New Horizons Film Festival 2014. Review of “Misunderstood” by Asia Argento

After a ten-year hiatus, Asia Argento returns to the director’s chair with her very sad, very dark and very cruel third feature, the unconventional coming of age tale, Misunderstood (Incompresa), that premiered in the “Un Certain Regard” section at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

It follows a dysfunctional family living in Rome, Italy and focuses on an unloved little girl named Aria, the only common child of a famous actor who aspires to star in an art film and a saucy Bohemian Swiss bourgeois pianist. During a family dinner, both parents display their enormous egoism and obvious disregard for the children. All this ends in a fight with the father leaving the family and the mother being very philosophical about it (it is far easier for her to make out on the sofa with her various lovers than to deal with it). Aria is then sent off to her father’s new house, thus beginning her ceaseless and heartbreaking odyssey between the two homes, bouncing like a Ping-Pong ball between them and wanted in neither.

Charlotte Gainsbourg and Gabriel Garko are well cast while the real discovery is the film’s true protagonist, Giulia Salerno who delivers an astounding, touching and sincere performance as Aria. Nevertheless, at times, the performances feel too constrained and over-rehearsed.

It is hard not to see the autobiographical baggage here as we are aware of Argento’s own difficult childhood. Moreover, Misunderstood is poignant in the sense that it very strikingly and truthfully depicts the cruelty and heartlessness of schools, children and this particular family. Furthermore, the very eclectic soundtrack choice that ranges from rock, punk and Mozart contributes highly to the shifting and intense mood of the film. Indeed, music appears to be the only thing that brings happiness into Aria’s miserable life as she is very happy during a night out with her father and his friends from the pop electronic band, The Penelopes, and later in her mother’s new punk rock lover’s company.

The techs are all good, especially as they achieve faithfully the look of the 80s from Eugenia F. Di Napoli’s intensely colored production design to Nicoletta Ercole’s spot-on costumes and Nicola Pecorini’s light lensing, all of whom succeed in conveying the look and atmosphere of thirty years ago.

Misunderstood is an accurate, sincere and moving portrait of a family, a girl and a time that shows human carelessness, cruelty, selfishness and other numerous vices unfortunately inherent to human nature. With a very heavy autobiographical baggage and a heartfelt message, this is not only a coming of age story for the teenagers but a lesson for the parents, especially the parents. Without being a tearjerker per se, Misunderstood is one of the saddest and heartbreaking films I’ve ever seen and a fabulous addition to the coming of age genre.



O.T.: Incompresa. Production: Wildside, Paradis Films, Rai Cinema, Groupama, Orange Studio, Palatine Étoile 9, SofiTVCiné, Film Commission Torino-Piemonte, Regione Lazio (Italy, France 2014). Executive producer: Scott Derrickson. Producers: Mario Gianani, Eric Heumann and Lorenzo Mieli. Director: Asia Argento. Screenplay: Barbara Alberti and Asia Argento. Photography: Nicola Pecorini. Production Design: Eugenia F. Di Napoli. Costume designNicoletta Ercole. Editing:Filippo Barbieri.

Cast: Giulia Salerno (Aria), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Mother), Gabriel Garko (Father), Anna Loo Castoldi (Donatina), Carolina Poccioni (Lucrezia), Max Gazzè (Manuel Ginori), Alice Pea (Angelica), Justin Pearson (Ricky), Gianmarco Tognazzi (Dodo)

Color – 103 min. Premiere: 22-V-2014 (Cannes Film Festival)



This film was reviewed at the 2014 T-Mobile New Horizons International Film Festival. 

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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