Friday, July 10, 2020

Eyes Without a Face

Eyes Without a Face (aka Les Yeux sans Visage)
Georges Franju

Dr. Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) is driven to extreme measures to fix his daughter Christiane’s (Édith Scob) scarred face, going even so far as to kidnap women in hopes of grafting their skin to Christiane’s own. The constant isolation and failure of their lives begin to take its toll, and as the police and Christiane’s fiancé realize something is amiss, tragedy befalls everyone.

'Art Horror' is a term thrown around usually by people who want to dismiss a film as ‘not real horror.’ or 'not real art' Horror has always been a marginalized genre. Those who dismiss it outright view it as base and lurid, which it often is, but those are features, not bugs. For those enmeshed in horror as not only a genre but a subculture, there is often the fear of ‘respectable’ elements taking things away. You need to look no further than how the Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs (1991) was lifted out of the ghetto of horror and called a ‘psychological thriller’ as a way to show that it was a serious film and not some silly blood and guts horror movie.  A24’s recent popular run of films such as Midsommar (2019) carry with them a dedication to craft and attention to the interpersonal drama that turns off some horror fans as an intrusion of respectability.

"You only like me because my face looks like it is made out Beggin' Strips."

Eyes Without a Face is considered art-horror, due to its extreme attention to characters, mood, and a poetic approach to its themes. It doesn’t ignore the horror, both the psychological as we watch the sanity of Christiane crumble, and the physical as we watch Dr.  Génessier do his bloody work. Eyes Without a Face touches on the notion of patriarchy imposing a standard of beauty on women and how that impacts everybody. It would be easy for this discussion to become heavy-handed, but the narrative handles it with a deft touch by not only keeping the focus on its prime victim but also by rendering everyone’s motives as sympathetic, at least to a point.

The visuals of Eyes Without a Face are rendered in sharp black and white with large formal compositions. Much of the film takes place in a single sprawling mansion that begins to feel both more restrictive and more labyrinthine as the consequences for the Génessiers collapse in on them. The most striking image in the film is Christiane’s strange blank mask that she is forced to wear to cover her twisted face. Like much of the film it is simple, understated, and chilling. 

If the evil doctor can wear a facemask, so can you.

Eyes without a Face was not well received at its initial release but it did a spawn a subgenre of films about evil doctors killing other women to cure one that is meaningful to them, The Brain the Wouldn’t Die (1962), Atom Age Vampire (1960), Monstrosity (1963), and Corruption (1968) to name a few. It was only thirty years later that this film was reexamined and gained a considerably better reputation. 

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