A couple is brutally murdered in the working-class district of Paris. Later on, the narrative follows the lives of their two daughters, both in love with a Parisian thug and leading them to separate ways.
A husband picks up a job as a janitor at an insane asylum scheming all the time to be close to and free his wife from the institution where she recently attempted suicide. A score was added when in 1970 the reels were unearthed after they were considered lost for decades. The director approved and subsequently repudiated this version.Written by
Should be as well known as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
A Page of Madness is an expressionistic Japanese film that has not gotten the attention it deserves. I was introduced to the film through the fifteen part documentary series The Story of Film an Odyssey. Fortunately, a friend had dubbed the silent film off of Turner Classic Movies during one of its infrequent showings.
The clip in The Story of a Film an Odyssey looked like some mad movie genius had crossed the set designs from a German expressionist film with the fast edits of a classic Russian work. This clip was from the attention grabbing opening of A Page of Madness. A janitor wanders an insane asylum at night during a storm. The storm has a strange effect on the patients and, presumably, the attendant. The edits are fast, conveying mystery and terror like in a horror film. This sequence (and a sequence at the climax) is nothing short of brilliance.
From here the film turns to a narrative, although an oblique one. This clerk or janitor seems to have an unhealthy fixation on one of the female patients. . . and more of one for this patient's daughter. The janitor clearly knew this family before the mother was committed. IMDb says that the woman is the janitor's wife. I am not doubting this, but the film is not clear on this point. What is clear is that the janitor is suffering from a lack of love. This janitor is not the only one. One patient is compelled to dance suggestively and nearly starts a riot. By contrast, the doctors appear clinical and ineffectual. As the film goes along, the protagonist's mental state seems to wane.
Much about the plot is unclear. Many Japanese silent were narrated by a spokesman in the theater. This may have been the case with A Page of Madness; thus, some of the ambiguity would have been explained by the live narrator. I prefer to think the ambiguity was deliberate and never explained. The film has a wonderful sense of mystery to it. I don't want any more of an explanation. I (and probably most film fans) watch a lot of movies that are merely fair. These films are watchable, but they do not stay in one's memory. That is why A Page of Madness is so stunning. It kicks the door down and announces itself to the world. I feel less like a reviewer than a herald for a lost classic. Are you listening Criterion?
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