeates the edges of Aria’s existence. Her older sister’s room is so neon pink it almost glows, and her mom seems to be perpetually planted in front of a vanity draped with scarves like a gypsy or a witch, painting her face as she prepares to seduce her next suitor.

But Aria is not of this conspicuously feminine world. When she cuts her hair off to be more similar to her best friend her father is furious, but she looks adorable. In her Chuck Taylors, a giant punk t-shirt, and a tutu, fourteen-year-old Giulia Salerno captivates with her portrayal of this scrappy nine-year-old tomboy determined not to fit in and to maintain her wide-eyed sensitivity, even when faced with unbearable harassment everywhere she turns.

If not for Salerno’s incredible performance in the lead role, Misunderstood would struggle. Too many clichés and obvious metaphors abound. Salerno’s interpretation of this neglected little soul is so effective, her plight to be nurtured so humble, that the clumsily-written histrionics swirling around her barely register. Even in the final act – when suddenly her realities become even more exaggerated, evolving into heightened fantasy and nightmare – Aria, chin held high, grounds the action. In the end, Argento’s vision fully unhinges, abandoning all restraint to culminate with a final, shocking tragedy to this frustratingly uneven but beautiful film.

Author rating: 6.5/10

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