Asia Argento is at Cannes with “Misunderstood,” the third feature directed by the Italian multi-hyphenate, and one of two works by women directors representing Italy in the fest’s official selection. The film screens today, May 22, in Un Certain Regard.
Q: Thierry Fremaux has said this is a very personal film. Is it?
A: Yes, but it is not autobiography or auto-therapy. It is inspired by things I, or people around me, went through. If I wanted to do a story about my family, my mother, my father, I would have made a documentary, or I would have written a book. This is a movie. This is very clear in how extreme the characters are; in their being funny and at the same time cruel. It’s a projection of a universal childhood that is misunderstood, that is forgotten.
Q: In your director’s notes you quote Pope John XXIII saying: “When you come home you will find your children: give your children a cuddle.” Anything ironic in that quote?
A: No. I was a child when I first heard that, and I thought it was the most moving thing. It’s a reminder for parents, who have their own lives and are so self-absorbed. They come home and barely see their children, who have been waiting there all day to get that cuddle. That’s all they want: attention, kindness, a gentle gesture. I found that very moving. It has nothing to do with religion. It’s just a reminder for parents.
Q: You and Charlotte Gainsbourg, who stars in “Misunderstood,” both have showbiz parents. Did that influence you in casting her?
A: No. I didn’t cast her because we have similar backgrounds. I chose her because she’s a real artist. She’s also a musician. She’s much more than just an actress. She’s my idol. We started working in movies at around the same age. I remember going to see “L’effrontee,” in 1985, and falling in love with her. In 2000 we did this TV movie “Les Miserables” together, but we didn’t have any scenes together. There were polaroids of her in the makeup room, and I remember stealing them. When I was on the Cannes jury in 2009 I was so happy that we gave Charlotte the best actress prize for her role in Lars Von Trier’s “Antichrist.” I wrote this movie thinking of her.
Q: There is a nine-year-old character in the film and several other children. How was you experience directing children?
A: Most of the kids in the movie had never acted before. Something that most people don’t know about me is that I’ve been teaching acting just to children for twelve years. I do this for free, and for my pleasure. And in life I spend most of my time with children, more than with adults. The kids who act in the film were sleeping over at my house months before we started shooting.
Q: For the music, among other people, you worked with Brian Molko, of Placebo. Please tell me more about what is certainly an important component of the pic.
A: Brian did the opening credits and the end credits, which we recorded in Rome, after he saw the movie. The other musicians include James Marlon Magas and Justin Pearson, who also acts in the movie, and other members of his band. Justin has a punk band, actually two punk bands, Retox and The Locust, in San Diego. The way I worked with them is that I wrote four themes: very simple melodies and sent these to them, and then they interpreted them. So they did variations on them. It’s like what people used to do back in the days of some of my favourite soundtracks, like in Rene Laloux’s “La Planete Sauvage,” (Fantastic Planet) the 1973 animation movie. We wanted to go in that direction, it’s a very haunting and childish theme that keeps coming back in different forms and variations.