‘Eyes Without a Face’ or — Eww?!
It took me longer than expected to get around to watching ‘Eyes Without a Face’ (1960 — Georges Franju) because it turns out I’d accidentally bought the porn version by mistake: ‘Cheeks Without an Arse’ (1966 — Bert Climax).
Rectifying my mistake I was finally able to sit down last night and discover why this film is held in such high regard. Turns out because it’s horrible and nasty as hell. How on earth did they get away with this?! I mean, just… just… eeewwwww!!!!!!!
It starts almost like a Noir as a mysterious woman drives through the dark of night to dump a body in the Seine. The lighting is atmospheric and the musical score sounds like a dying carnival. When the body is recovered it transpires it is the daughter, Christiane, of renowned plastic surgeon Dr. Génessier. Christiane was a young women who had had her face horribly disfigured after an automobile accident.
Yet if Christiane is dead then who is the young, masked woman living in Dr. Génessier’s mansion? And why are beautiful girls going missing from the streets of Paris? Could it have anything to do with the fact that the mysterious woman we observed disposing of a body is Dr. Génessier’s assistant? Watch ‘Eyes Without a Face’ and find out!
Okay, so I was expecting this movie to be a sort of Clouzot/Hitchcock type thriller with a touch of the fantastical. And that’s certainly what the bulk of this film is as tension and mystery are increased through sophisticated cinematography and sound design. This is a handsomely mounted slice of the macabre that leaves at all to your imagination.
Until it suddenly says “Bugger that!” and go on to SHOW you everything!
I was sitting there thinking “Well, they’re obviously going to cut away from this sequence because it’s not as though they’re actually going to sho… oh god, they are!” Good grief, I had to look away several times as it was just so gross! How could they show this in cinemas back in 1960? I’d love to have been in the audience when this came out in Paris and hear all the cries of “MON DIEU!!” exploding around me.
No! Not the pliers! This is worse than ‘Saw’ (2004) and ‘Hostel’ (2005) combined!
It’s all technically well done which only makes everything worse with Franju knowing exactly what to show, not show, cut away from or hold on to for maximum effect. The problem is the maximum effect is hideous and gross! And then it throws some narrative curve balls at you as well that really keep you on your toes.
The denouement (which I won’t spoil) is something else. Édith Scob’s Christiane acts in a very precise way, the movements of her hands and eyes (notice she never blinks) calibrated to a very fine degree. These uncanny gestures mean when she “frees” herself at the end her Christiane feels like a sort of precursor to Spacek’s Carrie. It also manages to lob in a final flourish of violence with an incredible brutal dog attack.
What’s also interesting is that this film does have a sense of humour. It’s dry and almost invisible to the point I didn’t even spot it was present until the movie was almost over.
The film is also, when it isn’t grossing you out, gorgeous to behold. The set design and black and white cinematography are ravishing and unnerving but Franju also ensures events never get too hysterical so there’s a precision to a lot of what we see on screen; just look at those precisely choreographed trains for proof of that.
‘Eyes Without a Face’ effortlessly lived up to my expectations. It’s an incredible film that functions on a high level both artistically and in terms of being a horror. But good god, I had no idea they could get away with THAT in 1960.