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What makes up the singular pleasure that is Dario Argento? Maybe it's the
crossroads where High Romanticism and hardcore porn meet. (I'm referring
the feeling of his work--not the images.) Argento seems doomed, like
Peckinpah and like Lynch, to have summed up his world-view in a single
masterpiece, the 1977 SUSPIRIA; the thrillers that came before and the
low-budget shockers that came after may offer delights, but nothing close
that unity of vision.
Seeing THE STENDHAL SYNDROME projected in Los Angeles, I was struck with newfound sympathy for the Star Wars fans protesting way too much in favor of THE PHANTOM MENACE. If you love THE STENDHAL SYNDROME, you love Argento, and that is that--you may see the flaws, but they don't ruin your pleasure. The picture has too many Achilles heels to enumerate here, but what's important is that nobody in world cinema today is wrestling with his soul in the psychosexual mire the way Argento does. He puts his misogynistic demons and his almost sentimental compassion right out there; and only Cronenberg has such a direct pipeline to his own unconscious. Not to mention the fabulous, cascading images--Argento's stock-in-trade is Victorian Liebestod, Edward Gorey gone porno, and THE STENDHAL SYNDROME has sequences that rank with his best.
The sketchy thing about STENDHAL SYNDROME, like the maestro's TRAUMA, is his use of his daughter, Asia Argento, in scenes one cannot imagine a father watching, much less filming. Whatever memoirs come down the pike twenty years later, it must be said: Argento for certain lets it all hang out, and the land-mined terrain he maps is, to my taste, thrilling.
La Syndrome di Stendahl has met cruel critical comments on its initial release but although it is not at all like his earlier work, it is in fact a far more intelligent and mature affair. Anna Manni, the character played by Asia Argento, has more compassion than any other character in an Argento film, quite unlike the carelessly created cartoon-like characters of his other work. It is true, however that the film drags slightly in the middle, although picks up the pace again for a surprising and beautifully directed finale; and although the film is not as bloody as tenebrae, the violence on display is brutal and sexual (leading to it being cut for release in Britain) and genuinely disturbing. Perhaps not as good as Deep Red or Suspiria, but definitely one of this unusual director's better efforts.
Regarded as one of Argento's lesser works, I find this one much more
plausible than any of his early films. Let's face it, Argento doesn't
care much about plot or even acting. His films are probably the
frustrating I've ever seen: There are things I love, and things I hate
about them. I grew up watching much of his films mutilated by Italian
Television. I was a kid back then, and strangely enough his films never
scared me when they were supposed to. They were really over the top.
But I loved the colours, the pictures and once in a while I found
myself humming Claudio Simonetti's electronic scores.
Now with this film Argento has Morricone, who is definitely a master and he does a great job here. Anna's character is really intriguing. Some people dismiss Asia's acting style, but I think it goes very well with her father's aesthetics. You wont find the crazy colours here. Everything is more restrained. The opening for example scene is great. But the film looses interest towards the end. Still I think is one of Argento's most solid pieces. The idea is truly interesting and Anna's relationship with the killer is fascinating. The hallucinations scenes of Anna going into the paintings are masterfully done.
After the huge disappointment of Il Cartaio, I hope he truly returns to form, and start doing what he's good at: Going crazy with film. La Sindrome Di Stendhal is a pretty good step.
Ok, I'll start off by saying this is my first Argento movie (I guess that makes me a horror poser), but I don't see why everyone is so upset about it. I think it's an incredible movie. I couldn't stop watching it, and I can't say that about a lot of movies. This is one of the most emotional movies I've seen. It's a great thriller with some nice visual effects as well. If this is his worst movie, then I have to see the others!
Definitely heady stuff from a filmmaker whose prior experience with
psychological subtext has been problematic at best, this film highlights a
fearless performance by Asia Argento. The obvious "Argento touches" (i.e.,
pills rattling down an esophagus, the bullet through a woman's face) stick
out like a sore thumb, as they act not in service to the story but rather to
reference what is expected from Argento; after the catastrophe of Trauma
(Argento imitating a hack filmmaker imitating Argento), this film goes in
directions that the director's previous films had only hinted at, and
doesn't lead to rely on trademarks for a crutch.
The pace of the film is extremely well-handled in the first half, although it seems to lose track in the second half exactly where the narrative should be tightening up. But given Argento's lack of experience with more plot-driven material, this is in some measure to be expected. Cinematography, sets, art direction are all exemplary.
