Asia Argento talks to us about Imcompresa, collaboration, shooting on film, and social media

Asia Argento‘s latest feature is Imcompresa, which translates as Misunderstood, and once again sees Argento explore the subject of childhood for a melancholic but occasionally rather funny tale, all told from the point of view of 9-year-old Aria (Giulia Salerno).

I spoke with Argento in Cannes shortly after Incompresa’s world premiere. We discussed the film, her collaborative process, social media and much more.

To start with, Argento told me about the experience of attending the premiere and seeing Incompresa with an audience for the first time.

Asia Argento: It was very powerful. It was strange because I felt this deep calmness throughout it. Going there, during it, before. During it I was laughing too.

It was the first time I saw it with an audience. They were laughing at the right moments. There were people crying. I felt they really understood. Usually I don’t sit through my screenings because I have this paranoia that I’ll see the mistakes and I influence the audience with my negative thinking.

But this movie… I have this deep satisfaction inside, having hit the target that I wanted to. Nobody can take this away from me. I was very moved, especially by all the mothers of the kids who were there. Then I hugged my daughter – who was in the movie – and she said, “Mummy we made it, we did it” and I was like, ‘Woah!’ That moment shook me out of my zen and made me very emotional.

I think every movie is [personal and drawn from your own life], isn’t it? I mean if you decide to spend two years of your life – or more, because a director is someone who is used to living with their obsession for much longer than most people – you have to have some very personal reasons to do it. Something moves you inside.

Speaking of ‘art’ movies or whatever, maybe commercial movies are more of a person who says yes, no and you don’t even have to the right to say where to put the camera. You have to have a very personal reason to live with this obsession and to believe in it. And to transform that into something that is not yours. Because I do believe that talent or ideas are something that don’t belong to you. It does belong to you in so much as you [pointing to me] have blue eyes or blond hair. It’s a gift. It’s yours but you didn’t make it. It’s something you receive and you’re a vehicle of that.

I find people who have talent, who place it in an egotistical place, they live this…it brings out more anger. If you live in the experience of filmmaking as brotherhood, of real people working together – where all the elements are necessary to make the movie…

This movie is such a case where absolutely everybody is inspired. I was lucky enough to have a powerful story, which if you have a powerful script that’s already eighty per cent of the movie done. Because it will inspire the right people to work with you. And it’s up to the director to have them dream the same dream. We all start living in this same parallel universe where we are living a separate reality. We’re living the film. And the dream of the film. And then you feel entitled and you want to bring as much as you can. Sometimes I’ve felt as an actress like it’s just a job.

When the even the key grip is invested, loves the movie and feels loved and he feels necessary, he’s going to bring that much more. That’s gonna show on the screen. It’s up to the director to love the movie so much and not to hold it but to share it in order to create this sort of atmosphere on the set where there is participation from everyone.

You can’t do your movie on your own. Because I’ve worked with so many directors and I’ve seen what works and doesn’t with crews. One great maestro for me was Abel Ferrara, when I was twenty-two. He creates an atmosphere on set. He talks so much to the actors and with them explores the characters so well before the shoot. What they smell like, how they move, what ticks they have, what’s their obsession. You create all this dream world inside. That’s as far as acting goes. Same thing goes with, say, my DP Nicola Pecorini. Talking and talking about every scene. I didn’t do storyboards or shot lists – which I used to do before this movie. Here I didn’t do it because I was so sure of what I wanted and I wanted to be surprised.

I wanted to be surprised every day. I wanted to find it. Without losing time. Because my DP is such a fucking genius and we were really on the same wavelength. It was absurd.

The movie has this colour palette – turquoise, red, green and pink – and I had some references for costumes and art direction of some polaroids of colours, but then we would location scout and find places that had these colours, the right place, and it have these colours. Every time it was kind of magic like that. Especially with my DP. He would bring his own, even beyond what a DP does, because he was so invested in the story. And it was never a shitty idea, it was always a good idea.

