A disturbing, engrossing portrait of a woman drowning in the nightmare of celebrity, SCARLET DIVA, Asia Argento’s piercing 2000 directorial debut, comes to Blu-Ray in a new, High-Def remaster from the edgy gang at Film Movement Classics.
Asia Argento, as some may know, is the talented, beautiful actress who got her start in pics directed by her father, Dario Argento – a controversial figure in his own right. With this semi-autobiographical work, she firmly cemented herself into her family’s Italian motion-picture dynasty. Aside from starring in and directing SCARLET DIVA, Argento also wrote this searing account of a young, rising star who is abused, assaulted, and notoriously on the wrong side of decision making. Her Anna Battista is damaged goods in a package of acid-soiled dynamite.
The movie, upon its original release, was deservedly acclaimed by savvy critics, but mostly trashed as an exploitative sex orgy on celluloid. Argento was even condemned by many women who couldn’t read (or see) between the cinematic lines.
From her girlhood, Anna (and possibly Asia) has been a one-extreme-to-another victim of concurrent parental neglect and/or physical and verbal abuse by a domineering harpy of a mother (it’s noteworthy to mention that this role is portrayed the actress/writer Daria Nicolodi, in actuality, Asia’s real-life mater). Anna is sexually awakened and active at a remarkably early age (as a child, she reads de Sade), but has no one to guide her into that terrible beauty known as adolescence (she even harbors carnal yearnings for her sib).
Stepping into the family business, Asia’s good looks and bad behavior open plenty of doors that lead to fame and underline what the young woman suspected: people are crap, out to use you – so use them, too. More often than not, she ends up in the gutter, but cries for help are scoffed at with a ubiquitous, “Oh, yeah, look at the poor, little rich movie star. What has she got to complain about?” A hell of a lot. Her friends are likewise victims of the meat show market, aka the European motion-picture industry. It’s worth mentioning that one of the movie’s most terrifying scenes comprises Anna trying to locate her fellow actress BFF, Veronica (Vera Gemma). Driving to her bud’s Paris apartment, she lets herself in and discovers the beaten woman, bound, gagged and left to fend for herself by a psychotic lover. This segment is verbatim an event that a mutual friend of Argento’s and Gemma’s actually experienced.
For me, however, the most frightening moment of SCARLET DIVA (and there are numerous ones) comes when Anna is recognized at a roadside diner by two male fans. The fandom prerequisite autograph and group photo are necessary celeb evils that the star generously acquiesces to. Then the two mooks blur the line between the woman and her screen persona and maul her, grope her, and attempt to rape the now-screaming actress, who manages to just barely break away to the safety of her car as the pair of angered animals shout demoralizing epithets. That Battista’s/Argento’s only instances of true peace come in her vehicle – a mini-refuge – where she sings along with a CD blaring her favorite music, provides viewers with DIVA’s few, essential catch-your-breath bits.
Of course, today the most damning and telling segment of the movie revolves around Anna being introduced to a Harvey Weinstein-esque American producer/director (Joe Coleman) at a party. She tries to promote a script she has written, comically begging the suit to get her out of Italy, where all the actresses “are bitches.” He feigns interest in the project, offers her a bullshit Cleopatra project (“De Niro as ‘Marc Antony’”) and invites Battista to take a meeting, which results in another sexual assault as the mogul deems it his right to add her to the notches on his belt.
Her doomed liaison with Kirk (Jean Shepard, with whom Argento had an affair with during the production), a lying rock singer (who’d have figured that one coming?), is yet another sad depiction of her terrible choices. This time, however, it has the most devastating effect ever on the woman’s life, leading to the jaw-dropping climax.
This movie blew me away, and genuinely works better now that women en masse have helped rip the mask off the Hollywood predators who have long preyed on them. Indeed, Asia Argento was instrumental in putting the 2006 #MeToo movement on the map in 2017, along with former pal Rose McGowan. But Asia, as the title infers, ain’t no angel (to put it mildly); like the movie, Argento’s life was and still is a train wreck. Her recent Asia-minor scandal involving an under-aged teen ruptured her relationship with McGowan, who should have tried to get her help, but instead banished Argento from the movement she helped promote. Hey, Rose, do you throw a relapsed alcoholic out of AA?
As a victim, Asia Argento certainly deserves our sympathy; as a victim who victimizes, she crosses the line, but nevertheless shouldn’t be tossed out like trash. Argento, always honest, never denied her mistakes; indeed, my BFF, writer/director Ric Menello, became good friends with a key player from the 1993 movie, ironically entitled Trauma, costarring Asia and directed by her father. The off-set, not-so-secret hookups, involving the then 17-year-old, undeniably helped set the stage for the woman she became. And the movie she made.
The Film Movement Classics Blu-Ray of SCARLET DIVA, photographed by Frederic Fasano, is spectacular looking in its new 1080p incarnation. Ditto, the 2.0 stereo-surround, featuring a score by John Hughes (including an apt cover on the haunting “Wild is the Wind,” from a nearly-forgotten 1957 George Cukor masterpiece of the same name). The picture is partly in English, but also in Italian and French w/English subtitles (aside from being bisexual and bipolar, Asia/Anna is multi-lingual). Unlike previous video releases, this is the complete and uncut version. There are loads of fantastic extras, including TWO audio commentaries by Argento, one from 2000 and another from 2018, plus an on-camera interview. There is also a “making of” featurette and an insightful, illustrated booklet by writer-producer Kier-La Janisse.
I no more condone the dark aspects of Asia Argento’s lifestyle than I do that of Roman Polanski or Woody Allen. Argento, at least, is honest and tells it like it was/is. DIVA not even a “you be the judge” type of flick. You don’t have to, DIVA’s awful survival scenario is there for all to see.
SCARLET DIVA was coproduced by her family. It’s a worthy, courageous and important achievement. It could be the scariest movie ever to have the Argento name attached to it.
SCARLET DIVA. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Film Movement Classics/Opera Film. CAT # FMCSCARLETDIVA. SRP: $39.95.