Greetings again from the darkness. Asia Argento is a multi-talented filmmaker – actress, writer, director and producer. Her father is Dario Argento, well known for directing gialo horror films, and her mother is Italian actress Daria Niccolodi. Add in her grandmother, who was famed documentarian Leni Riefenstahl, and it’s understandable why Asia has created (with co-writer Barbara Alberti) this semi-autobiographical story of Aria … a young girl struggling with self-absorbed parents and a world where she doesn’t seem to fit.
It doesn’t take long before we realize the film is poorly titled. “Abused and Mistreated” or “Sucky Parents” would be more accurate. Aria, wonderfully played by Giulia Salerno, is a very observant, tougher than we might expect, skinny kid who is fifth in the household pecking order behind her bombastic parents (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Gabriel Garko) and her two older sisters (Carolina Poccioni, Anna Lou Casoudi). Aria has a good friend at school, but is mostly an outcast due to her superior essay writing ability and her semi-famous, but rarely present parents.
Featuring one of the more dysfunctional family dinners you’ll ever see, the filmmaker’s deft touch allows us to pull for Aria as she is booted from her mom’s house, and then from her dad’s … and then the cycle repeats. Realizing that a connection with her parents (or sisters) will never be more than surface, Aria adopts a wild cat named Dac and proceeds to tote him everywhere. Dac’s blackness plays off the color surrounding others – especially her flashy dad and always pink sister.
Being as this is Italian cinema, the characters are always emotional (sometimes way up, sometimes way down), periodically violent, and always passionate. Aria is the tortured young soul simply trying to survive this coming-of-age story with a socially and morally unacceptable parental structure. It’s so apparent that with some semblance of love, Aria would fully blossom.
There are flashes of levity, including the dad’s over-the-top superstitions, and the expert use of Lou Christie’s “Two Faces Have I”, that provide us a glimmer of hope. However, when Aria says “There are many ways to cry”, we know those flashes and that glimmer are all but gone. Though the film is set in 1984, Aria’s plea for us to “Be Nice” is as timely today as ever.