Execrable: The Stendhal Syndrome

The Stendhal Syndrome (1996)
Directed by Dario Argento
Written by Graziella Magherini, Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini
Produced by Dario Argento, Giuseppe Colombo
Starring Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann, Marco Leonardi, Luigi Diberti, Paolo Bonacelli, Julien Lambroschini, John Quentin
Would that Asia were born a decade earlier, so that she might’ve starred in those last of her father’s best pictures rather than this byword of the gaucherie so individual of his latter work. Sadly, she’s cast as a Roman detective investigating a rash of rapes and murders spread from the capital to Florence, where she swoons before Bruegel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus exhibited at the Uffizi Gallery whilst suffering the titular disorder’s psychosomatic hallucinations shortly before the perpetrator (Kretschmann) she’s tracking seizes her for a vicious bout of rape and torture. His overt demise hardly slows a mounting body count, but even those most obtuse viewers who can’t prognosticate this tardy thriller’s “surprise” twist will probably be too restive for its conclusion to care. That a major motion picture helmed by an auteur whose experience spanned a quarter-century could be so amateurishly shot and cut bewilders Argento’s casual admirers and devotees alike. A few imaginative moments that recall Argento’s masterful past can’t counterpoise silly rotating shots and shabby CG, never mind cheesy dialogue that’s hammily dubbed in the mode of an anime distributed by U.S. Manga Corps — an unusually ill-advised attempt to engage Anglophone audiences, especially considering the Engish fluency of its leads, and most of the supporting players…all of whom are horrendously directed. A repetitive minacity inherent of Morricone’s score is euphoniously arranged, but the vocals of its monody are as risible as anything else heard in the soundtrack. This is the threshold of Argento’s degradation, as unfortunate for the decline of a genre innovator into a cheapjack of mozzarella as for its simultaneity to the blossom of his loveliest, most gifted offspring.

Favorites: The Last Mistress

The Last Mistress (2007)
Directed by Catherine Breillat
Written by Jules-Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly, Catherine Breillat
Produced by Jean-François Lepetit
Starring Fu’ad Aït Aattou, Asia Argento, Claude Sarraute, Roxane Mesquida, Yolande Moreau, Michael Lonsdale
A decade of shared lubricity, adoration, hardship and heartbreak bind the fates and souls of a sullenly sensual Spanish peeress (Argento) and her roué (Aattou) of passion matched who first spurns, then aggressively courts her before braving death by duel with her elderly English husband to win her hand and heart. Rived by tragedy and accompanying acrimony, their ardency seems stinted well ere his betrothal to a pristine, virtuous yet insipid noblewoman (Mesquida) with whom his devotion is reciprocal, but this renewal may not long survive a quiescent warmth for or the resolution of the foxy virago he thought he’d forsaken. Rococo costumery, hairstyling and Parisian venues of Breillat’s greatest critical and commercial success prove vivid 19th-century accoutrements to complement emotive niceties and incandescence educed from familiar players. As often before and since, she inspires treasures in redoubtable veterans and relative neophytes (as Mesquida, her most frequent favored actress) alike, but under her command, Argento’s coruscation as the fast and fickle noblewoman nearly eclipses her co-stars, consummating what may prove the role of her career — a fantastic feat that she’d never achieve under her father’s baton. One of d’Aurevilly’s most cunning ironies resides in the observations of an aged countess (Moreau) and her blasé husband (Lonsdale) who’ve acquaintance with all concerned, and whose tendencious adjudgements are more objective than any others pondered herein. Less ironic is Breillat’s sympathy for d’Aurevilly’s novel; echoing the precedent Prévost, his fascination with the full purview of a patrician woman’s pull and power in a predominately masculine society to verify the fugacity of fidelity and love’s endurance was undoubtedly irresistible to the finest living (if yet unacknowledged) feminist filmmaker.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Barry Lyndon.