Les Yeux Sans Visage (The Eyes Without a Face)

Year: 1959

Production: Champs-Elysees / Lux

Director: Georges Franju

Starring: Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Edith Scob

Screenwriter: Georges Franju, Jean Redon, Claude Sautet, Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac

Based on Les Yeux sans Visage by Jean Redon

88 minutes; B/W

A virtually unanimous chorus of British reviews bayed their revulsion when Franju's somberly poetic masterpiece was released, in a slightly softened version, after a controversial premiere at the Edinburgh Festival where seven viewers fainted during the performance.

The plot, adapted from his own novel by Redon, draws on stock situations from pulp fiction, always a prized source of inspiration for the French surrealists. Dr Genessier (Brasseur), responsible for the accident that disfigured his daughter Christiane (Scob), steals the faces of young women and tries to graft them onto his daughter's. In the end, the dogs he kept for experimental purposes attack him and tear off his face as the demented Christiane, still faceless, slowly disappear into the night. The first images of a car's headlights gliding over the restless trees of a wooden lane, the work of Germany's brilliant cinematographer, Eugene Schuftan, establishes an eerie atmosphere that is maintained throughout the movie, perfectly serving Franju's unnervingly intense direction.

Although this was the director's second film, it reached both Britain and America before La Tete Contre les Murs (1958), a powerful picture hailed by Jean-Luc Godard in terms that could equally well apply to Les Yeux Sans Visage : "A crazy film on madmen, thus a film of insane beauty." In 1936, before embarking on a successful career directing short films, (Le Sang des Betes [1949], Hotel des Invalides [1951]), Franju had co-founded the celebrated Cinematheque Francaise with Henri Langlois. His love of cinema was firmly rooted in the intellectual climate that spawned his soulmate, Luis Bunuel, and profoundly marked the French New Wave directors who were, in fact, a generation younger. By an odd coincidence, Franju's classic of medical sf was made in the same year as Victor Triva's bizarre Die Nackte und der Satan (1959). The two films set the terms for nearly all future mad-surgeon movies: Trivas with his gleeful indulgence in the bizarre for its own sake and Franju with a highly stylized, lyrical work playing on the anxieties that accompany the voyeuristic pleasures that underpin our desire for cinema. A few years later, in Gritos en la Noche (1962), Jesus Franco combined both approaches and added both nudity and sadism of a directly sexual kind, thus achieving the commercially successful formula that thrived, most notably in the Latin cinema, for the next two decades.

A pale copy of Franju's surrealist classic was furnished by Michael Pataki entitled Mansion of the Doomed (1975).

This movie was re-titled as The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus in US.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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