Although it seems quite harmless from today’s perspective, “Les yeux sans visage” or “Eyes Without a Face” by George Franju caused great controversy in Europe when it appeared in the early sixties. Today, this horror-drama enjoys a cult status and is considered one of the most influential films of all time, but in the early sixties, critics were almost competing to spit on and disparage it more. One British critic who liked the film almost got fired when she wrote a positive review, and one of the main reasons why no one expected something so shocking and offensive was that director Georges Franju was known as a documentarian until then.
However, with “Eyes Without a Face”, Franju presented himself as an avant-garde surrealist who found models in German expressionism, especially Lang and Murnau, but also his famous compatriot Jean Cocteau. It was also one of the first films for which music was composed by the famous Maurice Jarre, the father of the even more famous son Jean-Michel Jarre. He made Franju a film based on the novel of the same name by Jean Redon, and we follow the story of the famous Parisian plastic surgeon, Dr. Genessier (Pierre Brasseur), whose daughter Christiane (Edith Scob) was seriously injured in a car accident. The once beautiful Christiane was disfigured after the accident and her face was completely destroyed. It was her father who hid the accident, and partly because of remorse, partly because he completely lost touch with reality, the doctor came up with a grotesque and creepy plan to save his daughter.
With the help of assistant Louise (Alida Valli), he kidnaps young women and surgically removes their faces in order to transplant them onto his daughter. However, this technique is not very successful because new faces are not accepted at all for Christiane, whose death the doctor faked so that he could carry out his sick practice in peace. And Christiane looks really grotesque with the mask that constantly covers her disfigured face, and although in more than six decades after “Eyes Without a Face” was shown, we could see all kinds of ugliness and disease on film, the audience was extremely shocked at the time. People allegedly fainted when the scene of the face transplant operation started and the film was dismissed as a disgusting representative of an irrelevant genre that Franju spends his time on completely incomprehensibly.
Today, “Eyes Without a Face” enjoys cult status and numerous subsequent films are obvious homages to this classic. Perhaps the best example is Almodovar’s “The Skin I Live In”, who never hid that Franju’s classic was his greatest role model. There is also Amenabar’s “Open Your Eyes”, and Billy Idol gave one of his most famous songs the same name under the impression of Franju’s film. Michael Myers in Carpenter’s “Halloween” wears a mask similar to the one on Christiane’s face, and Leos Carax also had an undisguised homage to this film in the legendary avant-garde fantasy “Holy Motors”, in which Edith Scob not only appears, but also puts her on face an almost identical mask as more than half a century ago.