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Scarlet Diva

Not rated, 91 min. Directed by Asia Argento. Starring Vera Gemma, Jean Shepard, Joe Coleman, Asia Argento.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 18, 2002

Cinematic Self-Destruction for Fun and Profit 101: That's Scarlet Diva in a nutshell, although the directorial debut from the progeny of Italian horror maestro Dario Argento and actress/author Daria Niccolodi is much more than the sum of its parts. Argento the younger has starred in a number of Eurotrash shockers in roles that might make other actresses flinch (her rape in The Stendahl Syndrome was particularly disturbing, choreographed as it was by her father, the director) and Scarlet Diva is something of a great leap forward in terms of disturbing images, graphic sex, and voraciously druggy appetites. All of which begs the question: Why? Fans and family already know of the ripe, curvy Argento's penchant for theatrical insanity. Her offscreen life often appears calculated to freak out the moms and dads of the world (her own included) -- that terribly sexy angel tattoo covering the better part of her nether regions being a prime example. The film, rumored to be autobiographical in all but the dullest bits, has Argento as Anna Battista, a model-actress who, at her core, is, as she tells us, “the loneliest person in the world.” As everyone knows, the best way to offset loneliness (at least in the movies) is through rampant hedonism, and so throughout the film Anna indulges in a series of seemingly random couplings, binges on illicit drugs, curses like a sailor, and dresses in extreme, outrageous outfits that look a lot like, well, like Asia Argento. Not surprisingly, she excels at playing just this sort of giddy hyperslut -- despite the film's digital video origins and the relentless hand-held jerkiness passing for style, taking your eyes off it is only possible when Argento's not onscreen (which is virtually never). Love or hate her directorial debut, you can't help but watch this mad, hip, pouty sexbomb as she invokes her own demons only to wrestle them in a no-holds-barred grudge match for the rest of the film. Akin to street poetry scrawled on a grimy alley wall, Scarlet Diva doesn't always make sense but it sure wants you to think it means something. Alternating between the deep, the vacuous, and the deeply vacuous, the film (and Argento's performance) borders on the sublime -- it's difficult to discern if this is a crazy work of disturbed genius or merely 90 minutes of post-adolescent Electra rebellion (although why you'd want to rebel against a father who once said he “dreams only in red because the blood shows up better” is beyond me). Certainly it's not for everyone, but fans of Euro-sleaze will groove on Argento's obvious charms and the film's dystopian thrill ride, while the rest will probably doze off dreaming Fassbinder dreams.
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