Eyes Without a Face, genre-defining French horror

Georges Franju, one of the staple figures of French cinema, is most famous for the horror classic Les Yeux Sans Visage or Eyes Without a Face.

It’s a poetic film that centres on Doctor Genessier (Pierre Brasseur), who is fixated on reconstructing the deformed face of his daughter Christiane (Edith Scob). He does this by grafting the faces of young women recruited by his assistant Louise (Alida Valli) and persuaded to visit his laboratory outside of Paris.

The doctor and his obsession are the centrepiece of the film, but it’s Christiane and her apparent disconnect from reality that sets the style of the piece apart.

The film, shot in black and white, a classic of the visceral and surrealistic horror films of the 60s, mixes with the style of French New Wave cinema. It had a profound influence that continues with its simple yet meaningful approach, without giving too much or too little.

Even the director of Halloween (1978), John Carpenter, suggested he was inspired by the film to find a mask for Michael Myers after seeing the one worn by Christiane.

However, the film’s message is greater than its commercial influence.

The story touches on a father and his obsessive love for his daughter. Or at least it initially seems that way. But what he claims to be love seems more like an obsession over his work, sacrificing his own morals and innocent victims in the name of his scientific goals.

The father has also convinced Christiane that she is worth less to the outside world if she doesn’t fit his definition of perfect, faking her death so her image is not that of her disfigured face. That is the narrative the doctor tells himself and Christiane, and the narrative she will continue to accept until she decides to escape her emotional prison.

The film will stay in my mind for a while, in a good way.

The ending really ties it together. The daughter is more distraught over her father’s victims than her own fate, and once she realizes what is happening, she chooses to accept her predicament. Franju builds an excellent visual piece on top of this framework, in a way that I can only describe as a twisted but peaceful ending.

In Eyes Without a Face, it is the visuals, rather than the characters, that make the film a spectacular piece of horror that I don’t believe can be replicated.


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