Monday, August 25, 2008

The Stendhal Syndrome

La Sindrome di Stendhal; Thriller, Italy, 1996; D: Dario Argento, S: Asia Argento, Marco Leonardi, Thomas Kretschmann, Luigi Diberti, Paolo Bonacelli

Police officer Anna Manni enters a gallery in Florence. Since she suffers from the Stendhal syndrome, that causes hallucinations in front of artistic works, she falls unconscious. Some man called Alfredo helps her and she goes to the hotel. But, it turns out that he is a wanted serial killer - he rapes her. Shocked, Anna notifies the police, shortens her hair and starts avoiding her boyfriend Marco. Since the hunt for Alfredo is long, and he kills women when he reaches orgasm, Anna goes to a psychiatrist. But Alfredo again captures and rapes her in a basement in the forest. Still, she frees herself, breaks his neck and throws him in the river. After that she find a new boyfriend, Marie, but he gets killed. When she kills her psychiatrist, the police arrest her because she gained a split personality that acts as Alfredo.

"The Stendhal Syndrome" will probably repel many viewers in the first half, but those who will finish it to the end will get an inversion of opinion because that way the story as a whole gains a new context. The creepy mood and anxiety are a normal congruency for the horror icon Dario Argento, so a lot of bizarre scenes can be found in the film - the heroine Anna (the director's daughter Asia) hallucinates that she enters and walks on a meadow on a painting or that she dives in a painted sea and kisses a fish, and when she swallows a pill the camera observes her esophagus from the inside. The scene where Alfredo rapes her after he injured her lip and licked her blood is truly terrible and could make even the biggest psychopath to think about the effects of violence. Still, somewhere in the second half, the movie starts brilliantly breaking thriller cliches: when Alfredo grabs her again, she frees herself, injures him with a gun, breaks his neck and throws him down the river. The bad guy dies already half way into the film (unthinkable for, let's say, "Friday the 13th" serial)! There is also a neat plot twist at the end, a one that Argento has already used in different variations, so that except brutality and bizarre style, there isn't that much to criticize.


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