The acting is always a sore point for Argento movies. Here, only a couple of actors are allowed to give performances, but they make them count. Thomas Kretschmann is only on screen a few times, but gives a strong enough impression in that time (and not simply because of the brutal material contained there) that his role seems much larger. However, the film lives or dies with Asia's performance, and she throws herself into it with abandon. She's ultimately more convincing when she's required to be fierce than when she's required to be vulnerable, but goes through a bewildering range of emotions with scarcely a false note. And it's to her credit that it's so unsettling watching the torments her father subjects her to, so to speak, because she commits herself to their realization so thoroughly.
Comparing this to films from Argento's peak period is not really applicable...it comes from an entirely different vein. Which makes it all the more depressing that his next movie would be Il Fantasma dell'Opera, easily his worst.
Argento has been cursed with a number of duds in recent years. 'Two
Evil Eyes', 'The Phantom of the Opera', 'Sleepless', 'The Card Player'
and one of the worst MASTERS OF HORROR episodes yet 'Jenifer'. However,
the beautiful, poignant 'The Stendhal Syndrome' is an extremely well
crafted rose between a number of poisonous thorns. It sees a return to
the atmospheric dream-like charm of his earlier films like 'Phenomena'
and 'Suspiria', but adopting his more recent sadism (it's always there,
just a different style in his newer films) that gave slight high points
in his otherwise dull modern films. After two poorly reviewed films
('Trauma' and 'Two Evil Eyes') Argento has finally done it right.
The film stars his daughter, Asia (whose interesting relationship with Dario adds to the intriguing and off-beat persona he puts out), as Anna, a beautiful police detective in Rome. When she is targeted by the serial killer she is hunting, she is raped and beaten and so leads Argento's best character study and one of the most intense of his films to date. Rather than following the madman as he offs prostitutes and impressionable young women through Italy (the film lightly touches on it, but the more left to the imagination the better), the film follows Anna as she loses grip on reality and develops a strange disease in which she can ever paintings in her mind and they help solve the case, called the Stendhal Syndrome. As the film goes on the attacks on Anna become more and more vicious, and the final climatic ending is one of Argento's best.
Asia delivers a interesting performance, to say it is good is to stretch the truth, but it is suited to the role and you can tell she has a lot of acting talent. All the other performances are rather flat, but as with all of Agento's films the performances aren't what really matter. The cinematography is bland, but as with Asia's performance suits the film better than if it were Technicolor. The tension and music is amazing, the film devotes itself to really unsettling you, rather than just entertaining you like other recent Argento's. 'The Stendhal Syndrome' is probably the most violent and disturbing I've seen the man go, the rape and murder scenes are gratuitously sadistic and the scenes where Anna is raped are bordering on exploitation.
Overall 'The Stendhal Syndrome' is a fantastic return to form fr Argento, and I hope 'The Third Mother' is anywhere near as well-crafted as this.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Anna Manni is a police inspector from Rome on the trail of a serial
rapist and killer. Acting on a tip, she visits the Uffizi Gallery in
Florence but suffers a strange collapse in reaction to the paintings.
She is aided by a mysterious man called Grossi, who turns out to be the
maniac, and subjects her to a hideous ordeal. She survives, but is
horribly traumatised by her experience. Can she recover, when will
Grossi strike again and why does he feel such a kinship with her ?
The plot of this movie is hard to describe and equal parts intriguing and unpleasant. As with all Argento's thrillers, the plot is exciting and fun to guess, but it's more of a psychological drama than a crime story. Anna is almost always changing as the film progresses, both externally and internally; she starts off not knowing who she is, then she discovers who she was, remodels herself into someone else and ends up as confused as we are. Asia Argento (Dario's daughter with actress Daria Nicolodi) is iconic in the role, which is almost impossible to play extremely physical, enigmatic and chameleon-like. She looks astonishingly like her father and she shares his artistic courage to dive into the darkest and most personal recesses of the psyche. My favourite aspect of this picture is her relationship with the many paintings to her, they are living canvases, with characters who cry, scream and bleed (realised through excellent visual effects work by Sergio Stivaletti). The wordless opening seven minutes as she wanders through the Uffizi and her vision is assailed by the images, culminating with her literally falling into one of the paintings, is as bewitching an opening as I've ever seen, made all the more unsettling by Ennio Morricone's stunning score, featuring a hair-curling simple melody of eight minor notes. Argento's films are an acquired taste; this one features a lengthy rape and torture sequence in the middle which is hard to sit through (though not as hard as say, Frenzy or Straw Dogs), but as with all his work the film is somehow stunningly beautiful. Violence equals art. In a world of banal formulaic television designed for peons with four-second attention-spans, this is stunning cinema, regardless of moral judgements. The Stendhal Syndrome is a real psychosomatic illness, diagnosed by an Italian psychiatrist, Graziella Magherini, whose book on the subject was the primer for the intriguing script by Argento and Franco Ferrini. Shot in Rome, Florence and Viterbo.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a completely spoiler filled review.
