Dario Argento's The Stendhal Syndrome
from 1996 is among one of his finest gothic/slash/occult/slash/horror and gore films and the first film to use CGI. In this film his own daughter Asia Argento takes the blows, as opposed to his former partner Dario Niccolodi.
Asia plays Anna Manni, a detective who is investigating a serial murderer case. She is following up a lead in Florence when all of a sudden a painting at a museum, which seems to come alive, entrances her and she faints. The nice young man Alfredo Grossi played by Thomas Kretschmann offers to help her.
It looks like love, but no, he is the serial murderer and Anna is his next prey. But instead of executing her, he plays with her like a mouse. Anna goes through many metamorphoses in the film. Especially her hair. She starts out as a brunette with long hair, dressed almost like a schoolgirl, then cuts her hair like Frida Kahlo in her famous painting after Diego Rivera cheats on her. The hair cutting is symbolic of sexual assault. This is probably the most powerful part of Anna's metamorphoses. Her brother teases her that she looks like a boy. But no, she looks like a baby dyke! And the film has an androgynous appeal in that. Then Anna dons a blonde Lolita wig and falls for a French art student who drives a scooter. In the meantime the presence of the serial murderer is always there, always menacing and robbing her of sleep. One can wonder why Dario Argento always subjects his women to morbid violence, especially his own daughter. The eerie Stendhal syndrome in which people become trapped in paintings and faint is used to explain why Anna gets trapped with a serial murderer and the aesthetics of sexualized violence, hardly a welcome thesis. Dario Argento tries to make a connection, as in all of his films. to the irresistible pull of the supernatural that captivates people and makes them prisoner despite premonitions of danger or perhaps because of them. At least as spectators we know that the danger is out there but when it's going to hit is an unknown. The Italian horror master is one of the few directors I know where I have to peak through my fingers because I know something horrible is soon going to happen. But it still makes for a compelling film that doesn't get vulgar or cheap, but stays in some kind of respectable depravity.
For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan Stockholm Sweden
© 2009 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 4/22/09
The Stendhal Syndrome
Italy - 1996