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La Tete Contre Les Murs [Masters of Cinema] [DVD] [1959]
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
An emotionally disturbed young man (Jean Pierre Mocky) is institutionalized against his will at a mental asylum by his spiteful father (Jean Galland). There, two doctors with decidedly different methods in treating their patients attempt to cure their patients. One (Pierre Brasseur) is more traditional and disciplinary and by the book and also a bit of a hypocrite (he chastises an intern for using the word lunatic to describe a patient but in private with another doctor, he does the exact same thing). The other (Paul Meurisse) is less authoritative and allows more freedom. The same year he directed the elegant horror film LES YEUX SANS VISAGE, Georges Franju directed this less known but insightful look into mental asylums and its treatment of patients. It's far more restrained and matter of fact than the overheated melodrama of its American counterparts like THE SNAKE PIT or ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST and therefore by default, more disturbing. The similarities to Ken Kesey's CUCKOO'S NEST are evident and one wonders if Kesey had seen it as the film came out in 1959 and Kesey's novel published in 1962. With Anouk Aimee and Charles Aznavour, who would probably have gotten an Oscar nomination if this had been an American film.

The Eureka DVD (from Great Britain) is an excelletn B&W transfer in a 1.33 aspect ratio.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
La tête contre les murs (AKA: The Keepers/Head Against the Wall) is directed by Georges Franju and adapted to screenplay by Jean-Pierre Mocky from the book written by Herve Bazin. It stars Mocky, Pierre Brasseur, Paul Meurisse, Anouk Aimée, Charles Aznavour and Jean Galland. Music is by Maurice Jarre and cinematography by Eugen Schüfftan.

François Gérane (Mocky) is seen as a loose cannon by his father and finds himself committed to a mental asylum. Within the walls he finds two doctors who have very different ideas on how to administer psychiatric care. Struggling to keep hold of his sanity, François finds solace in a friendship with fellow patient Heurtevent (Aznavour) and the visits he receives from Stéphanie (Aimée). But will François ever get out? And if so will his sanity be intact?

Jean-Pierre Mocky had initially planned to direct the film himself, but Franju was brought in and it proved to be a superb meeting of minds. Mocky's youthful zest and grasp of the Gérane character's predicament marries up beautifully with Franju's hauntingly poetic leanings.

In core essence the narrative is about the inadequacies of psychiatric care at that period in time, with a clash of ideals between two doctors acting as the axis. The story is actually based on fact, the author of the novel, Herve Bazin, really having been sectioned by his own family. This adds a harrowing air of realism to proceedings, and with Franju firmly cloaking the film with a disquiet atmosphere, the results often feel like being part of some feverish nightmare.

This is what it sounds like when doves fly!

Technically the pic comes close to being a tour de force, the crisp black and white photography magnificently emphasising Franju's eye for off-kilter details. There's is much grim imagery on show, where weird models made by the patients and the hospital cemetery prove particularly eerie. The hospital itself is cold on the inside with chessboard flooring holding the weight of lifeless looking walls. Exterior of the building is ominous, especially at night where it's transformed into a Gothic place of secrets never to be told.

Some scenes stay embedded in the mind, for better or worse as it happens. A suicide, a violent attack, an escape attempt through a burning field, the two doctors arguing about the ethics of their beliefs in front of a cage full of beautiful doves, the reoccurring shots of the poor patients in their surroundings, or the devastating noir finale; both in visual excellence and story denouement, the film consistently arrests your attention. Jarre's musical score is eccentric in the extreme, fluctuating between being creepy, jolly, wistful or just plain weird, it's perfectly at one with the material on the page. While the cast all give quality performances, especially Aznavour. Great film making, smart, challenging and daring. 8/10

The Masters of Cinema DVD release is a beautiful restored print doing justice to Franju and Schüfftan's skills, and the 48 page booklet is most impressive. Unfortunately the extras really don't add up to much. Two videos of interviews with Mocky and Aznavour taken in 2008 add up to just over 13 minutes, with the Aznavour one only 4 minutes and hardly about the film really! The Mocky interview is excellent, some real insights into the making of the film, his thoughts on the pic's importance, and some frightening revelations during filming. But at 9 minutes in run time you can't help but be annoyed there wasn't considerably more of that interview.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 18 September 2011
Considering that the practise of having someone sectioned in a psychiatric hospital, as a method of personal power and control, was wide spread less than 50 years ago, this film is quite disturbing. I suppose it raises other questions about how much individuality we really have; about how much our community will accept behaviour that strays beyond the boundaries of 'normal'.

