cast: Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann, Marco Leonardi, Luigi Diberti, and Paolo Bonacelli
director: Dario Argento
120 minutes (18) 1996 widescreen ratio 1.66:1
Arrow / Fremantle DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Ian Shutter
After the laudable delirium of Opera, and the wholly underrated Trauma (1993), but before his regrettable lapse of intense focus on the critically mauled Phantom Of The Opera, the master of European horror gave us one of the most brilliantly imaginative Sadean thrillers, The Stendhal Syndrome (aka: La Sindrome di Stendhal). Although we must question the simmering-volcano mindset of a film director who typically makes exceedingly violent, Hitchockian melodramas, and who here – albeit fictionally – subjects his own daughter (the lovely Asia) to not one, but two, prolonged rape scenes,
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there’s simply no avoiding the fact that this devastating shocker expertly marries some exquisitely stylised art house images to a pulpy exploitation plotline, and results in one of Dario Argento’s best works.
Asia Argento plays a police detective, Anna, assigned to the case of a serial rapist and murderer, yet her solo investigations are somewhat hindered by the bizarre mental disorder – the syndrome of the title – which overwhelms her with dizzying hallucinations, whenever she views works of art. When the loathsome villain of the piece, Alfredo (a memorably vivid portrait of extreme nastiness by Thomas Kretschmann), learns of Anna’s psychological vulnerability, he plots to use this against her during a visit to an art museum in Florence. Captured by the stalker turned kidnapper, Anna suffers mightily as Alfredo’s helpless victim, but finally manages to escape and settle the score. However, this is not your standard rape/revenge schlock. Argento, the maestro of relentless cruelty and dazzling camera moves, elicits a remarkable performance from his daughter. The sheer intensity of Anna’s physical ordeal is reflected in the weirdness of her inner visions (here, I think, is the filmmaker’s first and most dramatic use of digital effects), and so the raw-edged fear she that experiences when immersed in the menacing virtuality of a painting (figures on canvas become frightening with the addition of appropriate ‘live’ sound) is a psychic counterpart to the unnervingly repetitive sexual brutality that Alfredo commits against her. The grand finale provides a gruelling, and gut-wrenching, twist on the familiar heroine-in-peril tragedy when we are confronted with the startling degree to which the evil killer’s abuse has affected his surviving victim.
Once seen, never forgotten, The Stendhal Syndrome is a veritable modern classic of horror cinema, getting a much deserved uncut release on DVD, at last.