Senne Rouffaer gives a beautifully modulated, pitch-perfect performance as Govert Miereveld, who keeps working as hard as he can (his surname means “field of ants”), in André Delvaux’s film De man die zijn haar kort liet knippen, from Johan Daisne’s Flemish novel. Govert begins as a teacher at a girls’ high school, proceeds to being a lawyer, but gives that up and becomes a court clerk; but one can hardly be sure of this chronology. Since he ends up as a patient in an insane asylum, we cannot separate delusion from reality or fix relative dates in time. It is his obsession with a beautiful student that presumably sets Govert’s course in the direction of derangement; but what is he remembering, imagining or reimagining? How does one know what parts, if any, of this narrative happened or are happening?
I am not sure that he even meets this student, Fran, at a hotel years later. Does he really shoot her? Heck, I’m not sure that there ever was such a student! And I am not complaining; Delvaux has fashioned a fascinating study of mental distress and delusion.
The grisly autopsy that so discombobulates Govert constitutes one of the most brilliant passages of surreal horror in cinema. We do not see into the raised coffin where the autopsy is being performed, but we see hands going in with all sorts of implements, we hear stabbing and cracking and see organs lifted above the rim. It is after this ordeal that Govert presumably chances upon Fran, now a famous actress, at a hotel. There, also, he casually suggests to the doctor who performed the autopsy that the human soul may be lodged in the appendix.
Belgium’s Delvaux, like Govert, studied law.
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