Stendhal syndrome was first diagnosed in Florence, Italy in 1982. However, a young Dario Argento experienced it in Athens as a child, as he climbed the steps of the Parthenon and was overcome in a trance. That’s what it does — the mind is so overcome by artwork that it just kind of goes away for a while.
Bridget Fonda was originally set to star, but dropped out before the start of filming. While Jennifer Jason Leigh was considered — bestill my heart to have either of them in a giallo! — Dario eventually cast Asia, his daughter, as the lead.
Detective Anna Manni (Argento) travels to Florencehunting serial killer Alfredo Grossi (Thomas Kretschmann, Baron Strucker in the Marvel movies). While visiting the famed Uffizi Gallery — Argento is the only director ever granted permission to shoot there — she is overcome by the vision of Bruegel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.
Alfredo learns of Anna’s weakness, so he kidnaps her and assaults her. She escapes but is traumatized by the episode. He tries to take her back, but she knocks him into a river and he is believed dead. Yet even when she attempts to move on, he keeps calling her from beyond the grave.
When Marie, Anna’s new lover, is found murdered, her psychologist begins to worry, a fear that is intensified when Alfredo’s body is found. It turns out that Arnold is inside her, ordering her to murder people and she must be caught by the police.
Somehow, Argento was going to make a sequel to this film, with Anna becoming a detective again. Asia wasn’t available, so Stefania Rocca ended up playing a similar role in Argento’s The Card Player.
Look for Veronica Lazar (Mater Tenebrarum in Inferno, as well as Martha in The Beyond) and Cinzia Monreale (Emily from The Beyond, as well as roles in Silver Saddle, Warriors of the Year 2072 and Beyond the Darkness.
This is also the first Italian film to use CGI and features a score by Ennio Morricone that can be played the same forward or backward!
It’s a late period Argento film, but it’s also probably the best of that era. There’s an awe-inspiring moment where Anna wanders into Rembrandt’s Night Watch that makes this a must-watch.