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Adam Jahnke - Main Page

The Stendhal Syndrome: 2-Disc Special Edition

The Stendhal Syndrome: 2-Disc Special Edition
1996 (2007) - Blue Underground

The first half of the 1990s found Dario Argento in less demand as a filmmaker. He spent a number of years in the US, working at getting various projects off the ground. Unfortunately, all that came of this American adventure was The Black Cat segment of Two Evil Eyes and the unsatisfying Trauma. Finally, he decided to take his latest project, The Stendhal Syndrome, back to Italy. This turned out to be the best thing for him. Not only can I not imagine The Stendhal Syndrome working as well taking place anywhere else, the movie became his most accomplished in years.

Argento's daughter Asia took over the role of policewoman Anna Manni (a part originally written for Bridget Fonda).


Anna goes undercover to track down a serial killer/rapist and is almost killed herself. She lets her guard down when she succumbs to the Stendhal Syndrome, an actual medical condition characterized as an extreme mental and physical reaction in the presence of art (which, of course, is pretty much everywhere in Italy). Recovering from the attack, she goes home to her family. The killer (Thomas Kretschmann) tracks her down, kidnaps her and again brutally rapes her. She escapes but her experiences and condition have damaged her psyche almost beyond repair. Making things worse, it seems the killer is still on the loose.

The Stendhal Syndrome is ambitious and based on a truly fascinating and unexplored phenomenon. The condition makes it a natural for Dario Argento, allowing him free reign to fill the screen with baroque images and beautiful art. Ennio Morricone, reteaming with Argento for the first time since 1971's Four Flies on Grey Velvet, contributes a haunting score while cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno films the proceedings with images that are both disturbing and chillingly beautiful.

There are only a few missteps that prevent The Stendhal Syndrome from ranking with Argento's best work. First off, Asia Argento tries really, really hard in this, her first lead role, and does manage some great work. But she's far too young and inexperienced to really pull off such a tricky role. More damaging is Dario's screenplay. This feels like three movies crammed together. None of them are bad movies. But the result is a stop-start structure that costs the movie some badly needed momentum when it needs it most. Even so, Argento pulls off some bravura sequences here, even experimenting for the first time with CGI. The digital effects are somewhat crude, especially by today's standards, but are still effective.

The Stendhal Syndrome was previously available in this country from my old friends at Troma. Blue Underground's special edition is a significant improvement in every way but before you start bad-mouthing Troma, bear in mind that at the time, NOBODY else wanted to release this movie over here, at least not without significant cuts. If you were an American Argento fan and you wanted to see The Stendhal Syndrome without it being mangled the way so many of his other films had been, you should actually be thanking Troma instead of complaining about them.

That said, Troma's DVD didn't do the movie's look any favors. Blue Underground's new disc is noticeably superior to that dark, muddy print, presenting the movie in a sharp, colorful anamorphic transfer. The audio options, including an English 6.1 DTS-ES track and a 5.1 Italian track, are first rate. The first disc includes only a trailer but the second disc pulls out the stops with a quintet of excellent featurettes, ranging from 16 to 23 minutes in length, interviewing Dario Argento, psychological consultant Graziella Magherini (whose research into the Stendhal Syndrome inspired Argento's story), visual effects designer Sergio Stivaletti, assistant director Luigi Cozzi and production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng. All five are very interesting and worth checking out. My personal favorites were those devoted to Cozzi, who discusses his long relationship with Argento and talks about hard-to-see projects like Four Flies on Grey Velvet and The Five Days, and Geleng, who can't keep a straight face when asked for his memories of crapfests like Contamination and Mountain of the Cannibal God.

Dario Argento's movies are both fascinating and frustrating. Very few of them click on all levels but almost all of them have sequences or elements that are absolutely fantastic. At his best, he's one of the most distinctive and original directors the horror genre has produced. I'm not sure if he has another Suspiria or Deep Red left in him. In all honesty, probably not. But I bet he has at least a few more Stendhal Syndromes left. Considering that The Stendhal Syndrome is, warts and all, a whole lot more interesting than a lot of other horror movies you'll encounter, I'm satisfied with that.

Film Rating: B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/B+


Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


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