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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Based on a whodunit by Swiss novelist Friedrich Glauser, this film
tells the book's meandering story in a more straightforward manner.
Still, the suspense is there until just before the end. And the
author's signature remains visible. Glauser spent several years in
mental asylums due to his opium addiction. It didn't keep him from
leaving his name to the most prestigious German-language crime writing
award. Decades after his death, his books are slowly starting to become
available in English.
In "Matto's Realm", Inspector Studer is investigating the death of the director of a psychiatric clinic in Randlingen. (The name translates, roughly, into Edgeville; sadly, the earthy Swiss dialect expressions are lost in translation, as is Glauser's love of word-play.) A challenging task indeed. On his arrival, all his Swiss solidity doesn't keep the detective from being mistaken for a patient. The brief scene is hilarious but telling: inside the asylum, we never know what to believe. Is the visionary poet inmate a reliable witness or just seeing things when he goes on about Matto, the spirit of madness who lives in the tower above the archives? Is the medical vice-director genuinely trying to help his patients with new-fangled methods like hypnosis, or is he a monster who planted the idea of murdering his choleric boss in a sick mind? Is the orderly's kind heart blinding him to his duties as a jailer of potentially dangerous lunatics? Is the porter's kind heart making him lie to protect his old friend the orderly? Is the pretty nurse telling the truth about a mysteriously closeted young patient's "bronchitis"? Is the young patient mad at all, or did his overbearing father choose to have the black sheep of the family shut away? A father who leaves us with the impression that Matto rules not only the asylum but all the world... POSSIBLE SPOILER: Leopold Lindtberg said that "the only healthy, strong and even-tempered character" (in his film) "is the murderer".
Glauser must have seen many odd stories and asked himself many questions about sanity, questions still worth asking today. The uncanny, shifting atmosphere of the place rings true. Yes, things move a little slowly, but so does life in the loony bin! No, the ideas in this film are not new - but then again, neither is the film, and its arguments remain true and timeless. Are the black sheep of powerful families treated so much better today than in the 1930s? Is normalcy perhaps a form of slight feeble-mindedness, as suggested by Karl Jaspers, a psychiatrist and philosopher? "Matto regiert" is an excellent piece of work, beautifully shot, well acted and dryly funny. As a bonus, it provides the interested viewer with an early exploration of madness, sanity and psychiatry.
This film is a fine example of a well constructed plot. The movie is
based on the wonderful novel "Matto regiert" from Friedrich Glauser and
fortunately Lindberg found the best actors to stages this story.
Gretler does a great job. He seems to be born for acting as police
The film shows the slow change within institutions of mental illness. And it's one more level, that the murdered man is one of the old hard psychologists. The new and educated psycho-analysts aren't established at all. Since Glauser himself lived in psychiatric institutions, he knows exactly what's he's talking about. In a wider sense you have the wonderful micro-cosmos of our society.
But also technical aspects aren't bad: The work with light and shadows is very good. Of course the dialogs and poems, which are sometimes taken from the novel. All in all a worth-watching film which persuades through the good narration.
This first scenes of this film suggest that the viewer will be taken somewhere between The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It rapidly descends to Agatha Christie territory-flat, uninspired Agatha at that. On the positive side, the acting and score are solid as is the direction, though the film is very `housebound' with all or most of the scenes indoors (with no remarkable sets). The tone of the movie is bland, including a bit of humor, but really needing some suspense or strong sense of paranoia. There is an attempt to portray mental illness as an entity whose grasp reaches further than the inmates in the asylum depicted here, but the mundane nature of the narrative undercuts this ambition. At best 6/10.
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