Incompresa (2014)

This was meant to be this week’s Review Wednesday, but sadly, this has turned out different to what I hoped. 

Let’s rewind to May this year. It was Cannes. The films were announced, I read the synopses. The trailers and clips came out, I watched them. In amongst the ones gathering the major buzz – Maps to the Stars, Clouds of Sils Maria, Foxcatcher etc etc etc – one stood out to me. Asia Argento (daughter of Italian horror auteur Dario)’s Incompresa. The trailer was upbeat, vibrant, the clips looked great, the story looked interesting, I was sold, I was on the lookout for it, hoping it would come here at some point.

Fast forward to August. The Italian Film Festival program is announced. Incompresa is on it! It was exactly what I was hoping for, I was excited that I would get to see it so soon.

And then…tonight happened. October 19, which I had been looking forward to, happened. I sat in my seat, smile on my face that I was getting to see a film I was looking forward to. The smile stayed there for a while, during the first half hour. There were sad moments, where it was gone briefly, but then it came back. It was acidically funny, sad, had one of the most wonderful friendships put on film this year, and had a great baroque, Sofia Coppola like tone to it. Wonderful, it was what I was expecting. And then, the rest happened.

I don’t think I saw this film, there’s got to be the Incompresa I was excited for, because this ain’t it. I can’t tell you the moment that it fell apart for me, but I can tell you the moment where I was able to look into my crystal ball, like the rest of the audience, and tell you the moment where I started worrying for this film. Where I hoped and hoped and hoped it wouldn’t do that. This film that I was looking forward to, so much, wouldn’t, couldn’t do that, would it? Why would you do that? It’s cheap, it’s on the nose, it’s engineered to make people cry (it sure made everyone in my screening jump, despite it being obvious), and furthermore, it’s completely out of line with the message Aria (Giulia Salerno) delivers in a post-credits scene.

After (SPOILERS if you ever want to watch it) presumably plunging to her death just when it looks like her living situation’s going to turn around, a voiceover of Aria proclaims “be a bit kinder to me”. But there’s something wrong here. The audience has been kind to Aria. The whole time all I wanted to do was get her out of the horrible place. We watched on with sympathy, disapproving glares when her classmates were mean and gasps when her parents were horrible pigs. There’s a discrepancy between what Argento wants the audience to feel and what actually occurs. It joins the ranks of Still Life, that maybe it would have been saved a tad if I’d walked out ten minutes before.

The madness of Incompresa isn’t completely without merit. There’s a handful of scenes that I enjoyed, that lived up to the promise of a vibrant, fractured fairytale of childhood that is at times completely absurdist. The performances are mostly of the balls-to-the-wall type with high volumes of shouting and plate-throwing, and serve the material well. Salerno’s lead performance is confident, upbeat and melancholic, she’s given one of the more offbeat child roles of the year.

But ultimately, this parable, a cautionary tale of bullying that will make you want to fear for every kid you meet, is exactly that – fractured. Taking this approach could be successful, but ultimately, having it end as such takes a great amount of skill and a quality that few writers or directors possess. Like The Broken Circle Breakdown, some will find merit in everything not magically turning out perfect at the 11th hour. The good moments are few and far between, the rest a hodgepodge of disjointed, overblown scenes that make the 104 minute runtime seem much longer. The all out absurdities and overload of quirks (including every bad luck symbol ever) will be perceived as biting satire by some and be adored, but it’s not for me.

Asia Argento’s shattered glass magnification of childhood is a rare commodity, in that it’s not through rose-coloured glasses, but, ultimately, it’s incredibly upsetting and not something I’ll be forgetting about any time soon, despite how much I want to. No one wants to see kids suffer and to see it end so horribly, especially kids like this who have been made this way by the people around them. It’s just downright weird and unnecessarily overloading on evil examination. It’s the first real disappointment I’ve ever experienced with a film, I don’t even want to rate it, I don’t even want to watch the trailer, which I adored, ever again. I just wish I could go back to never seeing it and imagine that somewhere it exists how it should. But, instead, it’s filed with the ‘films with frames I cannot erase from my mind’. And not in a good way.

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