Directed and co-written by Georges Franju. Starring Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Èdith Scob, and Juliette Mayniel. Based on the book ‘Les Yeux Sans Visage’ by Jean Redon. Distributed by Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France.
As a writer, I have chosen a career that is full of challenges. Aside from having to think of ideas for content, I also have to research said content, and then transcribe the information that I’ve found in a way that is generally agreeable to my potential readership. There are many different things to consider when taking on an assignment. What tone will I use? Who is my target audience? Etcetera, etcetera. But, at the same time, when you make the mistake of overthinking things, even the simplest of reviews can end up being a total nightmare. It all comes with the territory.
Yes, it is an occupation that is fraught with difficulties. However, out of all of them, the worst issue by far is the one that I’m facing right now. See, a lot of the time, I review schlock. Sure, it might be schlock that I enjoy, but it is still schlock, nonetheless. There is no implicit weight behind it. No great art that needs deciphering. It just is. They are typically the kind of films that you can just pop on and watch casually. They require no real thought. When the movie ends and the credits roll, you move on and you forget about it. End of story.
Une Exception à la Règle
And then there are the films that I choose to review like Eyes Without a Face (1960). Films that I feel need to be done the proper justice. Hell, that practically demand it from me. Eyes Without a Face is, in my opinion, one of the greatest horror pictures ever made. A hauntingly beautiful experience that sticks with you long after it’s over. The fact that it isn’t more widely known is a real tragedy and I’m honestly baffled as to why that could be. When it comes to classic horror films, it should be right up there alongside James Whale’s Frankenstein and Tod Browning’s Dracula. Unfortunately, though – it isn’t. Oh well, c’est la vie.
The plot of Eyes Without a Face follows the strained relationship between a father and his daughter. Doctor Génessier is a prominent plastic surgeon in France. After his daughter’s face is deformed in a horrible car accident, of which he is at fault for, the doctor takes it upon himself to remedy her condition – by any means necessary. With the help of his trusty assistant, he begins to abduct young, attractive women from around the city as unwitting donors to his cause. These ladies are to be involuntary participants in the most ambitious procedure of his career: the surgical transplant of a human face.
While all of this is going on, Génessier’s daughter maintains a desperate life of seclusion and secrecy. Confined to the doctor’s sprawling mansion in the french countryside, Christiane spends her days and nights longing for the things that she left behind. You see, the world at large believes her to be dead, and, a lot of the time, she wishes that she actually was. The only hope that she still clings to is that her father will succeed in his mission. That he will replace her beauty with that of another’s, so that she may once again rejoin society. There is just one persistent question that dogs the young woman, though – do the ends really justify the means?
La Beauté N’est que la Peau Profonde
At its very heart, Eyes Without a Face is a story about love. In fact, it is the primary motivation that drives the majority of the film’s characters. It is the doctor’s love for his daughter, and the accompanying guilt that he feels for causing her condition, that urges him to take such extreme measures in order to redeem himself. It is the assistant’s love for Dr. Génessier, in the form of eternal gratitude for fixing her own facial deformity, which serves as her excuse for participating in his ghastly crimes. And finally, it is Christiane’s love for her fiance, among many other things, that feeds into her ever-deepening state of melancholia. In Eyes Without a Face, love is the spark that ignites the gasoline; it sets the entire morbid plot in motion.
As an audience, we can understand the film’s characters. Their actions have a sort of rationality behind them that doesn’t seem so foreign to us. It is what provides them with their strength, and makes the pervasive, wistful tone of the film so effective. There is a feeling of sorrow that permeates the atmosphere in Eyes Without a Face. It overpowers the dread and the horror and provides the movie with a unique power that is uncommon to the genre. We connect with the characters because we feel sorry for them, and it is our empathy that makes the grislier parts of the film that much more terrifying to us.
Another noteworthy aspect of Eyes Without a Face is the ethereal, dreamlike ambiance that it carries. It is like being in the mind of somebody who is having a terrible nightmare. This can likely be attributed to the influence that German expressionism must have had on the director. Whatever the reason behind the stylistic choice may have been, it makes for an incredibly captivating watch.
Un Conte de Fées Macabre
While it was initially met with mixed reviews upon its release, Eyes Without a Face has since gone on to be given the respect that it so sorely deserves. Many contemporary critics, including myself, praise the film and now see it for the masterpiece that it truly is. As hackneyed as the idiom may be, it doesn’t make the statement any less true – they just don’t make them like this anymore.
Ultimately, I am proud to award Eyes Without a Face (1960) with the highest possible rating that I could give to a film that I’m reviewing: 5 out of 5 Cthulhus. Hell, if I could, I would rate it even higher than that. J’adore Les Yeux sans Visage, tu dois voir ça! It is an exquisite work of art, and will truly live on as such throughout the ages.(5 / 5)
If you enjoyed ‘Reviews in Retrospect: Eyes Without a Face (1960)’, then please feel to check out more Reviews in Retrospect, here.