Les doigts dans la tte "Touched in the Head"
(1974 / France / Jacques Doillon)
This was my second film by Doillon I have seen, and also the second in the current retrospective in the "Arsenal" cinema here in Berlin, that is showing 15 of his films. After the lyrical Raja (2003), a musical poem weaved out of sounds and gestures, this was an early attempt from 30 years before , which surprisingly revealed a Doillon with the same mastery of the subject - a precision in the observation of characters and events and a working with the actors that allows the scenes to remain natural and seemingly improvised while at the same time a precise script can be felt, the desire of the director to achieve everything exactly as planned. The ease of the people and the landscape, contrasted with the technical precision that accompanies a clear vision.
But the most remarkable are the actors , all more or less unprofessionals who behave with an ease as if they were playing themselves, and who make us immediately experience this combined joy of acting and being. And unlike lots of similar films their actual age matches the character's on screen.
The story is about a young working class couple, Chris and Rosette that live away from their parents and are at the beginning of adulthood. Chris also has a friend, Lon who seems like his mirror in some and his opposite in other respects. While Chris is the better-looking and more direct of the two, Lon seems more witty and thoughtful. But both seem to complement each other, as could be the case with the young couple - if there weren't a hint of slight boredom on Chris`side and dependence on Rosette`s. Into this constellation enters Liv, a girl from Sweden, who though actually the youngest of them all exceeds them by far in her maturity. She naturally becomes the focus of the group, and when she moves into Chris apartment and starts an affair with him, the fragile balance starts to shift. But will anything really change after this?
The film reminded me a bit of Pasolini's "Theorema", through the enigmatic visitor who heightens the characters awareness to another level and enriches their lives. But even more it seemed like a reworking of Eustache's "The Mother and the Whore" that had come out a year earlier, especially regarding the camerawork that seemingly locks the characters in their own world, and the diary-like perspective from the "main" character - in Jean Pierre Laud's case in the form of extensive monologues and in this film through the use of Chris`voice-over. But although combining social critique (the plot also tackles unemployment and worker's rights) with an intimate character study, Doillon's directorial take is almost opposed to a classical confrontational dramaturgy, avoiding both a direct conflict between the characters as well as the taking of a definite "auteurist" positioning on screen. Instead we have an almost introverted movement, that forces the viewer to participate in a very different way than the almost hysterical outcry of Pasolini and Eustache. No hopes get shattered, no souls tortured, and the events seem to have no definitive and immediate impact on any of the people's lives. Yet a lot has changed, something that may become apparent only over the years. In this respect the viewer could get the same feeling as after watching Sohrab Shahid Saless "A simple event". The feeling that something profound has just happened although it may not be entirely graspable, shared with a gratitude of having been allowed to experience the everyday lives and worries of a group of people that seem as natural and as basic as if they were our own. In this seemingly detached and observant look lies the great strength of Doillon as a filmmaker, in his ability to at once bring us wholly believable characters and events on the screen that seem to literally have been born in each moment anew that invent and explore themselves without resorting to clich or formula. Here could be seen his biggest link with Eustache, and the reason why both are more or less outsiders regarding french film history. Both havinh created a personal language that cannot be linked to any movement, a way of being between two stools as a conscious opposition to any rash classification or categorization. A reinventing of the self that, unlike Godard, is already completed in the film - though experimentation has taken place, it was rather before the film than in it. But though the opening up of new horizons on screen may appear smaller, it is only subtler and no less effective or important.
In the end one is released as though nothing has happened, yet affected as if a part one's own life had been reflected on screen and for the attentive viewer this might as well be the truth.
The somewhat strange american title can be ignored, as the meaning of the original is stated through Liv and the director near the end of the film. The fingers in our head are the fingers of society and our upbringing from which it is very difficult to get free. But through this film the viewer may feel them a bit less, as the director carefully avoids to bring in his own. More like softly pulling them out if the viewer is willing to concur.
The characters at least seem at the end as happy as before, while enriched through a new experience - one whose importance can be revealed only gradually.