Detective Anna Manni (Asia Argento) is on the trail of a psychotic murder/rapist Alfredo Grossi (Thomas Kretschmann) as she trails him to the Uffizi Gallery in Florens. Inside the gallery she succumbs to the influence of the Stendhal Syndrome. She literally enters the paintings, suffers severe hallucinations and also suffers from memory loss afterwords. Later, while in this desperate state Grossi manages to abduct her and physically abuse her as well as multiply raping her, leaving her completely shattered and beaten. But she manages to break loose and kill Grossi and dump him into the river.
At this point the film is only half way through it's two hour running time.
The ever so interesting Italian director of the macabre Dario Argento delves into whether or not art can be deadly. The Stendhal Syndrome is actually real, people suffering from it experience an overwhelming and totally consuming feeling of connectedness to the work of art before them. They literally plunge into the object, experience the fear, joy, anger or suffering it depicts. In short; it absorbs them.
In the film, the rapist/murderer Grossi somehow knows about Anna's weakness (never quite explained how) and uses it to his advantage, to be on top of her (so to speak) and ultimately degrade her for his own sick amusement. In the end Anna overcomes her weakness and then she can triumph over her abuser. But, as we later find out, she hasn't overcome her illness, she just finds another way of dealing with it, by substituting her self with her abuser.
Argento explores many subjects here. Beautiful works of art can have a negative side to it, as is well depicted here because of the Stendhal Syndrome. People can easily be exploited while under the influence and one can think of many similar scenarios to which Argento could be referring to. And in a twist one can think therefore that art can make people kill. So Argento's conclusion is that art can be deadly.
In the second half of the film Argento explores another psychological side; where Manni transforms herself into her abuser. Sort of a weird twist in a way of the Stockholm syndrome; where victims connect in a deep way with their tormentors. Also a transmission of guilt (which apparently many rape victims fall prey to) helps her to not have to face what she went through but also meaning that her inner torment will never be over. So probably it's better to connect with the monster than having to face the humiliation he put her through.
When Anna fully paints herself (circa 40 minutes into the film) it's like she's in some sort of trance, or high (like junkies), it's like she's embracing the syndrome and learning to control it more, even welcoming it. But I'll admit that this part is something I really don't get.
The Stendhal Syndrome is most definitely a detour in the Argento canon. The stylish cinematography, art and set designs and brutal violence are there (as always) but this is much more phsycologically oriented and character driven than his other films. And I'll admit that I completely love the way Argento indulges himself with everything; the slow pacing, the drastic change in the middle, the overly brutal (and experimental) violence. It reminds you of the two and half minute crane shot in Tenebrae, which was mostly pointless but great to look at.
Performances are mostly good. Although a 21 year old Asia isn't very believable as a seasoned detective she does display a good range of emotions as she is really put through a lot. Kretschmann makes for a very loathsome character and he looks menacing enough, pretty good job I'd say. Supporting actors range from decent to downright embarrassing, that's at least one thing Argento is consistent with.
The Stendhal Syndrome is an original, uncompromising and brutal viewing experience. Argento has created a very violent film with rich philosophy, psychological exploration and he has done it with style. That's my humble opinion.
P.S. The Italian dub version is superior to the English language dub, which is simply atrocious.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I first saw this film four or five years ago, and I felt then as I do
now. This film is not a horror film. It's been wrongly judged in that
context due to the director's reputation. But I think history will show
that Dario Argento isn't really a horror filmmaker. Horror films
actually make up just a small percentage of his films and "The Stendhal
Syndrome" is no horror film.
Dario Argento is a genius. As an Italian director in the generation (and tradition) of Antonioni, his films are far more cerebral and avant-garde than the traditional horror fair of even Bava and the like. His films are Freudian investigations that exist somewhere between psychological thriller and horror. The violence is a device more so than a selling point.
