Lawyer Govert Miereveld teaches at a girls' school in a provincial town. He harbours a secret platonic love for his pupil Fran, which plunges him into a downward spiral of mental disorientation. A masterpiece of Belgian magic realism.
The first full-length work by André Delvaux and a key film in the history of modern Belgian cinema, The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short was greeted with bafflement, hostility even, by a national body of critics slow to perceive its dazzling strangeness. The script was adapted from the novel by Flemish writer Johan Daisne. Delvaux summarizes its contents as follows: “How Govert Miereveld, a barrister and teacher in a Flemish town, conceives a secret love for his young pupil Fran, an inaccessible beauty who will soon disappear. How the imperceptible process of Govert’s mental disturbance is later accentuated by the shock of an autopsy he is forced to attend. How he recognizes Fran – or believes he recognizes her and what ensues.” The profound nature of the subject matter, the immediate mastery of mise en scène established Delvaux’s position at the forefront of magic realism.
The film describes in its first section the awards ceremony of an academic gathering. Everything is perfectly “normal”. And yet there is a steadily growing sense of insidious malaise, of pernicious discrepancy. We move beyond appearances. Delvaux plays with the foregrounding of micro-events dilated by a mode of perception which effects a tiny magnification, obscuring reality. The concrete and the interpretation, the objective and the subjective run into each other and blend subtly. The famous autopsy sequence provides the most concise demonstration of this double perception: firstly there is the surgical reality, where a corpse is a neutral object to be clinically dissected; then there is an intolerable catalyst for rot and the disturbance of identity.
“There was no money to build sets. Out of necessity we had to use the reality around us. Moreover, we made it in black-and-white as there was no money for colour. But that was our preference anyway, since we had learned much from the great black-and-white tradition in cinema. We also worked with unknown actors, with subjects that could be set up easily and shot very quickly. A rapid technique was required, so we shot mainly in long takes and with very little movement because when you work without movement the shots can be lenghtened – and the dialogue grows longer... It means that the development of the production leads to the aesthetic transformation of the conditions under which you write your scripts and under which you shoot them. It’s an important consideration, because you realise that homo cinematographicus is conditioned as much by money as by anything else.”
“How Govert Miereveld, a barrister and teacher in a Flemish town, conceives a secret love for his young pupil Fran, an inaccessible beauty who will soon disappear. How the imperceptible process of Govert’s mental disturbance is later accentuated by the shock of an autopsy he is forced to attend. How he recognizes Fran – or believes he recognizes her and what ensues.”