Eyes Without a Face (Georges Franju / France, 1960):
(Les Yeux sans Visage)

The disfigured dove and the blackened mirror, the frisson nonpareil of morbid poetry. Bearded and bespectacled like Pasteur, Dr. Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) holds an audience rapt with accounts of skin-grafting experiments while his loyal assistant (Alida Valli) dumps a trenchcoat-wrapped cadaver into the Seine. He adjusts the wreaths at a bogus funeral ("I like order") and tends to the daughter mutilated in a car wreck (Edith Scob), a most dainty zombie. The chateau on the edge of the city has a secret surgery room with dogs howling in cages, the waif glides from floor to floor in mannequin dresses and a pearly mask with unmoving lips and traumatized eyes. (An ethereal Maurice Jarre valse underscores her suffering, to contrast with the demented tinkling that accompanies the secretary’s stalking of pretty students for the paterfamilias’ operations.) "I've done so much wrong for this miracle..." Georges Franju on Universal monsters like Baudelaire on Poe, a stark and tender view: The Phantom of the Opera and Bride of Frankenstein are clearly indicated, Valli sizing up a victim in Atget nocturnal exteriors evokes Dracula’s Daughter. (Rosemary’s Baby, Glissements Progressifs du Plaisir and The Silence of the Lambs are chief among the beneficiaries.) Memories of the Occupation inevitably linger in this overcast Paris, where misplaced or warped devotion is the ultimate horror—haughty and grave, the doctor conducts his atrocities for the sake of a beloved daughter who can only wither from anguish and guilt. A welter of ineffable effects (the languid slouch of the lifeless figure in the backseat of a car, a visit to the cemetery interrupted by the soft whoosh of an airplane, a placid fireplace suddenly inflamed by a chloroformed rag) comprises Franju’s tessitura of cruelty and lyricism, a camera that can gaze at a gruesome face transplant with something like nightmarish serenity. "Sourire, sourire... Pas trop." The ending is Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, except with the heroine awake at last. Cinematography by Eugen Schüfftan. With Juliette Mayniel, Alexandre Rignault, Béatrice Altariba, François Guérin, and Claude Brasseur. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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