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A brilliant surgeon, Dr. Génessier, helped by his assistant Louise, kidnaps nice young women. He removes their faces and tries to graft them onto the head on his beloved daughter Christiane, whose face has been entirely spoiled in a car crash. All the experiments fail, and the victims die, but Génessier keeps trying.... Written by
During the original release of the film an English film critic for The Spectator was nearly fired for writing it a positive review, while the general critical reaction had been poor. See more »
There are actually two different Citroen DS cars used in the film as the Doctor's car. One, presumably a DS21, has two spotlights built into the bodywork by the headlights and chrome trim, including a driver's wing-mirror (see 10:00 as he arrives with no lights and 12:50 as he leaves a few minutes later using headlights and spotlights, another continuity gaff in itself). At 12 :50 and 14:16 the DS with spotlights is seen but at 17:19 it has changed to one with no spotlights and no wing-mirror, presumably a DS19. Though its front plate is "7769-GR75", when the Doctor puts it into the garage, the rear plate reads "2923-GR75" and the assistant's Citroen Diane has the plate "7769-GR75" on the front. At 32:18 the Diane has "2923-GY75" on the rear and at 32:55 the same on the front, which was its registration when first seen near the start of the film. Finally, at 54:49 it's back to the DS with spotlights. See more »
At the time 'Les yeux sans visage' was released, the film was not very popular and faced common rejection by the critics. Regardless of those dis-affirmations, it raised to the position of a classic in the horror genre. Franju - one of the founders of the legendary Cinemathèque Française - succeeded in an intriguing way to make film history sensible as a source of inspiration of an entirely peculiar vision.
The clinic of Dr. Génessier (P. Brasseur) is located not very far from Paris. Famous as a specialist in skin grafting, nobody foreshadows that the scientific ambition of the surgeon is incident with a horrifying secret: Since an accident has destroyed the face of Génessier's daughter, Christiane (Scob), the doctor does everything to reconstruct her beauty. With the help of his assistant Louise (Valli) he clucks young women in his remote mansion, benumbs them and makes them a victim of a macabre surgical operation. In a hidden operating room in the basement of his house, Génessier removes the facial skin and transplants it on Christiane's face. Without lasting successes.
That Franjus film has not suffer losses from its immensely disturbing effects is because of, if nothing else, the camera work of Eugen Schüfftans. His brilliant black and white shots resurrects the bright dark of the expressionist German silent film. It imparts Villa Génessier a threatening life of it's own, transmutes it in a mazy horror house which seems like one can not escape. The shadows of the stairway handrails lay on everybody who enters the building like grids and makes him optically a prisoner of Génessier's delusion, mostly his daughter Christiane. Cut from a real life she haunts through the paternal ruins, the garbled face concealed behind a white porcelain mask, whose sad expression seems to nail the doom of the young woman.
Christiane's mask also points out a central principle of formation of the film: It's suspense results substantially from the interaction of visible and invisible things, of showing and dissembling. Franju subtly creates a nightmarish atmosphere that evokes the horror of Génessier's actions, but never makes it explicitly in the first instance - only to show it the viewer more pitilessly: When the surgeon unprovided cuts into the juvenilely beautiful face of one of his victims. This moment of shocking intensity reminds of the razor blade cut through the woman's eye of Bunuel's surrealistic classic 'Un chien andalou' (1929). With the same zest to provoke, Franju also presents the result of an ostensibly succeeded operation: A sober sequence of photographs shows, commented by Génessier off-stage, at first Christiane's angelically delicate face, then how the transplanted skin becomes patchy a few days later, splits open and two weeks later dies off. The cruelty of those two sequences exposes Génessier as a perverted, pestilent doctor and his paternal love as brutal obsession. The attempt to give his daughter a new face means at the same time to erase her identity, to create the ideal woman.
'Les yeux sans visage' remains in the memory of the viewer as one of the rare places on the imaginary continent, phantasmagoric and exigent with ample suspense and shocking details, a perfect alchemy of horror and allegoric poesy whereby one of the most beautiful horror films came into being.
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