La Sindrome Di Stendhal

(The Stendhal Syndrome)

La Sindrome Di StendhalDario Argento's Stendhal Syndrome is one of those movies that has always skirted around in the background of genre fans radars and likewise a film that has never been given any truly deserved treatment on the DVD format. For myself, whilst appreciating its merits I would also admit I have never been someone to sing it praises either, until now´┐Ż

Produced just over 10 years ago (in 1996), La Sindrome Di Stendhal is in many ways at that point a return to form for Dario Argento. Having had little output from the previous 10 years or so aside from the US lensed Trauma and his Two Evil Eyes segment, Stendhal was the opportunity to get back to basics with not only the production of a truly Italian thriller but to team up once again with soundtrack auteur Ennio Morricone.

Whilst suffering a blackout at an art gallery (triggered by the little known but very real psychosomatic illness Stendhal Syndrome which causes people to faint when exposed to art) police detective Anna Manni (played by the consummately talented and very beautiful Asia Argento) loses her memory but following a hallucinatory flashback to the crime scene of a violent psychosexual murder case she is working on and her own subsequent sexual assault she herself becomes aggressively violent in pursuing her cause.

Still with me plotwise? Good, because very much in the style of many great Italian thrillers of the 1970's La Sindrome Di Stendhal takes you to a point of resolution then turns the film on its head which for those who cant appreciate the old school giallo frame of mind will perhaps be both bewildered and frustrated. For myself, on revisiting Stendhal 10 years later (and specifically with this Italian Medusa DVD release) I find the movie truly is Argento's return to classic Italian thriller form. Shot on location around Italy, he uses the camera to great affect capturing the beauty of various locales - both in the stunning architecture and the scarcer seen underbelly of Italy (Italy is a place of both great beauty and polarly great depravation) and whilst at the time of release many fans where disgruntled by the use of CGI effects work now in fact they work very well indeed (more so as their use is more commonplace and in fact Argento was leading the way with its use in genre movies).

As mentioned, storywise Stendhal may be somewhat frustrating to those not open to the Italian way of thriller production. The inclusion of the psychosomatic illness Stendhal Syndrome may be baffling for some but is very much understandable when you consider what excites Argento when he is developing a movie. Often fascinated by real life curiosities (in Four Flies on Grey Velvet for example, the inclusion of the machine that could read the image on the retina of a dead persons eye was picked up by Argento and co-writer Luigi Cozzi following reading an actual newspaper report about German police developing the same), with the inclusion of the Stendhal Syndrome (an illness covered in the Italian press through the 1980's following a slew of similarly diagnosed cases from visitors to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, where Asia's characters opening scene blackout takes place) it makes sense that including such a fantastic (but in fact realistic) theme would peak Argento's curiosity. And once you add to that the thrill of a violent psychosexual serial killer the setting is in place for the classic template of the the Italian thriller. Of course, like many classic thrillers if its ilk, there is perhaps scope for some to consider that the movie could have lost its last half hour (a somewhat disjointed additional red herring murder scenario) but in honesty this extended epilogue is very much keeping in style with the thrillers of old.

Mention should also be made of the return of Ennio Morricone in providing the score (the first time he had worked with Argento since the aforementioned Four Flies following ill feeling around Four Flies score - Argento felt Morricone's score didn't match the draft score planned by Deep Purple), Morricone's Stendhal score is perhaps one of the finest genre movie scores in the past decade or so. Both hauntingly beautiful and rich in melody, Morricone's score is one that will stay with you long after the end credits have rolled (I know I've been humming it for several days now) and is served well on this Medusa DVD release with a 5.1 surround presentation.

And what of this DVD package from Medusa in Italy? Well, for me its by far the best package to date (and hence perhaps one that Blue Underground, or whoever now holds the US or UK licence, will want to look to for guidance), the double disc set presents two versions of the film; on disc one we have the Italian version of the movie (in anamorphic widescreen, 1.66:1 format, with 5.1 and the original 2.0 audio along with both English and Italian subtitles); disc two contains the slightly shorter English language version (again in anamorphic widescreen, 1.66:1 format, with 5.1 English audio and both Italian and English subtitle options). The Italian version is definetely the way to go when watching Stendhal, the film plays so much better in the Italian variant and even though there is only an additional minute or so in the running time (with some minor character interaction) it really does feel so much more flowing and complete as an exciting genre movie experience (and in turn shows up the akward English audio dub for its failings - it should be pointed out though that both versions audio was done in post production, the Italian faring the better of the two, and as far as known the set guide track is no longer available). As for the screen ratio, its listed as 1.66:1 (as are most DVD releases of this title) but some have mentioned that they felt the image here is quite tight. For me, it looks fine as in comparison to some other releases this is by far the strongest and most defined the movie has ever looked and leaves any other regional release (at time of writing) blown out of the water.

Extras wise, the bulk of the goodies are held on disc two (disc one only has some text cards of cast and crew information) which includes extended location footage (over half an hour) of the movies shoot with interviews on set with Argento (both Dario and Asia) along with various other cast and crew luminaries. Also included are two short interview segments with both Dario and Asia yet again but sadly only Italian subtitle options are included for all the additional location and interview segments (again something we would hope could be transferred and made available with English subtitles for any incoming UK or USA release?)

La Sindrome Di Stendhal is very much an underrated jewel in Argento's crown and with this double disc special edition from Medusa in Italy most definitely a title worth revisiting (though do watch the Italian version of the movie). Argento's work like the finest vino rosso is something that obviously matures with age and La Sindrome Di Stendhal has the feel of a vintage classic. Check it out!

Review by Alan Simpson

Released by Medusa
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 14 (uncut)
Extras :
see main review