The DVD came with a high quality 48 page booklet with info about the film and Franju.
Here is some info from the back of the dvd you may find helpful.

. New high definition transfer
. New and improved optional English subtitles
. Original French theatrical trailer
. A new video interview with Jean Pierre Mocky filmed in 2008
. A new video interview with Charles Aznavour filmed in 2008

I really like everything about this 'Masters of Cinema' release. Someone has actually given some thought to this and it shows. Even the poster artwork is really thoughtful.
I hope this film unsettles you as much as it did me ;-)
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Being committed to a psychiatric ward is also called "colocation" . The film shows us how a son's behaviour doesn't suit his father, with the help of the family doctor he has his son colocated. One could think that this only could happen a while ago, here for the movie one talks about "post war" psychiatry, while in reality it still was done in 1970! And then too, it was not hard to have someone committed who was standing in your way! Fathers indeed "loved" his son or daughter so much that they found there was need for "a cure" to break the will and change the caracter of their child. It mostly happened around the ages of 17 or 18 when puberty had its effect on behaviour, way of thinking and of course rebellion against authority. It is only quite recent that psychiatry has taken another point of view and colocation nowadays only happens under the authority of the law, for instance when crime is committed or when the person is a danger to him or herself, for instance by failure of suicide! The story we see in the movie really happened to the author of the book of the same title. LA TETE CONTRE LES MURS is the following story of LE NOEUD THE VIPERES and tells us mostly about the relationship with his mother. I personaly have known 2 people who had the misadventure of collocation thanks to their father. One was a boy of 19 and the other a woman who had spend 20 years in collocation and only got out at the age of 41 after her father died!! The misery of it, the nightmare that goes on and on is well elaborated in this film and one cannot do else than to feel anger towards the parent and the shrink and deep compassion towards the "victim" Indeed, in that predicament one runs with the head against a concrete wall and cannot break it down, whatever one tries!
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 2 October 2009
"Head against the wall" (1959) takes place mostly inside a closed psychiatric ward. The protagonist, a young man with social and economic problems, is placed there against his will by his father. There he encounters two psychiatrists with different ideas about methods of treatment. He also meets a friend and a girl who visits him, and from the start his mind is bent on escaping.

There are some problems with the film. First: in the other Franju films I've seen, "Judex" and "Nuits Rouges", neither the characters or the action seems believable. Sometimes it feels rather cartoon-ish. This may suite the plot and characters in the latter movies fine. But in "Head against the wall" it seems like Franju wants to say something important about real society and/or psychiatry. For me this did not work out 100%. Also, the difference between the two schools of psychiatry is not explained or dramatized in a very interesting way. All we know is that Dr Varmont wants to keep the patients locked up for life, while Dr Emery wants to let them do whatever they like. Ok, so Dr Varmont is cold and cruel and Dr Emery is humane and progressive...

Anyway, the film is not bad. The plot is not predictable and some scenes are well made. It's worth seeing if you are interested in Franju or french cinema pre-new wave. Or in films about psychiatry.

In the extra material Jean-Pierre Mocky, who plays the young man, says that the film was/is considered a masterpiece and that it is still shown on psychiatry convents. Well, I can believe the latter but not the former statement. Mocky seems to have been chosen to be director of the film from the beginning, but then it went to Franju. Mocky directed some parts while Franju was sick, so that it was/is unclear whether it's a Mocky film or a Franju film. Well, at least the MoC cover goes for Franju. There is also an interview with the actor/singer Charles Aznavour that unfortunately is too unstructured. And as usual a booklet with information about the film and about Franju.

The picture/transfer is ok, stable but maybe a little hazy sometimes.
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