Director – Dario Argento
Cast – Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann, Marco Leonardi, Luigi Diberti, Paolo Bonacelli, Julien Lambroschini, John Quentin
Release Year – 1996
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Anyone who is an avid fan of Dario Argento knows that he pretty much lost “it” after his last great film, 1987’s Opera. The did well with Two Evil Eyes in 1990, which he directed with George A. Romero, and did a good job with 1993’s Trauma, which I found some good joy in. Because I enjoyed these first two 90s Argento films, I figured I would enjoy his third 90s film The Stendhal Syndrome as well…but I was wrong. While this watch does provide some good direction and an interesting story, it suffers several faults that I could not forgive, and it amounted to just a borderline-positive watch in the end.
Asia Argento(Land of the Dead, xXx, Trauma, Demons 2) stars as Det. Anna Manni, a young policewoman trying to capture an elusive serial killer/rapist. Unfortunately, Anna suffers from a disorder known as the “Stendhal syndrome” in which she experiences extreme hallucinations and dizziness when in the presence of immense works of art. The killer is aware of this, and lures her into a trap within Florence’s famous Uffizi museum, which leaves her in his complete control. While she survives the ordeal, she is forever changed, and suffers the killer’s haunting presence to a personal level unlike any other.
Much like Argento’s previous film, Trauma, this one does not “feel” like an Argento flick. The production design is different than you would expect if you have seen his earlier masterpieces, and while that is not a bad thing at all, it is just a bit weird at first.
Despite these differences in film feel and appearance, Argento’s direction is good as usual, with great visuals and good camerawork, although his camerawork suffered in awesomeness in comparison to his earlier works. The horror we get is good and tense, and comes with some pretty shocking scenes that you would not expect to see from a film who’s director’s daughter is starring, but I’ll get to that later. As far as the shock value goes, it is quite high, and that is of course a result of Argento’s great execution of anything taboo as he settles for a no-holds-barred approach to such topics with his direction. While the horror in the film is good, this flick is just as much a drama as it is a horror film. Because of this, Asia Argento is pushed to the limits as an actress, and while I think she did as best as she could with her performances, I did not like the way her character was portrayed. Watching her slowly descent into madness was captivating if you enjoy films with psychological horror, but she was just too crazy and too annoying for my taste. As I mentioned, I really do not blame her much for this performance because Dario gets what Dario wants, meaning that he had to have sanctioned her performance, whether she was the best choice for such a role or not(at that time). Aside from this the rest of this direction is good, but I really could not forgive the atrociousness of Asia’s character Anna Manni, one of the most annoying I have ever come across. In fact, I’ll leave this character at just a level higher than the atrocious characters Sheri Moon Zombie always portrays.
As far as story goes the overall plot is an interesting one, consisting of many twists and turns and violent sex acts bleeding of debauchery. I will always be a fan of films involving a mystery element, and while the film carries a mystery element there really is not much mystery going on in this one. We find out who the killer is very early on, and while he is used well in the first half of the film, the latter half delivers less than satisfying results in regards to the mystery element. As usual with an Argento film, we get a twist ending in this one, although I must say that the twist comes as no surprise. Any viewer can see the twist coming so early on that even Argento himself did not know the twist before the viewer guesses it.
The most notable element of the film is the usage of Dario Argento’s daughter, Asia Argento, as Det. Anne Manni. The violent sex acts she is put through leads to knowledgeable viewer to question how a father can put his own daughter through such scenes and in fact be there himself to witness it, and Dario proves his awesomeness by answering “It’s just a movie”. As I mentioned earlier, I did not like how Det. Anne Manni was executed, and the same goes for how she was written. Much of the dialogue Anna Manni delivers during her scenes of psychosis, which were very often, was overdone and most likely aided in the unlikable acting performance she had to deliver. Most of what she says is downright ridiculous, and despite my love for Argento as a writer as well as director…it did not work this time.
Overall, this is an interesting and sometimes unusual watch for a Dario Argento film, but despite his usually good direction the film fails on several levels. Fans of psychological horror may appreciate the mayhem that goes down at the hands of our protagonist’s dealings with a psychopathic killer, but be forewarned of the protagonist’s insane antics that left this flick a borderline-positive watch in my eyes.