Toronto Star
September 15, 2021
By Daphne Gordon

A full Italian frontal on sex, violence and life

Asia Argento applauds film's warm Toronto reception.

  The Toronto film festival has made everything worthwhile for Italian actress-turned-director Asia Argento.

``I feel a misfit in my own country, but I have received more appreciation, more love, in Toronto.

``I want to thank Toronto for making me feel not such a freak,'' she told the audience prior to a nearly sold-out screening of her film Scarlet Diva at the Uptown theatre yesterday afternoon.

Argento's shamelessly autobiographical feature tells of a miserable young actress named Anna who wants to direct a movie called Scarlet Diva.

Anna, played by Argento, describes herself as a whore, but also professes to be a hopeless romantic and proves the point by falling in love with a never-present Australian rock star, who gets her pregnant.

It's a graphic tale of sex, violence and self-destruction.

``I didn't want to make you all so sad at this time of day,'' Argento said.

``I promise the next film will be a porno. Lots of f---ing. No more crying,'' she said, provoking laughter.

At 24, Argento, daughter of renowned Italian horror film maker Dario Argento, is already an acting star in Italy. But it wasn't satisfying to be an instrument playing someone else's music, she said.

``You'd have to have something a bit funny in your brain to want to (act) for very long.''

She later quoted her character in the film: ``To be an actress in Italy is terrible. They are bitches. You have to show your boobs . . .''

At times, Argento's violent unhappiness dominates the film. Anna has anonymous sex and claims to have trouble loving anyone.

When her elusive boyfriend has no time for her, she burns herself with a cigarette.

She indulges in drugs while pregnant. And her best friend, played by Argento's real-life bud Vera Gemma, habitually falls in love with men who beat her.

The film's male characters are users, beaters, liars and druggies.

A member of the audience asked if her view of men was truly so negative.

``The only good male figure in my life, I didn't want to put him in the movie because I wanted to save him,'' she said.

``Maybe I just wanted to get revenge on those f---ers,'' she added jokingly.

``(Shooting the film) was a way to exorcise a lot of demons for both us,'' said Argento, motioning to Gemma, who was in the audience for the screening.

``I was the happiest I've been in my life, when I was doing this . . . For me, filmmaking is life. It is a reason not to die.''

After writing the script, Argento had no success finding backers. The ``Argento mafia'' ended up funding her film, she joked. Her father acted as producer.

Using digital cameras to keep the cost low, she found the tiny machines allowed an intimacy that can't be achieved with larger film cameras.

Audiences in Toronto have responded more positively than elsewhere, Argento said. She has now been approached by U.S. distributors, and is hoping for a modest deal.

``I'd be happy if my film went straight to video,'' she said. ``I just want to get it out so people can see it.''

And she already has financial backers for her next project, which she plans to begin shooting in Prague next month.

``I'm gonna be a director again . . . (Vera) is gonna be my lead in the porno,'' she said, again provoking laughter.

``It's not a joke,'' Argento added with a straight face.

Later, during an interview at the Four Seasons hotel, she explained her decision to take the offer from a European porn house to direct a film. It's the last genre open to experimentation in her country, where everything else has been done to death.

``I don't want to do porn like I've seen before. I find it boring. I like to tell stories. I'm not interested in penetration. It's not been explored, though, if you put a story there.''

The film is to be a remake of a '60s movie about female gangs, Argento said.

It might at first seem ironic that Argento would rail against baring her breasts for another director, then put her best friend in just that position.

But Gemma, who has acted in theatre and films in Italy for many years, says the experience of working with her friend has been nothing but empowering.

``In Italy, there is an idea of a woman who must think about sex all the time.

``But (with Argento) I have a choice. I am a woman. I choose. ``I love sex and violence and life.''