One of the most polarizing films amongst his fans, The Stendhal Syndrome is Dario Argento’s first film shot in Italy after his foray in the United States with Trauma and Two Evil Eyes. Based on a psychological study of the same name by Dr. Graziella Margherini, Argento creates a psychological thriller that is unlike anything else in his canon.

Asia Argento stars as Anna Manni, a police officer in Rome who is sent to Florence to investigate a series of rape/murders that have baffled the authorities. Following a tip, she goes to the Uffizi gallery in Florence where she succumbs to the titular syndrome, and hallucinates herself into a painting before passing out and hitting her head.

“The Stendhal Syndrome” is an actual medical condition named for the French writer Stendhal where people are afflicted with headaches, dizziness, hallucinations and fainting spells after being exposed to great works of art. After recovering from this episode, Anna continues with the investigation after protestation by her superiors. As Anna gets closer to tracking down the killer, she becomes entangled in his web of sexual psychosis and murder.

Fans of Argento looking for a bright candy-colored experience will be disappointed. This is a very visually muted film, resembling the many classical pieces of art that Anna encounters throughout the movie. Argento’s camera work and compositions are still the strength of what he does. The man is all about the visual, which makes sense as film is a visual medium. The film’s opening scene, which lasts about ten minutes without dialogue is impressive.

Asia Argento’s performance is quite good here, and she is asked to basically run to hell and back, and being directed by her father no less. Thomas Kretschmann is appropriately sleazy, yet seductive as the film’s villain. Marco Leonardi of Like Water for Chocolate has a small role as Anna’s much put upon boyfriend, and does a sympathetic turn here. Julien Lambroschini, Luigi Diberti, and Italian genre veteran Paolo Bonacelli round out the cast dominated by men but ruled by a single woman.

This really is the Asia Argento show as she is in nearly every scene of the film. In a rather unusual move, Argento has the film revolve entirely around one character. There are no sub plots, only more to be discovered about Anna no matter what is being investigated or discussed. It is such an internalized experience that it often defies what a movie in strict structure should be and do.

Ennio Morricone’s score is a standout, and was his first work with Argento since their falling out over Dario being unhappy with the work Morricone gave him for Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1972). Built around a haunting theme, the score is simply variations on that main piece of music, and it is a stunner.

Blue Underground’s Blu-ray looks and sounds so good, you’ll want to use that old Troma DVD as a coaster. No longer do we have to watch that old appearingly VHS sourced atrocity. BU’s disc is a revelation in clarity and detail. On the audio side of things, the Italian audio is here, as well as the English dub. Keep in mind that Argento shoots in English and then dubs the films in post, so there really is no “native language” here. The Italian dub does play much better however, as Asia Argento’s actual voice is maintained. The English dub uses an actress with a very odd sounding voice, especially if you know what Asia sounds like. Both tracks showcase the music well, and optional English subtitles are provided no matter what audio track utilized.

The bonus features are comprised of a group of rather informative and sometimes lengthy interviews. Separate talks with writer/director Dario Argento, consultant and author of the source, Graziella Magherini, special effects artist, Sergio Stivaletti, assistant director Luigi Cozzi and lastly production designer, Massimo Antonello Geleng. A theatrical trailer finishes up the offering.

Argento has given the film world an intricate psychological puzzle illustrating one woman’s descent into herself through the traumas she experiences. It should easily entertain the most hardened horror/suspense fan. It’s a truly unique experience, but like anything Argento does, it’s not for everyone, but should be seen.

Film Score: 4/5 Disc Score: 4/5

[Screenshots via]