HEAD AGAINST THE WALL (LA TETE CONTRE LES MURS) (aka: THE KEEPERS)
(director/writer: Georges Franju; screenwriters: from the novel by Herve Bazin/Jean-Paul Mocky; cinematographer: Eugen Schüfftan; editor: Suzanne Sandberg; music: Maurice Jarre; cast: Jean-Paul Mocky (Francois Gérane), Paul Meurisse (Dr. Emery), Anouk Aimee (Stéphanie), Pierre Brasseur (Dr. Varmont), Jean Galland (Maître Gérane), Charles Aznavour (Heurtevent, Sailor), Edith Scob (La Folle Qui Chante), Jean Ozenne (Elzear); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jérôme Goulven; Masters of Cinema, Eureka, in PAL form DVD; 1959-France-in French with English subtitles)
“Harrowing look at a psychiatric hospital and how it fails those who are treatable.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
For his first feature film Georges Franju (“Judex”/”Eyes Without a Face”/”Nuits Rouges”) directs this harrowing lyrical look at a psychiatric hospital and how it fails those who are treatable. It’s based onthe novel by Herve Bazin and is co-scripted by its star Jean-Paul Mocky and the director.
The aimless free-spirit art school dropout 25-year-old son of a vile wealthy lawyer, Francois Gérane (Jean-Paul Mocky), finds his vengeful dad (Jean Galland) places him in an insane asylum after the leather-jacketed motor-cross biker bad boy robs his father, to pay off debts to underworld gamblers, and then maliciously burns irreplaceable files dad removed from his office illegally. Francois’s mother died as a drowning casualty when he was 8, which was ruled a suicide.
Harshly treated by the insensitive and rigid Dr. Varmont (Pierre Brasseur), who looks upon his role as the gatekeeper for the state to keep the mentally ill locked-up so as to keep society safe, the patient regresses. Unable to be treated by Varmont’s rival Dr. Emery (Paul Meurisse), a progressive psychiatrist who tries to treat his patient’s warmly so they can re-enter society, Francois escapes at the funeral of the gentle, epileptic inmate Heurtevent (Charles Aznavour) who couldn’t bear any longer his cold treatment by Varmont. But Francois is captured in Paris and returned screaming and kicking to the asylum, after spending a night with his sympathetic girlfriend (Anouk Aimee).
Though it seems dated the problem of how to deal with the mentally ill is still a major issue that’s complicated by the government not funding mental health sufficiently. That this pic’s heart is in the right place, that it was so influential in getting its enlightened views out there and that it excites like a testy film noir, goes a long way in my recommendation of it as a docudrama curio. It led to Fuller’s Shock Corridor (1963) and other films that challenged the earlier establishment way of treating mental patients with cruel primitive treatments like shock therapy.
REVIEWED ON 1/2/2013 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/