From France and made in 1960, ‘Eyes Without A Face’ is a classic black and white horror film directed by Georges Franju. While the plot is deceptively simple, the telling of the tale casts dark shadows which permeate not only the movie but others in the future. Such was its influence on subsequent directors and the music, not to everybody’s liking, remains hypnotic much in the same way that ‘The Third Man’ and Anton Karas’ zither still echo in our ears.
With a simple plot, it is impossible to review without giving away too much of the story but, in essence, it’s about Dr. Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) and his once beautiful daughter, Christiane (Edith Scob), who now wears a mask because her face had been horribly disfigured in a car accident some years before. To make matters worse, the accident had been caused by her father. There was hope for redemption, however, because the old man was a famous and skilled plastic surgeon. Despite being made 55 years ago, it predicted the possibility of a face transplant, a technique which is now beginning to emerge. Securing a donor wasn’t an easy task for the surgeon but with the help of his loyal assistant, Louise (Alida Valli), they go out to kidnap beautiful young women to steal their faces for transplant but, as with many such operations, the spectre of rejection looms large and success does not come easy.
Christiane lives in a gloomy château and her only friends a pack of guard dogs. Her father is obsessed to the point of madness, likewise his assistant, and with nothing standing in the way regarding morality of murder, there seems to be no end to their quest. Repairing his daughter’s face almost becomes a matter of secondary importance next to the success of the operation. Watched almost from a detached point of view, with the ridiculous music in the background, the scenes achieve a surreal horror which is difficult to describe. The lives of victims become immaterial, this is the real horror.
Such a situation lends itself to a breakdown and this occurs when one of the victims fights back. Will the police save her or will she succumb to the same fate as the others? You know it will end at some point and the result isn’t going to be good. Nevertheless, the entire atmosphere of the movie lives on to affect subsequent directors and it is this aspect which becomes important. It transforms the movie from a singular production to a starting point for future directors, Jesus Franco, John Carpenter and Pedro Almondovar being mentioned.
Most presentations from the BFI come with a host of extras and this one is no exception. You get a re-mastered movie in high definition, an audio commentary by film expert Tom Lucas and a short work on the life of Marie Curie, though why that should be included defeats me, apart from the fact that she was married to a Frenchman and was from the same director. Georges also has another short 50 minute film, ‘Les Fleurs maladives de Georges Franju’ (Pierre-Henri Gibert, 2009), about the Metro in Paris from 1958 but, more important, is a 50 minute feature regarding the his life and work. Of primary importance is the illustrated booklet which comes along with the package. This comprehensive edition contains everything you would want to know about the movie, making it a really decent package, well worth the money.
Okay, it’s a bit dated. You could laugh at the old French 2CV vehicle which probably still runs strong today and could cringe at the sight of the masked face which hides a multitude of horrors but you will shudder at the horrific and callous atmosphere permeating the movie. This is one to recommend and one not to miss. It’s a milestone of a movie.
(regions 2/B: pub: British Film Institute. 2 discs blu-ray/DVD 88 minute black and white French film with extras. Price: £19.99 (UK). Cat: BFIB1190)
sub-titles: English optional
check out website: http://shop.bfi.org.uk/eyes-without-a-face.html#.VcXTabtRGM8