Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.
So I watched De Man die Zijin Haar Kort Liet Knippen (The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short) today, and I don’t really know 100% what to make of it. I’m also not going to type either of its names again until the end of this review if I can help it. There seems to be almost nothing coherent going on here, making it difficult to determine exactly what is actually going on. I really can’t determine. And because of this, you can consider the rest of this review as a giant spoiler, because I can’t discuss this film without really getting into the ending and whatever it might imply.
We start with Govert Miereveld (Senne Rouffaer), a teacher at what appears to be something like a high school. He is obsessed in a “Lolita” sort of way with his student Fran Veenman (Beata Tyszkiewicz). The film begins on the day that she graduates from Miereveld’s school, and we witness him going through a significant crisis regarding this. He’s simply not ready to give her up. The opening act of the film consists of this day of graduation and Miereveld’s attempting to deal with Fran’s departure.
We then jump forward significantly in time. Miereveld has left the teaching profession and is now working as a sort of clerk for the government. He is invited to attend an autopsy and decides to go. This autopsy involves unearthing the body of a man pulled from a river and believed to be a missing courier. As it happens, the body in the coffin is not the missing courier. Unable to return home for the evening, Miereveld is put up in a hotel where he runs into Fran, now called Franny Veen, who is now a successful actress. He finds that his obsession with her his undiminished or that it comes back immediately and in full force.
In the third act, Miereveld returns to his hotel and waits to encounter Fran again, eventually going to her room and proceeds to act on his obsession. And this is when everything starts to fall apart, and what has been a film partly about this obsession and partly a mystery of this missing man becomes something far different from either of these things. It takes a very hard left turn and dives deeply into the realm of magical realism, but of the darkest and strangest variety.
See, it turns out that Fran evidently had feelings for Govert all this time. And then everything seems to come out. Fran was kick out of her house by her father, who disappeared six months before this meeting. When she describes particular things about her father, it becomes evident that the autopsy Govert witnessed was of her father. Next, she reveals that she had an affair with the man Govert replaced at the school. And then, he takes the pistol that she had been given by her father, and he shoots her.
Or does he? Or has none of this after the autopsy really happened? Has all of this been a product of the fevered imagination of Govert Miereveld? These are just a few of the questions that the film poses and leaves unanswered. Miereveld appears in some sort of institution (it doesn’t look like a prison, so one presumes it to be a mental institution in keeping with his evident breakdown) and sees Franny Veen on a newsreel. So perhaps he only imagined the murder of Franny. Or perhaps he shot her and she survived. Since we’ve gone from objective reality presented at the start of the film into the world of an extremely unreliable narrator, it’s impossible to tell.
I’m not sure what it means. I’m not sure I’m supposed to know.
The symbol that is most evidently present here is the hair cut, and there is a long scene of Miereveld getting his hair cut, oiled, his head massaged, and more, and evident from the expression on his face, this is a man who truly enjoys his haircut. At the end of the film, his hair is cropped extremely close, evidence of further haircuts. In many cultures, head shaving or virtual shaving is a sign of mourning, and that may be what this represents here. Miereveld’s tonsorial practices may in fact represent a state of constant mourning for himself. He is certainly not mourning anyone else, particularly if Franny Veen is still alive.
This is one to watch a second time. It’s as dense as a slab of concrete, but it’s one that houses something inside that needs to be hacked out carefully. I can only see the vague outlines of what this is at the moment. Further viewings are necessary to divulge anything like real meaning from this viewing, but it’s deep enough and a rich enough field to encourage such repeat watching. I will tackle this one again, if only to further explore this dark and dream-like territory Delvaux takes us to.
Why to watch De Man die Zijin Haar Kort Liet Knippen: Magical realism isn’t always happy.
Why not to watch: It seems impossible to decipher.