Asia Argento seems set on pushing her bad-girl image to new heights with her first outing as writer-director-star, “Scarlet Diva.” The 24-year-old daughter of frightmeister Dario Argento takes on triple-hyphenate duties with chutzpah to spare and an attention to cutting-edge technique that sets her film apart from the average Italian debut. This narcissistic nightmare odyssey centering on an actress caught in a vortex of soul-destroying celebrity, solitude, drugs and emotionless sex is a repetitious, borderline-silly vanity project, but it could spin some cult success out of Argento Jr.’s following.
Modesty and humility are not factors here. The film opens with semi-autobiographical protagonist Anna Battista (Argento) winning a best actress award, then segues to her being roughly pleasured in her trailer between takes by a black stud in leather. Later she is pounced on sexually by a lecherous Hollywood producer (New York shock artist Joe Coleman) eager to cast her in a “Cleopatra” remake directed by Gus Van Sant, opposite Robert De Niro as Mark Antony. As if.
Flashbacks recap Anna’s traumatized childhood, and the death by overdose of her methadone-addicted mother (Argento’s real-life ma, Daria Nicolodi). Her adult life in Rome is no more stable or emotionally rewarding, despite all the adulation that comes with stardom.
Taking time off in Paris, Anna scores some drugs and goes to a music gig. There, she makes a soulful connection with Australian musician Kirk (Jean Shepherd, playing a Kurt Cobain-Nick Cave hybrid), who leaves her love-struck and pregnant. Not so love-struck, however, that she doesn’t dive into a Sapphic clinch back in Rome when an acquaintance she can’t recall meeting (Italian porn star Selen) drops by for some R&R, keeping a cab waiting down-stairs.
The rest of the gossamer-thin plot consists of Anna fighting off the American producer’s advances, undergoing an abortive screen test in Los Angeles, flirting dangerously with self-destruction during a drug-happy photo shoot in London and being disillusioned during a trip to Amsterdam to meet a literary genius (Herbert Fritsch) whom she finds ravaged by heroin. She emerges from all this thanks to the restorative power of love for the miraculously healthy child she’s carrying.
Rambling and structureless, the film nonetheless benefits from never taking itself too seriously, and its wild, undisciplined quality often is perversely enjoyable. Disrobing frequently to reveal her elaborate body art, Argento displays plenty of attitude, but there’s little depth to Anna or any of the other characters. Shot on digital video, “Scarlet Diva” maintains momentum largely due to its well-honed musicvid texture, with jumpy cutting, wipes, fast motion and edgy camerawork by Frederic Fasano.