Asia Argento and Michele Civetta on Cannes Controversy and Porn-y New Work

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Photo: Getty Images

The last time Asia Argento was at Cannes, she had three films in the festival. In one of them, she distracted an ex-lover by idly masturbating in front of him (Boarding Gate); in another, she licked the blood off her wounded lover’s chest (The Last Mistress); and in the third, she made out with a Rottweiler (Go Go Tales). This year, the fearless Italian actor-director was no less ubiquitous on the red carpet, but she kept a discreet silence throughout the festival as a member of the nine-person jury, which, rumors suggest, was a hotbed of acrimony.

While in Cannes, Argento also co-presented the European premiere of the “OneDreamRush 42-Second Film Showcase,” a project sponsored by 42Below Vodka and the Beijing Film Studios, in which 42 filmmakers were each asked to make a 42-second short film exploring “the world of dreams.” Booze-hawking gimmick notwithstanding, the roster of assembled directors is impressively eclectic, ranging from veteran auteurs (David Lynch, Abel Ferrara) to avant-garde greats (Kenneth Anger, Jonas Mekas) to hipster provocateurs (Harmony Korine, Gaspar Noé); Argento’s husband, filmmaker Michele Civetta, is one of the project’s producers, and they both also contributed shorts. We called up the couple in Rome to talk about 42x42, and to find out what Argento would divulge about her Cannes jury experience.

How did you both get involved with the 42x42 project?
MC: A friend of ours, Rajan Mehta, had become the creative director of [42Below's OneDreamRush]. They came up with the idea, and asked Asia and I to make the first two films, and also asked if I would produce a bunch. It was really an ornate web of friendships that came into play. I called Larry Clark, Gaspar Noé, Jonathan Caouette. Asia called Joe Coleman. It was like a creative dialogue amongst friends.

What were the inspirations for your own 42-second shorts? [You can see Civetta’s Astarte and Argento’s S/he online.]
AA: The fact that it’s a dream allows it to be very personal and abstract, but I didn’t want to make it too dreamlike; that would have been cheesy. I used it as an opportunity to enter the world of these transsexuals that live in our neighborhood that I’ve been sort of spying on. It’s like they’re in a Fellini movie, but with transsexuals. I wanted to show these incredible creatures that are hyperfeminine and joyful, playing with clothes and Champagne, which is like a phallic metaphor.

MC: I decided to re-create a cult ceremony based around the Phoenician goddess of fertility. I mishmashed a series of old pagan images [and] twenties vintage German porn with satanic rituals and Enochean sex magic, along with some modern footage that I shot.

Asia, two years ago, everyone was calling you queen of Cannes. What was it like keeping a lower profile this year?
AA: It was a lot better. Spending five hours a day in the dark, and discussing cinema with people with diverse, interesting tastes, that was great. I loved hearing what [jury president] Isabelle [Huppert] had to say about the movies; she’s so illuminating. It was the first time I had a good time in Cannes.

According to a Variety report, one of the male jurors said it was the worst jury experience of his life, and another called Huppert a fascist.
AA: Really? I’ve got nothing to say about that. Obviously everybody has different tastes, but we came together very much at the end. We had no preconceived ideas; at least I didn’t. I felt the awards at the end surprised even us.

When an Italian journalist asked you at Sunday’s press conference why the Italian film [Marco Bellocchio’s Vincere] was shut out, you said you wanted to keep the focus on the films that won awards. Will you reveal then which of the prize winners you were most pleased with?
AA: I was very happy with Kinatay [which won Filipino filmmaker Brillante Mendoza the directing prize, despite being the competition’s most widely despised film]. It had such terrible reviews but it was a movie that I hadn’t seen before. It felt necessary, so naïve and urgent. It felt like the director had no idea how to do it and picked up a camera and was shooting the first movie of history. The 45-minute scene in the car where nothing happens I thought was incredible.

And I was also so happy about [screenplay winner] Spring Fever [by Chinese director Lou Ye, who also made a “42x42” short]. It might be surprising to give it the script award, because the movie was very long, but it had ingenious ideas about the love triangles between the characters.

Both of those prizes were booed by the journalists who were watching next door.
AA: I know. That’s always a good sign.

The jury was made up mostly of filmmakers and actresses. Since you’re both a filmmaker and an actress, did you end up having to play the mediator?
AA: No, I mean, maybe the directors like to think actors have minor tastes. There were movies that divided between female and male, which was strange. I won’t tell you which ones, but I definitely wasn’t in the middle. I’d rather keep what went on behind closed doors a secret. It would be like watching your parents having sex — you don’t want to see that.