The Italian director and former actress talked to a small group of journalists in Busan about her Cannes title Misunderstood, why she no longer wants to act, and the influence of her father, horror director Dario Argento.
She explained how the film, about the neglected daughter of divorced celebrities, came from a single scene in a different script.
“I was writing another script and in that script, there was a memory about this child, a child that’s been kicked out. She’s nine years old and kicked out of her father’s house and her mother can’t take her. She ends up in this garden with a cat and heavy luggage. She doesn’t know where to go.
“I met with co-writer Barbara Alberti [screenwriter of I Am Love] and gave her the script and what she found powerful was that one scene. And we started writing the script around that. Then we found the Italian producer. And through friends I found the French co-producer. And everything happened very fast after that,” she said.
The Italy-France co-production, which is screening in BIFF’s World Cinema section, is produced by Wildside, Paradis Films and Orange Studio.
Argento says she loves good movies about children or made from a child’s point of view such as Truffaut’s 400 Blows or Comencini’s Incompreso – from which her film’s title comes – that are “the kind of movies that move me to tears even though I watched them so many times.”
“There’s something in the point of view of children that I find sacred and I don’t think it’s something that’s explored in cinema nowadays. Movies for children are like a video game, they are designed for people with a very short attention span whereas I don’t see audiences for children’s movies like that.
“This is a movie for children and for grown-ups that haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be a child. And to point out the injustices that come out of the society or the smaller society of family or school. The original title of the film is Misunderstood because I think everyone’s felt the injustice of being misunderstood,” she said.
The director mused she didn’t think anything was lost because of the low budget because a low budget creates obstacles, and “I love to solve problems. I’m a Virgo, we’re huge organisers. Nowadays for independent movies that have a personal point of view, I find it’s the only way to tell this kind of story without compromises.”
With well-known parents – actress mother Daria Nicolodi worked with her father for a decade – Argento inevitably runs into the question of how biographical Misunderstood is.
“Every artist lives with an obsession, but it’s not always very personal and not necessarily therapeutic. Making a film is not going to the shrink. This movie is very personal to me. If it’s true or not true, I think it degrades the movie, the art to [refer to] mundane gossip that I don’t want to know about. I don’t want to know the gossip around the artists I like. I decide not to play around this mundane gossip game,” she declared.
At nine years of age, Argento made her acting debut with a small role in Sergio Citti’s Sogni E Bisogni and thereafter appeared in films by directors including her father and Nanni Moretti.
Asked why she recently declared she would only concentrate on directing and no longer act, Argento replied: “I choose directing. As an actor I was chosen. And it wasn’t necessarily something that I wanted to do. When I think back, in my childhood I wanted to be a writer. But I started acting at nine years old and did that almost 30 years. It was a learning experience as a director. It was film school. But it wasn’t something I took pleasure in. In fact, I quit acting about a year and a half ago, without bitterness. It wasn’t something good for my personal growth, my artistic growth.”
About the influence of her father on her films she said briefly: “I like the colour red, that’s about as much influence from my father. I love his movies, the cinema is brilliant. Especially the ones of the 60s, 70s and 80s – “the great silver era” since Argento means silver.”
But she would not like to direct horror films like he did.
“I’m not interested in horror at all. That’s my father. I do talk about how horrific life is, and families and schools are,” she said.
Asked what kind of father he was, she said point blank: “I don’t know. I forgot. It’s too long ago. He stopped being a father when I was nine. Then he just became the director.”
Is her father’s fame something to overcome?
“Yes, ask anyone – anyone that I know that hasn’t been buried by the shadow of their parents and become an artist of their own. No matter what they achieve, every time they will be asked about ‘your parents’. It’s a cross. It’s like I was born with a cross on my forehead and all my life, I have to answer why I have this cross. I was just born with it,” she said.
Interestingly, Argento’s own daughter is a young actress in Misunderstood. She explained: “It was her first role. She asked me to be in the movie. All the children were staying at our house every weekend and it was kind of natural for her to become part of this. She plays the middle girl - the one that’s not so mean. I didn’t want my daughter to be in the spotlight. But in a film that everyone can see in Italy. Not R-rated.”
The film was particularly rewarding, said Argento, because children like her six-year-old son enjoyed and was interested in it. ”I feel like I was hitting the target I was aiming at.”
On her next project, she said: “I can’t see myself anytime soon doing Transformers 10, but who knows, I might all of a sudden change [since I’m already] making more accessible arthouse films. So the next step could be making commercial crap. But I’ve seen how directors work. They can’t even say how the camera is placed on those films.”
“I still think art is a subjective form, whether it’s painting or cinema, it’s an expression that’s subjective and it becomes universal when people recognise themselves in the art. Then it becomes objective. Actually, my next movie is even more accessible. Who knows if I can pull it together,” she said.