Head Against The Wall (1959, Georges Franju)

“You’re botching my gramophone!”

Jean-Pierre Mocky (also the film’s writer, who would later write/direct/produce/star in something called Mocky Story) is our rebel star, a fuckup biker who borrows money all over town and carries on affairs with pretty ladies. The sister of the husband of one of those ladies (Anouk “Lola” Aimée) comes by to warn Mocky away, but she instantly falls for him because he is bad. Then he goes home, burns some of his dad’s work papers, and gets arrested and committed to a mental institution.

Movie slows right down, becomes an exposé of institution life, and more importantly, the impossibility of ever leaving. Mocky meets Charles Aznavour (who was in this and Testament of Orpheus before starring in Shoot The Piano Player), who seems alright but falls into seizures at moments of great stress, and the two talk about being (or seeming) cured, or of simply escaping from the facility.

Not my favorite kind of story, but Franju keeps it visually amazing, as he always does. He and cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan (Eyes Without a Face, Port of Shadows) do such a job with the black-and-white, I can’t imagine it being filmed in color (one of these days I’ll get around to watching color Franju film Shadowman). Some memorable moments: a patient gets violent with a saw, Aznavour has a fit during an escape attempt, he and Mocky ride a little train around the facility, the two doctors coldly discuss their patients outside a cage full of doves (symbolism, anyone?) and Edith Scob (below), in her first film, starts singing.

The “good” doctor (if Aznavour can be believed) whose ward is always full is noble-looking Paul Meurisse (Army of Shadows, Le deuxième souffle, Diabolique), and our man’s doctor (distinctive-looking with his beard and spectacles) is Pierre Brasseur (Port of Shadows and Children of Paradise, later star of Eyes Without a Face and Goto: Island of Love). Mocky’s evil dad is Jean Galland (the masked dancer in Le Plaisir, also star of Renoir’s Whirlpool and Pál Fejös’s Fantomas).

Another failed escape: Mocky tries to walk out with Anouk Aimée on visiting day: