Archive for pierre brasseur

Les yeux sans visage – EYES WITHOUT A FACE – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in France, horror, movies with tags , , , , on December 6, 2009 by goregirl

We borrowed the Criterion Collection version of ‘Eyes Without A Face’ from the library (I really do love my library). It’s a beautiful, clean, sub-titled version with some pretty cool extras. The most fascinating of the additional material is Franju’s 1949 short documentary ‘Blood of the Beasts’ about the slaughterhouses of Paris. This documentary was extremely difficult to watch. I literally had to look away on several occasions. Films are pretend, but with that said, death or violence against animals is something I have low tolerance for even in fiction. This here is the real deal. This is a blunt and brutal display of the facts. After all, if you eat it, why the hell shouldn’t you have to watch it be slaughtered? An absolute must see extra if you rent this version. I wonder if Franju knew how his film was being marketed in the US? In the disc’s extras ‘Eyes Without A Face’ is shown being double-billed under the name ‘The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus’ along side ‘The Manster’. The Manster looks super hokey! Half-man, Half-monster! Don’t get me wrong, it looks like it could be good for some laughs but come on! It has no business being billed with ‘Eyes Without A Face’! This film kicked my ass! I freaking loved it! So the rest of this review will be me pouring all over this film, so you may want to grab a bucket.

Christiane lives hidden from the world, shrouded by a white featureless mask that hides her horribly disfigured face. Her father is guilt-ridden plastic surgeon, Dr. Genessier. With the help of his assistant Louise, they lure young women in and surgically remove their faces in hope of successfully grafting the skin to his daughter. But one failed graft after another leaves a pile of bodies and little hope.

Don’t we all wear a mask? At the very least, most of us attempt to hide our imperfections from the world. ‘Eyes Without A Face’ is about vanity, guilt, obsession, depression and redemption. It is a tale that is as bizarre and bleak as it is beautiful. How the hell could I not have seen this film until now? This one really is a stunner. Visually this film is most impressive. Some scenes are brightly lit and sterile while others are washed in shadows and completely surrealistic. The props are amazing. The huge old estate is awesome and the multiple rooms, hidden staircases and concealed doors make for a maze-like setting. Dr. Genessier keeps several dogs, as well as white doves in wrought-iron cages which he uses for experiments. And in the same wing of the house is his surgical room, where he kills women and experiments on his daughter. There is a scene where they remove a woman’s face that is extremely impressive. They have scissors holding down skin all around the face and Dr. Genessier cuts slowly and precisely with a scalpel. With extreme care, he pulls the face off. I was surprised by the brutal but matter of fact way they go about this scene, particularly gory for a film from that time. There are many other wonderful, unexpected scenes in ‘Eyes Without A Face’.

Dr. Genessier is the cold as ice Doctor who at times seems to be completely devoid of human emotions. Christiane seems more like a science project than a daughter at times. He is not the eccentric mad doctor often portrayed in old horror films. His monstrous tendencies are well hidden behind a mask of respect and authority in which a man of his calibre commands. During an awkward family dinner while Christiane is wearing her lovely new face her father suggests “Smile dear…but not too much.” The man does not exude a lot of warmth. His malevolent assistant, Louise has been a benefactor of his plastic surgery skills, wearing a multiple strand pearl choker to cover the scar. Aesthetically she exudes no deformities or abnormalities, hers are all internalized. She feels an obligation to help the doctor, meticulously planning how she will make contact with women, and get them to Genessier’s estate. The real focal point of the film is Chrisiane. Her character is an inspired visual. Thin as a pole and pale like a ghost. Delicately gliding through their massive home wearing that featureless white mask. Her mind is a prison she wants to escape. Death is friendlier than a mirror.

It was her father Dr. Genessier, who had been the driver of their vehicle when the accident occurred, that caused Christiane’s facial disfigurement. It was perhaps out of guilt that he had first removed the face of a young woman, but the success of a graft clearly became on obsession. In one peculiar, but effective sequence we literally see snapshots of Christiane’s deteriorating new face over various time periods, narrated by the doctor. Each female sacrifice equals another failed grafting experiment. With each failure Christiane becomes more solemn. Her sad eyes are the only life that emanates from the white featureless death mask. In the end it is all too much for Christiane. Which finally leads us to one of the most striking finale’s ever to grace a horror film. It is like some twisted and demented version of Snow White.

‘Eyes Without A Face’ kept me mesmerized from beginning to end. Even the musical score is perfect. Cheerful, yet twisted circus music with a hint of malice. I don’t go throwing this word around, but “masterpiece” is appropriate here. This amazing film stayed with me for days after seeing it. A strikingly original, bleak and beautiful contribution to the horror genre. Highest possible of recommendations!

Dungeon Rating: 5/5

Directed By: Georges Franju

Starring: Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel, Edith Scob, François Guérin, Alexandre Rignault, Béatrice Altariba