The Stendhal Syndrome

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The Stendhal Syndrome
Sindrome di Stendhal.jpg
Italian theatrical release poster
Directed by Dario Argento
Produced by Dario Argento
Giuseppe Colombo
Walter Massi
Screenplay by Dario Argento
Story by Dario Argento
Franco Ferrini
Based on the novel "La Sindrome di Stendhal" by Graziella Magherini
Starring Asia Argento
Thomas Kretschmann
Marco Leonardi
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Giuseppe Rotunno
Edited by Angelo Nicolini
Cine 2000
Medusa Produzione
Release dates
26 January 1996
Running time
120 min.
Country Italy
Language Italian
Budget $3,800,000 (estimated)
Box office 5,443,000,000 (Italy)

The Stendhal Syndrome (Ital. La Sindrome di Stendhal) is a 1996 Italian horror film written and directed by Dario Argento and starring his daughter Asia Argento. It was the first Italian film to use computer-generated imagery (CGI).[1]

Stendhal syndrome is a real syndrome, first diagnosed in Florence, Italy in 1982. Argento said he experienced Stendhal syndrome as a child. While touring Athens with his parents young Dario was climbing the steps of the Parthenon when he was overcome by a trance that caused him to become lost from his parents for hours. The experience was so strong that Argento never forgot it; he immediately thought of it when he came across Graziella Magherini's book about the syndrome, which would become the basis of the film.

It was a large box office hit when released in Italy, grossing ₤5,443,000,000 Italian lira (US $3,809,977), making it Argento's highest grossing film in his native country.


Detective Anna Manni (Argento) travels to Florence on the trail of a serial killer Alfredo (Thomas Kretschmann). While at a museum, Anna is struck by Stendhal syndrome, which causes people to become overwhelmed by great works of art. Alfredo uses this disorder against Anna, kidnapping and raping her. She escapes and is deeply traumatized. Alfredo tracks her movements and is able to capture her again. This time, Anna manages to break free, badly wounding her captor, and knocking him into a river.

While the search for the body is underway, Anna meets and falls in love with Marie, a young French art student. Anna also takes sessions with a psychologist to try and overcome her trauma. Anna begins to receive phone calls from Alfredo. Marie is found dead, and Anna's psychologist visits her at home. Her police friend Marco calls to notify her that Alfredo's body has been found. This leads to the psychologist confronting Anna with the reality that she is Marie's murderer. Marco travels to Anna's apartment, only to find the dead psychologist's body. He attempts to take Anna's gun, but she kills him after confessing that Alfredo is now inside her and ordering her to do terrible things. The police arrive on the scene and arrest her.



Bridget Fonda was originally set to star in the role of Anna but she dropped out before the start of production, and Jennifer Jason Leigh was considered as a possible replacement before Dario Argento eventually cast his own daughter, Asia, in the role.[2] Thomas Kretschmann was cast as Alfredo Grossi because he had previously worked with Asia on the film La Reine Margot (1994) and she recommended him to her father.[3]

The opening scene was shot in Florence at Italy's famed Uffizi Gallery. Argento is the only director ever granted permission to shoot there.[citation needed]

The work that Anna literally steps into is a Rembrandt painting of 17th century policemen titled The Night Watch. The painting that causes Anna to faint in the museum is by Bruegel, called Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.

The footage of Anna underwater after fainting in the gallery was shot in the sea.[citation needed] The huge grouper fish that Anna kisses was a remote model that was being pulled through the waters by cables attached to a small float on the ocean's surface.[citation needed] Mere moments after wrapping the underwater shoot, the fish stopped working.[citation needed]

This would be the last fiction feature film for acclaimed director of photography Giuseppe Rotunno. The following year he shot a documentary on Marcello Mastroianni before retiring.

Graffiti artists were brought in to cover the underground lair of Alfredo with graffiti. In one night the group created over a hundred square feet of graffiti-covered walls on the location.[citation needed]

This is the second of (to date) five films in which Argento has directed his daughter Asia: the three others are Trauma, The Phantom of the Opera, The Mother of Tears and Dracula 3D. She also had roles in Demons 2 and The Church, both of which Dario Argento produced.

