Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux sans Visage)

Released in the same year as Psycho and in its own way just as influential on the horror genre. Part of the power of the film lies in it not having an explicit explanation for the motivations of the characters. Unlike in Hitchcock's film, here the police fail to uncover the mystery, and there is no debrief where the psychosis is explained, providing comfort and closure to the audience.

Instead we have to rely on the skill of the actors to unravel their inner worlds. The Frankensteinian Dr. Génessier is animated by pride in his medical skill, which extends to the inability to admit or accept responsibility for the car crash that disfigured his daughter. Instead he keeps trying to erase the record and reverse the damage he has wrought. But all that does is deepen the trauma he has inflicted.

The more frightening character is his secretary Louise, who provides the doctor with a source of new faces by seducing students in Paris. She is played with the fervour of a cult follower – wild eyes and a manic rictus grin as she goes about her murderous business. She is grateful to the doctor for her own plastic surgery on her face, but he has co-opted that gratitude and turned her into his very own Igor figure – totally dependent and subservient to his whims and projects.

Christine is the child who is the victim of these experiments. The name is ironic – she’s the opposite of a Christ figure in that people end up dying for her so that she can live and be transformed. It's implied that she endures her surgeries in the hope that her beauty can be restored and she can be reunited with her fiancé, although for much of the film she is also depressed to the brink of suicide at the forlorn prospect of such an eventuality. At the end of the film she accepts that these dreams of love and the protections of the patriarchy are impossible, and she revolts. In the final moments she releases herself from parental and marital authority and emerges into the world.

It's an empowering as well as a disturbing note for the film to end on, and I suspect Alex Garland's Ex Machina takes inspiration from it. In both films, young women have been physically and psychically shaped by domineering, arrogant inventors, and are able to turn the tables on their creators and escape their remote castle laboratories. Franju uses rather obvious imagery of doves being freed from their cages to underline the point, but it's still a haunting and poetic moment, and it has had a long cinematic afterlife.

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