(director/writer: André Delvaux; screenwriters: from the novel by Johan Daisne/Anna De Pagter; cinematographers: Ghislain Cloquet/Roland Delcour; editors: Suzanne Baron/R. Delferrière; music: Frédéric Devreese; cast: Senne Rouffaer (Govert Miereveld), Beata Tyszkiewicz (Fran Vreenman), Hector Camerlynck (Prof. Mato), Paul S’Jongers (Mato’s assistant), Hilde Uitterlinden(Beps), Annemarie va Dijck(Corra), François Bernard(Judge Brantink), Hilda van Roose(Teacher Freken); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jos Op de Beeck/Paul Louyet; EMI-PAL format; 1966-France/Belgium-in French with English subtitles)
As good a study of man’s restless and abnormal nature that I have ever encountered in movies.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Adapted from a Lolita-like novel by Flemish writer Johan Daisne. This is the directorial debut of the great Belgian filmmaker André Delvaux (“Belle”/”Appointment in Bray”/” L’oeuvre au noir“), which comes when he was a mature 40-year-old. Delvaux is grounded in both Belgium’s diverse Flemish and French cultures, as he was born in a Flemish speaking part of Belgium and entered a French-speaking school at an early age.

Delvaux tells a devilish psychological/phantasmagorical story about the hapless timid middle-aged married school teacher/lawyer Govert Miereveld (Senne Rouffaer, who was 28 at the time), who becomes obsessed with a beautiful mature teenage graduating drama school coed named Fran Vreenman (Beata Tyszkiewicz) and becomes unhinged that he’ll never see her again after attending the graduation ceremonies. Govert dreams of meeting Fran again and telling her of his secret love, and because she’s no longer a student decides to pursue his law career instead of teaching at the girls’ school. Many years pass and Fran becomes a famous singer, while Govert’s a failure as a trial lawyer and is forced to take a lower-grade job as a court clerk. One day Professor Mato (Hector Camerlynck), the medical examiner, invites Govert to observe an autopsy he will conduct out-of-town in a rural village with his assistant (Paul S’Jongers), whose purpose is to identify if the drowned body washed ashore was indeed that of a missing bank manager. The frightful autopsy pushes the fragile Govert traumatically over the edge. When forced to stay over at night, in a nearby city, he by chance meets the popular singer who is performing in town and staying in the same hotel. Govert intends to tell Fran of his secret love he’s been harboring all these years, after watching her performance, but at their meeting in her room things change dramatically when she tells him her dark secrets. With one shock too many for Govert, he goes over the edge and ends up in a mental institution for attempting to kill her. While put away in the asylum, he despairs he’s been a failure as a father to his two children and to his loyal wife (Annemarie va Dijck). Govert also muses he would have been better off being a farmer or a carpenter, and not trying to use education to be something he had no great ability for.

Things are always kept ambiguous, so it’s difficult to ascertain what’s a figment of Govert’s disturbed mind or what’s really happening. Told from the beginning through a flashback when our hero is incarcerated in a mental asylum, it plays on the theme that we make ourselves unhappy chasing illusions, cause ourselves inner conflicts unnecessarily and cannot be content with our lot in life in this too vague of a world. The drama, of a gentle man suffering from schizophrenia, is brilliantly realized by a superbly moving performance by Senne Rouffaer, it’s gorgeously filmed in black and white, the storytelling is passionate, mesmerizing and intelligent, and the complex nature explored of how alienated the hypersensitive can become when left alone to their own psychological torments is well-worth telling. This uniquely presented unsettling film of a mentally fragile man trying to find and hold onto his identity is as good a study of man’s restless and abnormal nature that I have ever encountered in movies, and remains one of the great but little known films. Though highly acclaimed when re-evaluated by critics after it was rebuked at its theater release, it has unfortunately still been little seen outside of Belgium.

The title refers to Govert’s compulsive visits to the barber, as he’s bothered that he is always not clean enough from his childhood experiences and these visits indicate his encroaching madness and need for stimulation through a Vibromassage to make him feel like a whole person.