Among my favorites from the 2014 New York Film Festival is “Misunderstood,” largely because of the endearing performance by Giulia Salerno as a nine-year-old girl who is unfairly treated by her parent combatants. Italian director Asia Argento wins our sympathy for the girl, Aria, who tries to make the best of her unhappy lot. Giulia plays the role beautifully without succumbing to any of the cloying aspects often attached to such young roles.
Charlotte Gainsbourg plays her mother, a pianist on the rock concert scene, who is thoroughly self-centered, cavorts with a series of boyfriends and perfunctorily tries to be a parent of the daughter, who gets in the way.
Gabriel Garko plays a renowned heartthrob actor, who is even more self-centered. He and Aria’s mother separate, and Aria is passed back and forth between them. She has half-sisters, one of whom, Lucrezia (Caroline Piccioni), is chunky, especially obnoxious and fancies herself as daddy’s girl. The one constant in Aria’s life is her close friend Angelica (Alice Pea), but even that relationship can come under a strain.
With each parent assuming respective obligations, their schedules don’t allow much time for attending to Aria. Her father can be especially nasty when he is in that kind of a mood. Aria learns to navigate a best she can, and Giulia wins our admiration with her spunkiness. One knows she should deserve better and longs for her find a better life. Her yearnings become our yearnings.
All of the acting is good. Gainsborough in particular merits credit, for she does well with a very distasteful part, and one can say the same for Garko, who in addition to being annoying for his treatment of Aria, plays somewhat of a fool for the way in which he tries to maintain his matinee idol presence even while he is getting increasingly over the hill. Reviewed October 22, 2014.