12 December 2007

Asia Argento is Not a Vampire

I saw Tony Gatliff's film Transylvania in Melbourne last night and, despite the presence of horror princess Asia Argento, the film has absolutely nothing to do with vampires. Part travelogue and part exploration of two masochistic lost souls, this incredibly strange, surreal, lonely, music-filled journey is unlike anything I can recall seeing before. If nothing else, it proves that cinema is not dead: not every film is manufactured in pitch meetings and script workshops. This is clearly a film not overly designed to appeal to any audience at all-perhaps explaining its practically nonexistent release outside of film festivals and special retrospectives since its Cannes debut in 2006-and, for better or worse, this is no doubt the film Tony Gatliff wanted to make, directorial flourishes and all.

Asia Argento . . . she's getting there. Though not a great actress, she's earned her place in history already, I think, by sheer measure of her persona and willingness to go places few would have the balls to explore, say french kissing a dog. In terms of physicality, she's incredibly skilled in the ways she's able to use her body. She can brandish it violently, smashing herself up against a wall in a moment of ecstasy and deep sorrow, or twist it painfully and quietly into a crumpled ball of limbs and self-induced isolation. Hurling herself full force into a musical cyclone and smashing dishes with the flick of a hand, Argento is able to bring the character to life.

It is in her line readings, during scenes that call her to sell the character in words rather than physical manifestations, that Argento never quite manages to reach the point of believability required of her. Her voice often settles into an off-putting monotone that, in quiter moments, can undermine the inner complications and emotions meant to come through in what she is saying.

Aided by often remarkable shots of a countryside not normally used in film and a truly impressive collection of folk music, Transylvania is not easy an easy film to reccomend nor is it easy to dismiss as yet another self-indulgent festival film created by a director trying to force more of his vision into 100 minutes than it can support. I am unsure if the film works on every level, I suspect that it does not, but the ways in which the film both indulges in its own artistry and refuses to go out of it way to cater to the personal tastes of anyone other than its own makers are strangely admirable. Even if you don't like Transylvania, it's nice to know a film like it can be made at all.

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