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Argento's best since "Opera",
This review is from: Stendhal Syndrome  [DVD] (DVD)
I don't find myself saying this about most recent Dario Argento - where the holes in the plot only widen under scrutiny - but, though flawed, this film actually improves with repeated viewings. We'll have to wait and see how his conclusion to his "Three Mothers" trilogy turns out but, for the time being, this is easily his best work starring his daughter Asia. The previous "Trauma" was little short of an absolute mess in which, whatever good intentions he may have started out with, Dario struggled to tie his anorexic heroine to the ludicrous plot. With "The Stendhal Syndrome" he deals again with psychological illness, this time more successfully despite the somewhat trivial nature of the titular condition.
The first 20 minutes or so has an extraordinary hallucinatory quality and is quite masterfully directed. Anna Manni (Asia Argento) visits the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, has a powerful reaction - the Stendhal Syndrome - to some of the paintings, faints, injures herself in falling and wakes up with short term memory loss, not knowing who she is. Dazed and confused she staggers outside where a 'helpful stranger' catches up with her, returns her abandoned handbag, puts her in a taxi and dispatches her back to her hotel. Once there, Anna begins to regain her memory while hallucinating under the joint influences of prescribed medication and a painting on her bedroom wall. This is very cleverly done, for the facts recalled - that she is a police officer from Rome hunting a serial rapist/murderer - are simultaneously revealed to Anna and we, the viewer, increasing our sympathy with her. Returning from her dream, Anna is attacked and raped by the man she is hunting, passes out and awakes to find him in the process of killing another victim with Anna's gun. Anna escapes and, disturbed by her experience, returns to Rome, is placed on light duties and starts seeing a psychiatrist. However, the killer is not finished with her yet...
So far, so good. One would expect there now to ensue a riveting game of cat-and-mouse, but this never really materializes to its full potential. The killer retreats back into the shadows and - curiously, because we know who he is, physically, if not by yet by name - Dario employs his typical subjective camera in his stead. Although there is some suggestion that the murderer views Anna's Stendhal Syndrome as a parallel with the reverie he loses himself in when he attacks women, this promising theme is underdeveloped. Instead, the film chooses - perhaps bravely, perhaps foolishly - to focus on Anna struggling to come to terms with what has happened to her in anticipation of her attacker's next move.
Sadly, as the film begins to plod towards its upsetting (though inevitable/predictable) conclusion our interest does wane. What keeps us watching is the novel inversion of Dario's standard 'giallo' format in which a subjective killer is ultimately unmasked from a group of suspects; as I have mentioned, here, for once, we know the killer's identity yet the film pulls away from him as it progresses. Of course, there is a very good reason for this but, nevertheless, it's still an interesting stylistic departure. It's also refreshing not to have Dario resorting to outrageous trickery to hide his killer; what concealment there is plays pretty fair though unfortunately it's more transparent than subtle.
Three other notable plus-points: a memorable Ennio Morricone score; some vivid location photography in Florence, Rome and Viterbo; and a brief appearance by the still-beautiful Cinzia Monreale, who played the blind girl in Lucio Fulci's "The Beyond" and also starred in Joe D'Amato's "Buio Omega"/"Beyond the Darkness".