The Stendhal Syndrome
The Stendhal Syndrome is a 1996 psychological thriller directed by Dario Argento (Opera, Suspiria) and starring his daughter, Asia Argento (Land of the Dead). Below review might contain light spoilers.
The film tells the story of Anna Manni (Argento), a cop from the Roman rape squad who seems to suffer from a rare disease called the Stendhal Syndrome: paintings cause nausea, panic and hallucinations. She is lured into a museum, where she faints and is picked up by Alfredo (Thomas Kretschmann, you might know him from Dracula 3D), who turns out to be a rapist killer who Anna falls victim to. Traumatized, she gets suspended from the police force and seeks psychological counsel. She moves out to the country at her fathers house, even takes up painting herself. But the killer seeks her out, rapes her again and ties her down in a cave. Even though she eventually manages to escape and possibly kill Alfredo, she has a feeling the killer is still after her. Her cop colleague (Marco Leonardi, you know him from From Dusk Till Dawn 3) does what he can to protect her, but when Anna’s new boyfriend Marie gets killed, they’re left to wonder if Alfredo is indeed dead…. or is an imitator picking up where he left off?
Dario Argento is not only a household name amongst cinephiles and horror geeks alike, he’s also both still active and hasn’t ever really slowed down. That is to say, even after the golden era of Italian cinema wound down towards the end of the seventies, he is one of those who kept going and churned out a consistent flow of above average motion pictures. Some even prefer his later oevre to his more famous earlier work, but that’s a matter of taste.
The Stendhal Syndrome is a psychological thriller for which he cast his own daughter Asia as the conflicted detective mired in a maze of hallucination, murder, rape and trust. At two hours running time, it’s not as concise as it could be. There’s a great beginning, yet the middle drags on a bit – and just when you think the movie is way too predictable, it isn’t. The movie, despite its pacing problem, is quite a trip actually. In a way, it’s more Hitchcock than Argento. The splatter is kept to a bare minimum, there’s not too much standard Argento stylistic devices, and the twists and turns would’ve made Hitch smile, I’m sure of it.
The movie is full of little details also. Not only was it reportedly one of the first Italian movies to make subtle use of computer generated imagery (it not looks obviously dated), it also plays with the audience. When Anna’s boyfriend in the end appears as a very late character in the film, his name is actually Stendhal’s pseudonym. If you don’t know, you won’t notice, but if you do, it’s an ingenious little detail.
Ennio Morricone‘s subtle yet haunting score contributes to an overall atmosphere of insecurity that perfectly conveys the feeling Anna is in. Now, this isn’t Opera, it’s not a movie with a lot of chases, killers knocking on doors and knives flashing in the night light. This is a movie about a character battling her own demons more than it is a slasher movie. The 2nd unit director by the way was none other than Luigi Cozzi (The Killer Must Kill Again, Star Crash), who made a few noticeable but no outstanding movies.
Overall, The Stendhal Syndrome must be seen (to be believed). It is wonderfully creative, Asia’s performance is great, the music is convincing and the twists keep you engaged. It might as well have been a few minutes shorter in the middle, but hang in there, the movie is rewarding.
The 3-disc limited edition from Blue Underground (Amazon.com) is a marvel. The BluRay boasts six audio tracks: Italian in 7.1 DTS-HD, 2.0 DTS-HD and 5.1 DD EX, and same in English. There are English subtitles for the Italian track, those for the hearing impaired, plus French and Spanish subtitles. I switched around a bit, and then settled for the Italian 2.0 track, I think they’re all a matter of taste and depending on your home theater audio setup, the upmixes might make more or less sense. Same goes for whether you opt for the English dub or the Italian dub, they both have their ups and downs, but all sound decent. The English dub, as you will find out from some of the extras, were not Argento’s choice: Asia is bilingual, and the film was shot in English, the English dub was the US distributor’s choice solely.
The picture looks pretty great, albeit with visible compression artefacts, and I think you can always tell a 2K restoration from a 4K restoration from the level of detail and resolution. Overall it’s really good though. There were some minor image and especially audio issues with the first pressing, click here to read about it, including info on how to get a replacement disc from the company. It’s based on a 2K restoration from the original camera negative, presenting the movie in great shape and fully uncut.
There are a number of exclusive new extras on the main BluRay: the audio commentary by Troy Howarth is of course great. The man is incredibly knowledgeable, motivated and walks you through the film and its many ins and outs. Highly recommended. There are three new featurettes. The first, “Three Shades of Asia – interview with Asia Argento” (20mins), the second, “Prisoner of Art – interview with co-writer Franco Ferrini” (14mins) and the third, “Sharp as a razor – interview with makeup artist Franco Casagni” (10mins). These interviews are a great addition to the older interviews on the other disc, and luckily there is not much duplication or redundancy, so taken together, it’s almost as if everyone important got to speak about the film – well maybe Morricone. Then there’s of course the trailer, as well as a poster and still images gallery.
Then there is a bonus DVD with a set of interview featurettes produced in 2007. “Director: Dario Argento” (20mins), “Inspiration: Psychological Consultant Graziella Magherini” (22mins), “Special Effects: Sergio Stivaletti” (16mins), “Assistant Director: Luigi Cozzi” (22mins) and “Production Designer: Massimo Antonello Geleng” (23mins). There are all great interviews from different angles that put together give you a very three dimensional picture of the movie, its origins and background. You’ll spend almost two hours with this, and it probably makes sense to watch these after listening to the audio commentary, to fill in the gaps, sort of.
The third disc is the DVD version of the film. There is a booklet with some very informative text by Michael Gingold. The release comes in a nice cardboard sleeve. Overall, a chock full special edition with everything you could possibly want from a release. Get it while it’s hot.
Thanks to Blue Underground for providing the review copy.