It took a little while for "The Stendhal Syndrome" to make it to the States. I don't know why that is. But I'm sure there are some politics behind it as Argento is only too happy to criticize Hollywood and of the bad experiences he's had making films for major American studios. What's strange is that this DVD is on Troma (who I love in a weird way) instead of Anchor Bay who have been releasing most of the old Argento stuff on DVD.
"The Stendhal Syndrome" is something of a return to form for Argento. After a couple of severely hacked films done for American companies and a brief hiatus, this film was his chance to make a film strictly following his own muse and without the business end of the film industry in mind. Working with his daughter, Asia, for the second time he was able to explore darker subject matter. The previous time they worked together was on "Trauma" which, despite being ruined by an editing process aimed at success in the US horror market, still dealt with issues outside of the norm and deeper into his psychoanalytical fascination as the main character suffered from bulimia.
Asia Argento has carved a name for herself as an actor not afraid to play characters who either have severe psychological disorders or who has to face emotionally and physically abusive obstacles. In this film, she is a detective named Anna Manni sent to Florence to track down a serial rapist / killer known as Alfredo. While at the Uffizi Art Museum she not only discovers that she suffers from a mental disorder that makes her hallucinate that she is inside the paintings she's observing (the Stendhal Syndrome, of course). She passes out in the crowded museum only to discover she has a bloody lip and her gun has been stolen from her purse. Of course, it turns out that the gun is stolen by the serial rapist / killer who then becomes the pursuer and finds Argento in her hotel room. In a brutal and horrifying scene, Alfredo rapes the detective in her hotel room setting things in motion to create a long, complex story ending with a Hitchcock-ian twist.
Along the way, there are some classic Argento innovations with shot design and cinematography. Always an innovator that avoided any sort of computer special effects, there are some amazing sequences including a dreamlike sequence where Anna hallucinates that she sees Alfredo murder another one of his victims. In slow motion, we see the bullet leave the gun, through the wall of the victim's cheek, through her body and out the other side. In another sequence, Anna takes medication and we actually see the pills travel down her throat. This drawing of attention to otherwise mundane events is a lot like the gun battle scene in "Three Kings".
Another surreal moment happens when Anna reflects back to her first contact with one of Alfredo's victims. Rather than say it's a dream or use some sort of obvious special effect, the shot is designed so she can walk directly from one set to another. By betraying the cinematic illusion created by sets, it's an interesting twist on a dream sequence.
Argento has always been good with heightening tension with simple over the top acts done without fanfare. During the rape scene, one horrifying image that stayed with me was when Alfredo produced a razor blade out of his mouth during the rape scene. He claims that he needs to cut her lip so she looked just as she did when she passed out in the museum. The importance of that dialog offsets the fact that he's had a sharp razor in his mouth the entire time.
There are other Argento stand-bys. Soundscape is always very important to his film especially when used to heighten paranoia. Like some moments in "Suspiria", there are sequences in the film that use obtuse audio overdubs of chattering voices. While part of the background, they're recorded so manic and unrealistically, they become a reflection of the protagonist's psyche.
That day in the art museum becomes the factor that binds together Anna's disorder with her victimization by Alfredo. The use of this type of logic plays large in the film and forces the viewer to make a lot of otherwise unrealistic leaps of faith. That's always been part of Argento's style. His intellectual approach and matter of fact form of arguing his characters logic helps make it all believable no matter how absurd. Surrealism and special effects are blatant and never hidden. There are no tricks here that he doesn't want you to see.
A lot of people argue that this is one of his lesser works. I disagree. While nowhere in the area of "Profundo Rosso" or "Four Flies On Grey Velvet", I found the film to be gripping and fascinating. I suppose if you're looking for a horror film like "Suspiria" or "Opera", you'll be disappointed. But I think that this film is one of his better. It's certainly his best in recent times and I really can't think of another film like it.
I don't really understand why so many Argento fans dislike this film, I
think it's one of his best works. It's not always easy to watch, it has
some very nasty violence, even for an Argento film, I wouldn't recommend the
film to sensitive persons; but it's not for exploitational purposes.
Argento does a good job of juggling real-life horrors with a dreamy,
hallucinatory atmosphere, and pulls off some typically Argento-esque
setpieces, such as the one in which a bullet is followed through a woman's
mouth with the aid of CGI. The great Ennio Morricone delivers possibly his
best score for a horror film, the haunting main theme with his trademark
wordless female vocals stayed with me long after the film was over.
Frequent Fellini cameraman Giuseppe Rotunno does an excellent job on the
The Stendhal Syndrome isn't for everyone, but it's worth a viewing for fans of European horror and psychological thrillers in general.
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