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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).
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+
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