Traveling Companion

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Traveling Companion

The magnetic daughter of Italian horror master Dario Argento (Suspiria) and actress Daria Nicolodi, actress-model-filmmaker-writer Asia Argento could be the living embodiment of Jeanne Moreau's character in Jules And Jim–a dark, irresistible femme fatale who seems capable of driving right off the dock. Her vanity and madness collided for a train-wreck directorial debut in 2000's Scarlet Diva, an autobiographical fantasia in which Argento played "Anna Batista," the self-described "loneliest girl in the world," a cover queen alienated by her own celebrity. Argento's indulgent, DIY sensibility made it hard to sort truth from sensationalism, but that was also part of the fun: She creates a wild spectacle in which she both examines and perpetuates her cult of personality. As a personal journey, it's far more compelling than her turn four years earlier in Peter Del Monte's Traveling Companion, a garden-variety coming-of-age story that puts Argento through the familiar, well-behaved paces of a wayward girl's self-discovery. Argento won the equivalent of an Italian Oscar for performing a less abrasive (and more clothed) variation on her usual persona: a vulgar, promiscuous goth-punk whose life unfolds like a beeline to oblivion. Working as a cocktail waitress by night, 19-year-old Argento wakes up with random party guys in the morning, giving the impression that their beds comprise home. Desperate for a little extra money, she takes a job following Michel Piccoli (I'm Going Home), a wealthy woman's senile father, as he aimlessly wanders the streets of Rome and hops trains for the Italian countryside. Though required to keep her distance, Argento eventually strikes up a relationship with the old man, whose sanguine presence chips away at her coarse exterior and causes her to reflect more maturely on her life. Their adventures together hit a few minor snags, including her sleazy brother's half-baked kidnapping scheme, but otherwise, the film forsakes incident for quieter bits of observation. Del Monte (Invitation Au Voyage) aims to strike minor comedic and dramatic grace notes, but nothing much happens in Traveling Companion, which seems intent on sucking the vitality out of Argento and everything around her, from the road-movie locales to the overdubbed Piccoli. The film's bland respectability may account for Argento's award, but it does no service to her singular talent and mystique, which is better left unhinged. In contrast to Traveling Companion, a film like Scarlet Diva may be hopelessly sloppy and misguided, cobbled together with a tenth of Del Monte's skill, but at least Argento recognizes her strengths.