Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Stendhal Syndrome

Title: The Stendhal Syndrome
Director: Dario Argento
Released: 1996
Staring: Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann, Marco Leonardi, Luigi Diberti, Paolo Bonacelli

Plot: Detective Anna Manni (Argento) is hunting for serial killer Alfredo Grossi (Kretschmann) with her assignment taking her to Florence as part of the investigation. While at a museum, Anna finds her drawn into a trance like state, while suddenly struck by the Stendhal Syndrome. Unknown to Anna this weakness has been discovered by Alfredo who soon plots to use it against her.

Review: Dario Argento is yet another director who for one reason or another I’ve only recently got around to watching, with this film being the first I’ve seen outside of his “Masters of horror” episode “Jenifer”, which suffered the wrath of the censors with Argento’s expressing a severe disgust that his episode ended up receiving several noticeable cuts, while narrowly avoiding being banned outright, a fate which was unsurprisingly suffered by Miike Takashi’s episode “Imprint”. Still Argento's work remains highly recommended by many Horror fans, though perhaps I could have chosen an easier title to start with, especially with this film being so heavy in graphic rape sequences, which make it anything but an easy film to watch.

Dario once again casts his daughter Asia who appears here in the second of her four collaborations to date with her father, despite his original intention of casting Bridget Fonda in the lead role, while also considering both Jennifer Jason Leigh and Daryl Hannah with the plan of making the film in America, which like his plans for his leading lady all fell through for various reasons, which ultimatly would lead Argento to relocate the film to Italy and cast his daughter in the lead role, a choice almost reminiscent of Francis Ford Coppola casting his own daughter Sofia when faced with similar issues on the production of “The Godfather Part 3” with her performance being largely panned by critics and Coppola being accused of Nepotism, all things which Argento managed to avoid here, even though casting his own daughter in a role which sees her character being graphically raped is certainly questionable and a credit to the professionalism of Argento that he would treat her the same as any other actress, when it came to filming such difficult sequences.

Surprisingly the revel of Kretschmann as the films psycho comes early in the film, yet removes none of his creepy and hypnotic presence when he is on the screen, with Kretschmann not only dying his hair blonde and learning word perfect Italian for the role, but also figuring out how to hide a razorblade behind his teeth aswell as how to manipulate it within his mouth, without slicing himself, a skill which is used to highly memorable effect, with such dedication to the role earning him much praise from Argento, who had first noticed Kretschmann when he had stared alongside Asia in her previous film “La Reine Margot” (1994) with this role also gaining him international recognition, though despite warm praise this it would take him until 2002 to break into Hollywood with his role Polanski’s “The Pianist”, continuing a running theme throughout his career of playing officers of the Third Riech.

The subject matter of the effects of rape, as I have mentioned already certainly make this not the easiest film to watch, but Argento has chosen to treat this almost as a study of how rape can effect it’s victims, even though he still finds time for some sadistic style blood letting, torture and torment with Asia in particular finding these scenes especially hard to shoot, more so with her father being so caught up in his work, that Asia called time on these scenes when she felt she had reached her limit, often leaving the set for the rest of the day to recover from the effects which these scenes had on her and even as a viewer they are not easy to watch and a testament to her ability to portray them with such a realistic edge, much like how Anna deals with her situation and her various stages of recovery, which see her taking up boxing and more dramatically cutting her long hair short, all while refusing to play the victim and more importantly all shown after she has had her revenge on her attacker and it was this part of the film, were I felt it lost a lot of it’s pace and generally didn’t seem to know were to go and while Asia might not be as convincing as the recovering victim, she certainly makes up for it in the scenes which matter.

This meandering use of running time same could also explain for Argento’s attempts to explore the idea of The Stendhal Syndrome, a condition named after a 19th century French writer, were sufferers of the condition have been known to suffer from dizziness, fainting and even hallucinations when exposed to work of art. It’s also a condition that Argento reportedly suffered from as a child while climbing the steps of the Parthenon, were he found himself in a trance like state which caused him to be lost from his parents for hours and here proves a handy excuse for Anna to suffer several hallucinations which see her walking into paintings and actually interacting with her surroundings, which provide several of the more surreal moments including her making out with a giant grouper fish.

The gore here is all pretty bloody with Argento taking a misstep with the ill advised use of CGI here, which honestly took more away from the film that it added, with the CGI essentially being used only for the more pointless of sequences like two pills travelling down Anna’s throat and a bullet through a victim’s cheek. Still seeing how the violence is all rape related it’s far from fun times here, especially with Argento frequently testing the limits of his audience with these scenes, which time reveled a little too much sadistic delight in what was being shown.

“The Stendhal Syndrome” is not an easy film to watch at any stretch and it’s subject matter would be covered a lot more effectively for myself atleast in “Irreversible” (2002). What also really did not help me get more into film, was definatly that version of the film I saw suffered from a really hideous dubbing, so I would strongly recommend hunting down the subtitled version if you’re an Argento completist or the kind of film goer who likes to challenge themselves, as this film is certainly one to endure rather than enjoy and that’s putting it mildly to say the least.

1 comment:

  1. jervaise brooke hamster23 May 2011 at 11:48

    I want to bugger Asia Argento (in 1993 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).


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