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Getting over the Stendhal Syndrome

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Getting over the Stendhal Syndrome

Old 09-11-00, 06:59 PM
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Stendal Syndrome
Theatrical Release Date: 1996
DVD Release Date: May 30, 2000
by Troma Studios
Directors Cut

Directed by Dario Argento
Starring Asia Argento and Thomas Kretschmann

Detective Anna Manni suffers from two things, she canít look at some works of art without fainting into an unconscious fantasy, and there is a homicidal, rapist-killer toying with her. After being brutalized and raped by the madman, her already suspect emotions and memory are jumbled, so she returns home to try and piece her fragile self back together. Of course there is still a killer on the lose, and the trauma set upon her appears to be twisting her psyche.

Stendhal Syndrome is haphazard mess, struggling to work, yet ultimately failing. Dario Argento presents a bleak film, negative because it lacks the Argento flourish, the stylized touch that made him famous. Aside from the occasional inspired shot here and there, the film is outright flat, brutal, and clumsy. Truly, it is only the outright brutality that makes it interesting. Without that ugly touch to prod at and thicken the skin of the viewer, it is just a dud.

What this film reminded me of, in terms of a director slightly shifting in style, was Hitchcock's Frenzy. With Frenzy, Hitchcock directed more violent scenes, nudity, and stronger elements in general, and it is the same with Dario and the overt cruelties present in Stendhal Syndrome. Gone are the expressionistic tones and otherworldliness that made his violence slick and dreamlike. Instead, Stendhal is just a mean, pessimistic debacle, bookended by a flawed beginning and end, but a good, entertaining middle.

The DVD itself is unforgivable. Troma delayed this for quite sometime, witch would lead one to believe they were taking great care with the film. It is perfectly obvious that they probably delayed the DVD only because of all the self-gratifying promos tacked onto it. The transfer is hideous, barely better than video, washed out color, grainy, and horrible contrast. The extra interviews (two with Dario, one with Sergio Stivaletti, and one, for some reason, with Ruggero Deodato?) are done on bad video and bad microphones, and filmed by cameramen, who neither know how to sit still, frame, or focus very well. There is a third interview with Dario that is quite good, fine sound and, thank god, a cameraman who uses a tripod. If Troma is going to acquire more serious titles by genre filmmakers, they should treat the material with some respect and not do such an inexcusable hack job.

[This message has been edited by iaido (edited September 11, 2000).]
Old 09-11-00, 09:14 PM
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Iado: From what I read, Troma used the p&s Laserdisc transfer for the disc, but...and here's the really unforgivable part...they matted the p&s transfer to 1.66:1 to give it a widescreen appearance!

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Old 09-12-00, 01:38 PM
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Troma is full of idiots. Stendhal Syndrome comes on cable on the 17th if anyone is interested.

I wouldn't buy anything from Troma.. They're name on a DVD generally means low quality and crappy 'extras' that have nothing to do with the movie.

Strangely enough, I'm probably going to buy Bloodsucking Freaks..
Old 09-13-00, 01:18 PM
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Thanks for the review, iaido. Being the odd-man out (the story of my life),
I consider The Stendhal Syndrome, though flawed, to be an excellent film. What I find interesting is how Argento equates the power of art with the act of rape. I personally have been affected by various art forms on an emotional level that I had no control over. As a character in the film says (paraphrase) "Art has power over us. Great art has great power." To have the rapist speak these lines simply brings the point home for me. In Anna's case, she is as helpless around art, it consumes her, like the rapist. It is no coincidence that every time she is raped or witnesses a rape, there is art work around her. Likewise, when she finally turns on her attacker, the coming to life of a drawing of a monster with an erection is what gives her the strength to break free. But in doing so, she changes herself. She becomes cold and unemotional. She uses a wig to cover the scar left by the rapist and is able to look at art without being affected by it in any way. When emotions start to come to her (love for that little french guy on his motor scooter), she thinks that the rapist is still alive. The only way she can control the situation is to kill off that which makes her feel.
Although this is the cliff notes version of how I saw the film, I cannot comletely disagree with what iaido said. The film is not nearly as stylish as some of Argento's other work and some scenes are stupid beyond belief, such as the CGI of the pill going down the gullet. Likewise, the dubbing and acting leave a bit to be desired. However, I commend Argento for taking chances and I consider this to be a more challenging film than some give it credit for.

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