One night when seeking his estranged wife, Hoffmann goes to the youth center where she works. The police are there rounding up radicals who frequent the center - Hoffmann runs into the ...
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Rainer Werner Fassbinder
One night when seeking his estranged wife, Hoffmann goes to the youth center where she works. The police are there rounding up radicals who frequent the center - Hoffmann runs into the building and ends up being shot in the head. He awakens with brain trauma, partially paralyzed and unable to speak. The police accuse him of stabbing an officer; the radicals herald him as an innocent victim of police brutality. During his slow recovery at the hospital, Hoffmann must piece together his life and struggle to remember the events of that night. Written by
Bruno Ganz, accused by police, recovers from a police bullet in his head
"Messer im Kopf" (1978) tells several stories at once. One story is a meticulous and accurate rendition of the damage to and recovery of Bruno Ganz from a beating administered by a policeman and being shot in the head by the same. Ganz was accosted when he tried to see his estranged wife at a youth center frequented by leftish radicals. The police trump up a story that he attacked one of them with a knife. In 1978 Germany, the society was fearful of violent left-wing groups and the state responded with heavy-handed police state tactics, of which Ganz is an innocent victim. In the movie, we witness the huge change in Ganz's capabilities and skills due to his injuries; and we see how he is nursed back to a semblance of independence as a human being but without full recovery. So far, this is two stories. His injury and recovery is one. The police behavior is another, and this story includes the confrontations of the police with both Ganz and the hospital caregivers. They want to arrest him, move him, and charge him. They accuse him of faking injury and incapacity, when he clearly is not. Then there is a third story, which is his personal relations with his wife and the young man she has left him for. They want to make political hay out of his injury and she has no loyalty to him in his condition such as to help him recover. And as the movie progresses, a fourth story emerges which is his drive to understand why this happened to him at the hands of the cop. He has a need to confront his assailant.
Permeating these stories are other themes that include his loss of skill as a scientist and his groping for a new identity. With speech expression disturbed, his very ideation has been affected as have his memory and motor skills.
"Messer im Kopf" is a very good social realist drama, and because of its plot in which Ganz's memory of events has been degraded and his identity altered so that he struggles to recover against big obstacles, the movie also falls into the neo-noir category. Indeed, for being in 1978, it is ahead of its time in broaching the themes of dislocation of mind, memory and personality that have been explored more greatly in subsequent decades.
Ganz's performance is first-rate. The reconstruction of his injury and recovery is handled with great accuracy in his performance and in the surrounding detail. The movie is skillfully directed and photographed.
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