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Head Against the Wall (1959)

La tête contre les murs (original title)
In order to get rid of his troublesome son François, Maître Gérane manages to have him committed to a mental hospital owned by Dr. Varmont, a supporter of traditional treatments, in ... See full summary »

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(novel) (as Hervé Bazin de l'Académie Goncourt), (adaptation) | 1 more credit »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
Dr. Varmont
...
Dr. Emery
Jean-Pierre Mocky ...
François Gérane
...
Stéphanie
...
Maître Gérane
Jean Ozenne ...
Comte Elzéar de Chambrelle
Thomy Bourdelle ...
Colonel Donnadieu
Rudy Lenoir ...
Le planqué
...
Decauville
Henri San Juan ...
Patron du billard
...
La folle qui chante
René Alié
Luc Andrieux ...
Un infirmier
Doudou Babet ...
Le Noir
Claude Badolle
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Storyline

In order to get rid of his troublesome son François, Maître Gérane manages to have him committed to a mental hospital owned by Dr. Varmont, a supporter of traditional treatments, in constant conflict with Dr. Emery, whose therapy takes the psychology of patients into account. François soon makes friends with Heurtevent, a sweet epileptic, and both decide to escape from the place. Their attempt is a failure and Heurtevent, unable to get over what he considers a return to hell, commits suicide. But rebellious François tries again and this time around he is successful. He finds shelter at his friend Stephanie's home... Written by Guy Bellinger

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Drama

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Release Date:

20 March 1959 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Head Against the Wall  »

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1.37 : 1
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Thomy Bourdelle's 77th and final film. See more »

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User Reviews

 
But dreaming is a lie.
25 March 2014 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

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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