Directed by Dario Argento
Distributed by Blue Underground
People seem to think Dario Argento lost his mojo somewhere in the mid-Eighties after his failed leap to the States. But in 1996 the Italian maestro kicked back in a big way with his most complex and experimental film, one that was a total departure from anything he had done before. Maybe that’s why The Stendhal Syndrome was so maligned back in its day. Long-time fans threw around words like “talky” and “boring” while the shoddy Troma release prevented it from getting any real exposure. Leave it to the folks at Blue Underground to give this underrated classic a new life on DVD.
The eternally-sexy Asia Argento delivers the performance of her career as Anna, a police detective on the trail of a brutal murderer-rapist (an equally impressive Thomas Kretschmann). Following his bloody trail into the art district of Italy, she discovers she is afflicted with (you guessed it) “Stendhal Syndrome” – a bizarre mental illness caused by viewing powerful works of art. When she falls victim to the madman and survives, Anna begins a descent into a dark world of art and sexual psychosis while discovering that her attacker intends to return and finish what he started.
This is a difficult film to talk about without getting into heavy spoilers, but there are no two ways about it: Stendhal is seriously disturbing stuff and dark even by Argento standards. Yet, even after ten years, it still holds up as his most intelligent and personal film and only gets better with repeat viewings. It’s also the most restrained entry in his oeuvre. While the first act delivers several hallucinatory sequences (executed to perfection alongside a brilliant Ennio Morricone score), Argento abandons his signature visual style; and the overall mood is that of a deliberately paced psychological drama. No black-gloved giallo-style kills here. No flying colors or loopy crane shots. Stendhal is all about the emotion of its characters. Whether or not you like it depends on what you bring to the film.
You have to hand it to Blue Underground. They produce some of the finest restorations on the market, and this presentation of The Stendhal Syndrome makes rewatching the film a whole new experience. Disc One contains the uncut anamorphic version of the feature with Italian (yay!) and English (boo!) language tracks in 5.1, 6.1, and stereo sound. Disc Two is packed with over ninety minutes of featurettes, all interview based. First up is an in-depth discussion with Argento as he recounts his experiences from real-life research on “Stendhal Syndrome” (80% of the population suffers mild cases) to his collaboration with Morricone to the obvious emotional problems of shooting rape scenes with his own daughter. *shiver*
The most interesting extra is an interview with the director of the Psychological Center of Florence who describes several cases of “Stendhal Syndrome” from tourists who have gone mad from gazing upon certain works of art. It’s enough to make you fear museums for the rest of your natural life! Rounding out the extras are three more interviews: FX man Sergio Stivaletti dissects the numerous visuals effects (a digital bullet shot went on to influence The Matrix), production designer Massimo Antonello talks art and cinematography, and assistant director Luigi Cozzi gives a fascinating talk about his work history with Argento starting with Four Flies on Grey Velvet.
If Dario Argento is style over substance, then The Stendhal Syndrome is a complete reversal. Whether it’s a first look or a second chance, this film deserves a shot and is required viewing for lovers of cerebral psychologically-charged horror films.
4 1/2 out of 5
4 1/2 out of 5
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