The film was long believed lost but it later resurfaced in an American film-collectors collection and was restored from 2002 to 2004 and screened during the 2007 edition of the Amsterdam Filmmuseum's Biennale. See more »
It's hard to tell beyond the shadow of a doubt, given that this is a definitely shortened version of the Austrian film that was released in Italy -- complete with chapter headings from three US distributors -- but this film is about the problems of drug addiction, with everything hiding behind symbols. The titular Mandarin, which appears as a rare ceramic figure, grows into a spirit that grants its owner's desire and later foils them, is obviously the opium pipe. Other than that, it's a series of sexual conquests by the Baron Stroom, followed by sexual failure, followed by thinking that various people are the Mandarin, resulting in his incarceration in an insane asylum. There isn't much subtlety in the story-telling, even though it is a symbolic handling of the subject. Perhaps this was intended to avoid distraction from that point.
The camera-work seems to move between a style that is lushly Italian in its rural settings, while the city shots look like the stark, sardonic camera-work preferred by French director Louis Feuillade.
I didn't care for the movie, and must admit that the score did not please me. The Museum of Modern Art, where I saw it this evening, commissioned a score by a couple of theremin players. It was supposed to be evocative of madness. I found it distracting. I didn't care for the instrument fifty years ago when my brother assembled one from the Fisher Scientific catalogue and this performance did not convince me to revise my opinion.
It is possible that some one will find a good copy of THE MANDARIN, restore it to its pristine glory and force me to admit that this is a great expressionist film. Until that happens, unless, like me, you will look at any movie, it's not really worth your time.
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