Eyes Without A Face (Georges Franju, 1960)

This is a film I’ve wanted to see for a long time, as not only is it thought of as a classic of the Horror Genre, but it now holds an esteemed place in auteurist cinema, as marking the moment when Georges Franju first truly earned the auteurist tag.  However, on its release in 1960, Eyes Without A Face (Les Yeux Sans Visage)  was pretty much villified and garnered widespread bad reviews. Its status only came to be re-evaluated in the mid 1980s, after a number of re-releases in France and the United Kingdom saw it reach new audiences and critics began to re-appraise Franju’s work; placing it in a new, more auteurist, context.

The plot concerns a brilliant surgeon, Professor Genessier, who devotes himself to trying to replace the face of his daughter Christiane, after she is horribly disfigured in a car accident. Christiane’s face is hidden behind a ghostly white mask, which she must wear at all times, as she is kept virtual prisoner in her father’s home. Genessier is helped by his assistant Louise (Alida Valli), whose face he successfully transplanted after she too was disfigured in the same accident. His remorse is compounded by the fact that he was the driver, so he works tirelessly to restore Christiane’s beautiful face and thus give her back her life. The problem is that he needs “donors”; and so must resort to sending Louise out to pick up suitable young women to lure back to his basement operating theatre.

Eyes Without A Face is notable for several striking scenes; such as a visit to a morgue early in the story, Christiane wandering the rooms of her father’s house (where portraits of her as she was are kept covered) and the final sequence; as  the Professor’s horrifying work is undone, we see Christiane emerging from the hidden operating theatre flanked by the dogs her father kept for experimenting on, as a white dove sits on her shoulder.

Associated as it is with the Horror genre and Grand Guignol, this is a film that goes beyond those limiting tags, and repays repeated viewings.  Franju serves up a multi-faceted shocker that is not easy to pin down, and is still an odd but essential film.

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