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La tête contre les murs (Head Against the Wall)

Posted by martinteller on July 23, 2013

François Gérane (Jean-Pierre Mocky) is a rebellious young man of 25.  One night he lashes out at his attorney father (Jean Galland) by destroying some important papers from a case.  The father has François committed to an insane asylum.  There his only visitor is Stephanie (Anouk Aimee), a girl he had just met the night before.  The two gradually fall in love.  But François has little hope of ever getting out.  Dr. Varmont (Pierre Brasseur) is stern and unyielding, steadfast in his belief that François’s hatred of his father signifies dangerous mental illness and that society must be protected from him.  Dr. Emery (Paul Meurisse) has more progressive attitudes, but Varmont refuses to have François transferred.  The young man and another patient (Charles Aznavour) concoct a plan for escape.

Georges Franju had already been making shorts, including the brutal abbatoir documentary Blood of the Beasts, for several years but this was his first feature film.  His follow-up would be the creepy psychological/medical thriller Eyes Without a Face.  While this isn’t as odd or memorable or striking as that more renowned film, it’s got some decent storytelling.  It’s not as lurid or exploitative as the earlier Behind Locked Doors or the later Shock Corridor, two noirs about sane men trapped in an asylum.  There is some sensitivity to the mentally ill and Franju rarely puts their behavior on display for cheap laughs.

A little dated in some ways (it’s not so easy to get a person committed these days, nor to keep them there) and the Brasseur character comes off as too blatantly sinister, especially in comparison to the more subtle menace of a character like Nurse Ratched.  And Mocky is perhaps a little too mopey.  But generally the performances are strong, especially the radiant Aimee and the sorrowful turn by Aznavour (who would take center stage the following year in Shoot the Piano Player).  The thematic content points to a rising youth movement against old authority and outmoded ideas.  François is seen as ill because he rejects the hypocrisy of his father and his father’s generation.

Not a great movie, but one with some tension and fine cinematography.  Rating: Good (74)


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