Argento planned on making a sequel which would follow detective Anna Manni on another case. However, Asia was unavailable so the character's name was changed (to Anna Mari) and Stefania Rocca was cast. The resulting film is 2004's The Card Player.


Critical reception[edit]

The film carries a 73% 'Fresh' rating from Rotten Tomatoes [4] indicating positive reviews and was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Home Video Release.[5]

Response from critics were mixed, with AllMovie's Jason Buchanan calling the film "a sadistic and disturbing psychological exploration", but one that is "ultimately a victim of its own excess and the director's tendency to overcomplicate a fairly simple storyline." Buchanan praised the film's "stunningly visual opening sequence" and Ennio Morricone's "hauntingly hypnotic score" but criticized how "the seemingly meandering plot grinds to a halt just as it should truly shine."[6]

Variety's David Rooney gave the film a mixed review, praising the film's "exhilarating" opening sequence and Giuseppe Rotunno's "cool and elegant" cinematography, but lamented that "[a]s with much of the director’s work, large sections of plot are pure hokum, and the gradual slackening of both pace and suspense in a sluggish second half only underlines the increasing silliness."[7]

Maitland McDonagh gave a mostly positive review, writing that "this isn't a return to the baroque heights of Opera and Tenebrae. But it's a must-see for Argento completists, driven by a brave and disturbing performance by the director's daughter, Asia", though she criticized the film for taking "a serious wrong turn around the time Anna buys a blond, femme-fatale wig."[8]

Home video[edit]

In the U.S., The Stendhal Syndrome is distributed by B movie company Troma Entertainment. A new special edition DVD of the film was released by Blue Underground on 30 August 2007.

For its initial release in the United Kingdom, eleven cuts totaling 2 minutes 47 seconds were made by the distributor before submission to the BBFC for a video certificate. These cuts are to rape scenes, violence and some dialogue. The 2005 UK DVD release, by Arrow Pictures, has had all previous cuts waived and represents the full-length English version, although like all English releases it omits the two scenes exclusive to the Italian version. Since the uncut version has never been submitted to the British Board of Film Classification, this version was withdrawn and re-released in a cut form.

Blue Underground released The Stendahl Syndrome on Blu-ray in 2009, which contains the entire film uncut, including the additional Italian-only scenes (still in Italian, with English subtitles).


  • The US DVD release by Troma is the complete version of the English language edition but, like all English releases, is still missing around two minutes of material exclusive to the Italian print.
  • The Italian release is around two minutes longer than the English export version, including an additional scene where Anna calls the husband of one of Alfredo's victims and another where she meets Marie's mother, played by Veronica Lazar (whose name is included in the credits of all versions, even those in which she does not appear).

Further reading[edit]

  • Julian Hoxter. "Anna with the Devil Inside: Klein, Argento and 'The Stendhal Syndrome'" in Andy Black (ed), Necronomicon: The Journal of Horror and Erotic Cinema: Book Two, London: Creation Books, 1998, pp. 99–109.


  1. ^ "The Stendhal Syndrome". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 3 August 2012. 
  2. ^ Jones, Alan. Profondo Argento: The Man, the Myths & the Magic (FAB Press, 2004), p. 229. ISBN 190325423X.
  3. ^ Jones, Alan. Profondo Argento: The Man, the Myths & the Magic (FAB Press, 2004), p. 231. ISBN 190325423X.
  4. ^ "The Stendhal Syndrome - Rotten Tomatoes". Retrieved 7 October 2015. 
  5. ^ "The Stendhal Syndrome - Awards". Retrieved 7 October 2015. 
  6. ^ Buchanan, Jason. "The Stendhal Syndrome - Review - AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved 24 July 2012. 
  7. ^ Rooney, David (4 February 1996). "Review: 'The Stendhal Syndrome'". Variety. Retrieved 20 September 2016. 
  8. ^ McDonagh, Maitland. "The Stendhal Syndrome - Review". TV Guide. Retrieved 20 September 2016. 

External links[edit]