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Scarlet Diva

Charges of self-indulgence and narcissism are bound to be lobbed at Scarlet Diva, the feature directorial debut of Italian model and actress Asia Argento, a vampiric goth queen who's perhaps best known in cult circles as the half-cracked daughter of horror stylist Dario Argento (Suspiria). But while it's true that Argento has made the proverbial first novel, a transparently autobiographical punk-rock mope about the self-described "loneliest girl in the world," she also seems keenly aware of her own shamelessness. Starring as "Anna Battista," a jet-setting cover-girl and movie star with ambitions to write and direct, Argento has put herself at the center of a swirling vortex of chaos and excess, making her 8 1/2 before even reaching 1/2. Though Scarlet Diva contains flashes of pungent black humor and self-deprecation, it's hard to know how seriously Argento takes herself, or how much her real life has been inflated for dramatic effect. But part of the film's sleazy, ramshackle appeal is that these are essentially open questions, and they leave a slippery persona to tease out through the sex, drugs, celebrity, and melodrama that permeate nearly every waking moment. Bouncing aimlessly from city to city on photo shoots and publicity appearances, Argento's alter ego lives out of hotel rooms and airports, passing the down time by shopping around a movie project and salving her loneliness with a hedonistic lifestyle. One night, she sleeps with the lead singer (Jean Shepard) of an Australian rock band, a smooth-talking lothario who somehow has her convinced that she's making love for the first time. After she finds out she's carrying his baby, Argento continues to hold out hope that her "impossible love" will return; oblivious to his insincerity, she chooses not to terminate. (The decision must come as a huge surprise to her gynecologist, who initially asks, "What shall we do? Another abortion?") Her gullibility leads to career problems when a lascivious American producer (Joe Coleman, looking and acting like a cross between Gene Shalit and Lucifer) dupes her into auditioning for the lead in a new Gus Van Sant movie opposite Robert De Niro. A Valley Of The Dolls for the indie set, Scarlet Diva has a DIY aesthetic that's oddly liberating to watch, perhaps because Argento sees the filmmaking world as a boys club that women can't breach without crawling through a minefield of casting couches. Whatever might be said about the film—that it's episodic and abrasive at times, or that it looks as if it's been edited with a pair of gardening shears—it could never be called impersonal. Argento splatters her colorful life on the screen like an adolescent's diary, trusting others to sort through the fascinating mess.

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