Legendary Italian director Dario Argento had a rough couple of years in the mid ‘90s with two underwhelming American films, Two Evil Eyes and Trauma, neither of which was received with open arms. He returned to Italian cinemas in 1996 with The Stendhal Syndrome, starring his daughter and future xXx bad girl, Asia Argento. The film is an odd one, and its title refers to a condition in which viewers of classic artworks become overwhelmed and disoriented. Asia Argento plays detective Anna Manni, who typically investigates sex crimes. She works to track down a serial rapist, and winds up in Florence, Italy, where the danger comes into her own life.
After meeting a supposed informant at the Uffizi Gallery, Manni catches the Stendhal Syndrome, falls and hits her head. The man, Alfredo Grossi (Thomas Kretschmann), appears to kindly help her back to her hotel. But she runs into Grossi again that night and discovers he is the rapist she seeks. In a controversial and disturbing scene, Grossi rapes and humiliates Manni before she is able to escape his grasp. Once free, Manni works to find and capture Grossi, who continues to victimize women, but finds the symptoms of the Stendhal Syndrome and repercussions from her sexual assault begin to overwhelm her senses.
Known for his giallo horror films, Argento is a unique and visionary director. The Stendhal Syndrome is a different kind of film for the director; one that is more about the impact of violence than the acts themselves. It borrows heavily from Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, and plays on that film's plot devices in a twisted way I will not spoil. The extended rape scene is disturbing on its face, but I suspect the experience was especially traumatizing for Asia Argento, particularly with dad behind the lens. The film is handsomely shot in a dreamy hazy by Giuseppe Rotunno, and Ennio Morricone's score complements the drama. Florence's beautiful architecture lends an impressive backdrop.
The true-to-life affliction at the heart of the film is quite unique, and the lead's tendency to become overwhelmed with artwork follows her throughout the film. Argento turns Manni's perception of reality on its head, and hints that reality (and the perception of great artwork) is in the eye of the beholder. The movie's pacing is erratic at times, and The Stendhal Syndrome appears to jump around in spots, requiring the viewer to go with the illogical flow. Argento does a fairly good job, though the dubbing is not especially complimentary to her performance. Some hokey CGI effects could have been scrapped, but the scenes of violence are raw and intense. This is far from Argento's best film, but it is uniquely entertaining.
Blue Underground releases The Stendhal Syndrome with a 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image from a new 2K restoration of the original camera negative. Colors are bold and nicely saturated, and outdoor landscapes are often gorgeously detailed. Fine-object detail is usually impressive, and there is plenty of texture in the image. Grain can be a bit splotchy at times, and parts of the film appear rather soft. Black levels are generally solid, with some moderate crush in nighttime scenes. I noticed a couple of compression issues, but Blue Underground is apparently offering replacement discs that fix this quirk and another minor audio issue. See their Facebook page for details.
UPDATE - November 10, 2017: Blue Underground did issue replacemlent discs and I can report the compression issues have now been fixed. The picture looks solid in motion, and I've amended my score to four stars.
Blue Underground includes both Italian and English tracks in three formats: 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, 5.1 DD-EX and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio stereo. Dubious dubbing aside, this track is solid. Italian filmmakers were using looped dialogue throughout the ‘90s, and the dubbing issues are present in both languages. Otherwise, dialogue is clear and without distortion. Ambient effects are prevalent, particularly in the 7.1 mix, and score and effects are balanced appropriately with the dialogue. There are some effective sound pans, and directional dialogue sounds authentic. English, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This three-disc set includes the Blu-ray, DVD of the movie and an additional Blu-ray disc with archival featurettes. The discs are packed in a digipack that is wrapped in a slipcover with striking (if kind of tacky) artwork. On Disc One you get a Commentary by Author Troy Howarth, who discusses Argento and other Italian filmmakers. Three Shades of Asia (20:01/HD) is a recent interview with the actress; Prisoner of Art (13:36/HD) sees co-writer Franco Ferrini discuss the unique syndrome on which the plot is built; Sharp as a Razor (10:03/HD) is an interview with makeup artist Franco Casagni; and things wrap up here with the Trailer (1:03/HD) and a Poster and Still Gallery On Disc Three, the bonus disc, you get several featurettes: Director: Dario Argento (20:02/SD); Inspiration: Psychological Consultant Graziella Magherini (20:39/SD); Special Effects: Sergio Stivaletti (15:47/SD); Assistant Director: Luigi Cozzi (21:51/SD); and Production Designer: Massimo Antonella Geleng (22:39/SD).
Dario Argento returned to form in 1996 after several disappointing American films. This psychological thriller is not in the vein of his usual giallo films but is nonetheless an effective, disturbing thriller starring Argento's daughter, Asia. Asia Argento plays a detective on the trail of a serial rapist, who gets dangerously close in the heart of Florence, Italy. Blue Underground offers an excellent new Blu-ray edition that is sure to please fans. Recommended.