One of my favourite shots – when she’s jumping off the balcony – was very hard to do, with her and the camera jumping off. We had to do it twenty-two times. Then it was perfect. Then we were waiting for the next set-up and I had this idea of her upside down with her head… where we could shoot it through the balcony [railings]. So we put two big guys on a ladder [to hold her upside down]. That’s not something I had thought of before.

We [Argento and Pecorini] share a very similar taste in cinema and that’s why we’re really complimentary. With this movie I feel it’s as much his as it is mine. We were discussing before that every movie today is like this [frames a head and shoulders shot with her hands] – 55, 75, 100 (mm) – because people are afraid to show the room. To show what happens. The mis-en-scene. We shot this movie very, very wide. We always had a B camera, which I operated in the first few days and then I thought fuck this man. I’m not acting in the movie. I can’t do the camera too. So it was interesting because, although we shot in film and people thought we’d lose a lot of film, I always had a B camera rolling because you get stuff that is completely unexpected. From other angles. It’s always very useful to have it, even if you just use ten seconds from it.

What is the reason not to shoot on film? That is the question. I did the first digital movie in Italy in 1999. I’ve tried every digital camera available. It’s just that you spent so much time in the post-production trying to make numbers look like reality. In the colour correction. And you never quite get this astounding realness, depth, grain, the alive feel the film has.

And it’s not true that you lose money. They’re pushing, the corporations, for us to shoot like that but it’s not true that you lose money. You save money because you don’t spend five weeks in the colour correction, you spend one week, six days, fives days even in the colour correction. As opposed to five weeks. Touching up a block in the background, making the blacks black and not green. It’s never gonna look like film. I stick to film, without any doubt. I’m one of the resistance. And with the next one I hope to shoot in 35mm actually.

[Shooting from very low at times, from above at others, gives] the exaggerated POV of a child’s and a grown-up’s. Even though I don’t use it in a schematic way it reminds you of that difference. We always shot with a crane. It’s so useful, it saves you so much time. A little crane here and there, all the time. You just move around all the time, saving you so much time, as opposed to putting it on the tripod.

I was a child actress. I wasn’t as good as say, Giulia is. She’s one of those faces of cinema, like The 400 Blows. Top level of genius. I teach acting to kids. Ive been teaching for many years… I find it much easier. Not only directing children who have talent, who are gifted, but even in life, spending time with children, I feel much more at ease than with grown-ups. I love movies about children – when they’re well made, not the feel good stuff necessarily. Truffaut, for instance, was a great storyteller of children. The French are really good… Les Enfant du Paradis, etcetera.

Also, my new movie will have children. It’s a story about teenagers. They’re just the stories that come into my mind. I find it more fascinating for me. Some people specialise in some things. These are just the kind of things that come into my mind. The one after this one will be different. Most of the movies I’ve done before were about children. I enjoy it. I enjoy working with them, the relationship becomes so deep. In my experience it was always so deep, so moving. Absolute truth, mutual. It gives you so much more than with grown-ups. They [adults] have things that are built, about what they think will work and what doesn’t, that you have to break. I still look for that moment of perfection, that truth brings. Children deliver that more easily.

It just happened [that I shared the making of this film through social media]. Because I’m a very solitary person. Children today who live through that – who are very solitary – they get put in front of that by parents because they don’t have time. I’m like that child. I have difficulties relating with most people. I’m just a solitary person. But at the same time I love information, to get and give information. To communicate. I find it’s [the internet and social media] is a great tool also for me to say my truth. If I speak to you and you write it down you’re going to change a comma and it’s going to change…When you see something written by someone else that you’ve said you’re always like, ‘I never said that’. At least there I can say and write it the way I mean it. During the shoot, because I use this shit so much, it was kind of natural to make a little diary of it every day.

I’m still solitary but I have to say, that because of those mediums, I have met so many amazing people. Made it easier to communicate with people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. People that became very important in my life. So it is incredible. You can use it to find and meet people that you never would have met otherwise.

Thanks again to Argento for taking the time to talk to me.

Incompresa played as part of the Un Certain Regard strand at the Cannes Film Festival and while there is no news yet of any release dates, I’m sure they’ll come along very soon.