Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 6/8/08.
Georges Franju is considered to be one of France's finest film directors before the era of the French New Wave in the 1950s. One of the co-founders of the Cinematheque Francaise, Franju would help France re-emerge from its post-war fallout as for 10 years, he created documentary films from 1949-1958. In 1958, Franju made his first feature film entitled La Tete Contre Les Murs (Head Against the Walls or in its known American title The Keepers) about an institutionalized man who becomes insane after he defies his wealthy father. The film would help establish Franju as one of France's finest directors but in 1959, he would create what some consider to be one of the best horror films ever made entitled Les Yeux Sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face).
Directed Georges Franju, Les Yeux Sans Visage tells the story of a doctor who tries to restore his daughter's face after a horrific car accident. With the help of his devoted assistant, the doctor and his assistant lure young women only to kill them hoping to restore the beauty of his daughter. Based on Jean Redon's novel with an adaptation by Franju, Pierre Bolieau, Thomas Narcejac, and Claude Sautet. The film explores the examination of a man’s obsession and how his assistant's devotion leads to horror. Starring Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Edith Scob, Francois Guerin, and Juliette Mayniel. Les Yeux Sans Visage is a haunting yet enchanting masterpiece from Georges Franju.
A woman named Louise (Alida Valli) is driving in the woods outside Paris. In the back of her car is a dead body that she’s covered with a coat and hat as she watches for onlookers. Dumping the body into the Seine river, she leaves as days later, the body is found. Called into the morgue to identify is Dr. Genessier (Pierre Brasseur), whose daughter Christiane (Edith Scob) had vanished. Genessier reveals that the body is none other than Christiane. After running into another father, whose daughter had also disappeared, he reveals that his daughter hasn’t been found. After a funeral that included the appearance of Christiane's fiance` Jacques Vernon (Francois Guerin), Genessier returns home with Louise as he enters Christiane's room. Christiane is revealed to be alive as the surgery to restore her beauty, following a horrific car accident. Forced to wear a mask and be isolated, Christiane feels lonely as she tries to call Jacques but couldn't.
Back in Paris, Louise befriends a young woman named Edna Gruber (Juliette Mayniel) whom she lures into Genessier's home. When Edna is suddenly hit with chloroform by Genessier, she now becomes part of his attempt to reconstruct Christiane's face. By taking Edna's face off and put it in Christiane's face, the surgery becomes a success yet Edna escapes only to fall. With Christiane seemingly enjoying her new face, Genessier notices its flaws as he realizes that the surgery was a failure. Forced to wear her mask, Christiane calls Jacques, who learns what is happening, but is caught by Louise.
Turning to Inspector Parot (Alexandre Rignault), Parot asks a young woman named Paulette (Beatrice Altariba) to check in at Genessier's clinic with Jacques keeping an eye on her. Yet, everything seems routine and fine until Jacques and Parot learned she never came home. With Paulette now becoming the new face that Genessier is needed, the already disenchanted and distraught Christiane decides to take matters into her own hands.
While horror films are meant to play for a sense of shock and terror, what's different about this film is that director Georges Franju creates a film that bends genres. It's part-horror, part-psycho-drama, part-suspense, and part-art house film. What Franju creates is a sense of suspense that builds up in the first act where the audience knows what Genessier wants for Christiane and how Louise is willing to help her. The second act introduces Edna as she becomes a pawn for what happens. The third act is about the aftermath of the surgery and the suspicion raised on what's going on.
The script is wonderfully structured and told in a simple manner yet it's Franju's eerie direction that really keeps the film going in its momentum and a sense of style. What's more noting is that in terms of its suspense and horror, there's only a brief second in which Franju reveals the disfigured face of Christiane but it's all in a blur. Yet, the shock and horror happens that is followed by the surgical scenes. For its time in 1959-1960, the sight of a face being peeled off with all of that blood was definitely extreme for its time. Yet, it works for its sense of shock and horror as well as in the suspense department. The idea of suspense truly works in Franju's direction as he lets the scene unfold and drama knowing what might happen. Yet, it also becomes psychological as Christiane becomes aware of what her father is doing as well as her own isolation. The film is truly mesmerizing as the character of Genessier is convinced that what he's doing is God-like. The result is a film that bend genres while bringing something enchanting to the story.
Cinematographer Eugene Schufftan does a fantastic job with the film's black-and-white photography to add a look to the film's sense of horror and style that is eerie yet gorgeous in its look. The cinematography is one of the film's highlights as it features the haunting quality that is needed for the film's tone. Editor Gilbert Natot does a superb job with the film's pacing that starts out slow yet engrossing and then becomes more intense but maintains a pacing and style that is truly mesmerizing and never dull. Particularly in the use of fade-outs that smoothly transitions from one scene to another. Production designer Auguste Capelier does a great job in the look of the Genessier's home and secret lab that includes a shelter for dogs that he keeps for experiments. Costume designer Marie Martin does a spectacular job with the look of the gowns created for Louise and Edna, particularly in the color of shiny black that adds a sense of style.
Makeup artist Georges Klein does a fantastic job in the creation of the scenes of horror involving the surgery and the look of the faces in their disfigured form, though in a blurry look. Sound mixer Antoine Archimbaud does a fantastic job with the sound to add suspense in the scene involving the dogs in their cages as they bark as Christiane looks at them lovingly and calm them down. Music composer Maurice Jarre, famous for his work with David Lean, brings a wonderful score that plays to the film's sense of sadness, drama, and suspense. Particularly the sweeping theme music to Louise and the scenes of Christiane longing for Jacques.
The casting is definitely brilliant with Claude Brasseur as an inspector and Charles Blavette as a doctor from the morgue. Beatrice Altariba is good as Paulette, a shoplifter who is given the task to be part of an investigation in exchange for leniency as she is unaware of what she's actually doing. Alexandre Rignault is also good as Inspector Parot who tries to piece things together while helping Jacques into the investigation. Juliette Mayniel is excellent as Edna, a young woman who is lured into becoming a victim as she tries to escape from Genessier and Louise. Francois Guerin is great as Jacques, Christiane's fiance` who learns that she might be alive and leads an investigation into what's really going on. Edith Scob is amazing in her role as Christiane, a complex character that is both the victim and the monster. Scob's performance is mesmerizing as she’s seen wearing a mask and once, in her own face in one scene, as she is a young woman in despair over what she’s become and how her isolation has driven her to the edge.
Alida Valli is superb as Louise, Genessier's lover/secretary/assistant who is willing to help at all means while being a surrogate mother for Christiane. Valli's performance is truly eerie as she lures young women by acting all friendly while being the one to calm Christiane. Valli is truly a standout as she brings great support to the character of Dr. Genessier as she is the only one who can understand him. Pierre Brasseur is brilliant as Dr. Genessier, a man filled with guilt as he tries to restore his daughter's beauty only leading him to become desperate in his role as a surgeon. Brasseur's performance is mesmerizing as he brings depth and complexity to a character that could've been a one-dimensional villain. Instead, his guilt and sense of love for his daughter matched by his own God-like insanity is the perfect mixture for his character.
Les Yeux Sans Visage is a mesmerizing, haunting masterpiece from Georges Franju with great performances from Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, and Edith Scob. Fans of art-house, European cinema will no doubt find this as essential while those looking for smarter, more involving films of horror will enjoy this for its look and tone. With horror films now relying on gore and other hijinks, what makes Les Yeux Sans Visage interesting is its tone and momentum that takes it time to shock and then goes for the shock factor in the second act with a more dramatic third act to follow. In the end, Les Yeux Sans Visage is a beautiful yet eerie film from Georges Franju.
(C) thevoid99 2011