Tales of adolescent delinquency and alienation have been a well-trodden path before to put it mildly, so Asia Argento’s Incompresa isn’t exactly venturing into new territory with its premise. What it lacks for in immediate originality though, it makes up for it largely by conjuring up its own unique charm and then using it to inhabit a space to narrate the troubled childhood of its central protagonist. Presented as a form of tragicomedy, Incompresa is an eccentric mix of a coming-of-age tale and dysfunctional family drama affecting an ignored child into going for an angsty hunt for affection, something pop culture generally reserves for teenagers. Despite this, the film does affectionately make the case for its nine-year old protagonist Aria played brilliantly by Giulia Salerno through some fairly powerful scenes that are peppered in between the enjoyable but purely mechanical sequences which propel the narrative forward.
Presented as a form of tragicomedy, Incompresa is an eccentric mix of a coming-of-age tale and dysfunctional family …
Argento may have a penchant for humor but the tragic quotient often comes from the understated silences in scenes and the way camera lingers over someone’s face or an object for a second longer. It’s subtlety like this which keeps Incompresa grounded despite its occasional flights of fancy with perfectly timed musical segues that often correlate with transitional moments in the personality of Aria – whether it is getting her first “rebel” haircut or coming across a group of outcast punks and feeling loved and at home with them. The film effectively conveys Aria’s childhood alienation and the damaging impact her environment has on her while still keeping its distinct form as a tragicomedy intact.
Gabriel Garko and Charlotte Gainsborough as Aria’s father and mother do a great job at being horribly inefficient parents — their massive egos, desires and their mutual hatred for each other affecting their kids particularly the lovelorn Aria the most. Garko as the highly superstitious actor is consistent source of humor and whose overt reactions to Aria’s small ways to display and seek affection draw a mix of sad laughter, something the film plays out in different ways to a successful effect. Unsurprisingly, Gainsborough is also a delight in some of the earlier scenes as the fiery mother with an arbitrary temper to watch out for.
Besides having an eight-year old as the central subject, Argento also distinguishes Incompresa from other adolescent delinquency films in different ways by not having an almost mischevious and naïve innocence vibe run through many of its scenes but also show how impressionable children still are by their family and general environment, the things Aria sees and hears subtly changing what she acts like and consequently who she becomes. Salerno plays the trajectory beautifully, with large eyes and a smile that manage to portray a wide spectrum between joy and melancholy.
The film does have a few issues particularly in regards to its arbitrary editing which is heightened in the final third of the film where it often feels like a series of disparate scenes being glued to one another, the experience and mood of the characters in the previous scene being reset in the next. It also results in the film struggling to connect many of its smaller, powerful events into an effective sum that’s greater than all its parts. Instead, we have a film which is largely impressive on a micro-level but leaves you a bit underwhelmed by the end of it when viewed from a larger perspective, with a considerable quantity of scenes coming across as inconsequential and almost perfunctory in the context of the larger film.
Praise has to be directed at the cinematography and sound design, both of them playing a key role in propelling the film forward in different ways.
Praise has to be directed at the cinematography and sound design, both of them playing a key role in propelling the film forward in different ways. While the almost playful visual style fits in with the childhood vibe using a mixture of bright and saturated colours to sometimes describe Aria’s world, the wide array of music sequences create the mood that complements the film’s progression.
Argento has created a beautifully bittersweet film on childhood alienation and one which despite its’ flaws to come together as a cohesive piece shines largely due to great performances from Garko, Gainsborough but most of all, Salerno who plays Aria with a childish naivete that transforms into a painful search for affection from the world that surrounds her. Incompresa is funny and heartbreakingly sad and Giulia Salerno’s smile often captures that in a single frame.
Incompresa is funny and heartbreakingly sad and Giulia Salerno’s smile often captures that in a single frame.