Thanks to its troubled release history and the multiple unsatisfying DVD releases over the years, I've seen The Stendhal Syndrome more times than any of Dario Argento's other films, which is probably a good thing since once past the initial disappointment at how little use it makes of the condition that gives it it's title there's a lot more to it than initially meets the eye. It's almost certainly Argento's most difficult and contradictory film. On one side it's a nasty little thriller about a serial rapist and killer with some unpleasant violence (albeit not as excessive as you might expect). And yet at the same time it does make a genuine effort to build a narrative around the psychological after-effects on one of his victims as she continually reinvents herself, at first as a more masculine figure in an attempt to reclaim some of the power her rapist has taken from her, later as a more `pure' and feminine one, ultimately identifying all too closely with her attacker...
It's not a complete success but it's certainly Argento's most ambitious and psychologically profound film with the best female role in any of his films. Unfortunately, the fact that she's played by Asia Argento, an actress with more ferocity than subtlety doesn't help (it was originally written as a vehicle for Bridget Fonda, with Jennifer Jason Leigh subsequently briefly attached). Nor does the fact that the Stendhal Syndrome itself, a form of emotional overload and physical breakdown in the presence of great works of art somewhat similar to the Jerusalem Syndrome, isn't really explored beyond acting as a trigger for the plot. The exceptionally bad cgi effects when it is don't help either, undercutting a couple of potentially interesting setpieces. Still, even if it's not essential viewing, it's much better than the likes of Phantom of the Opera or The Card Player and ultimately shows a surprising degree of sympathy for the character.
The film has always had a chequered history on DVD - Arrow's new PAL DVD is the uncut version, but for some reason the brief restored Italian sequences aren't subtitled into English and the only extra is the trailer for this and other Argento films. Troma's original US release was less than impressive and 74 seconds shorter than the Italian version (a couple of brief dialogue scenes trimmed by Argento himself) with a underwhelming transfer. Whereas the Italian PAL 2-disc DVD offered the dubbed American version and the very slightly longer subtitled Italian version on separate discs but was overcropped to 1.78:1 rather than the original 1.66:1 widescreen, Blue Underground's 2-disc NTSC release offers the uncut film on the first disc with optional English or Italian soundtracks in 1.66:1 (the film reverts to subtitled Italian for the restored scenes) in a superb transfer supervised by cinematographer Giuseppe Rotuno that finally shows the film in it's true colors after years of grainy and washed-out transfers. There's also a good selection of substantial interviews on the second disc. Although the making of documentary on the Italian two-disc set hasn't been included, with separate interviews with Argento, special effects supervisor Sergio Stivaletti, assistant director Luigi Cozzi and production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng, there's no cause for complaint. Best of all is the fascinating interview with psychological consultant Graziella Magherini, who originally identified the syndrome in the unrelated non-fiction book that inspired the film. Of the many versions available, Blue Underground's is definitely the one to go for.
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