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Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960

Friday, December 7, 2012
8:50 p.m. Eyes Without a Face
Georges Franju (France, 1960)

(Les yeux sans visage). “What pleases is what is terrible, gentle, and poetic” (Georges Franju). A brilliant plastic surgeon by his reckless driving causes the disfigurement of his beautiful daughter, Christiane. Determined to outwit cruel fate with a crueler science, the doctor (Pierre Brasseur) lures unsuspecting young women to his country home/laboratory where he attempts to graft their facial features onto Christiane’s ruined visage. The Grand Guignol premise of Eyes Without a Face is ironically enhanced by Franju’s near-documentary interest in his subject. But in its shimmering, fantasy-inspired visuals, this is a film in the tradition of French poetic realism—crossed with German Expressionism. What stays in the mind is not the suffering of the doctor’s other victims but that of Christiane (Edith Scob), wandering the lonely halls of her parental home, eyes of pain staring out from behind the kabuki-like mask designed to hide her disfigurement from herself while her father attempts to remake her in his mind’s image. She slips ever so gracefully into madness, where her identification with the tortured animals all around her achieves its poetic culmination.

• Written by Jean Redon, Franju, from based on a novel by Redon. Photographed by Eugen Schuftan. With Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel, Edith Scob. (88 mins, In French with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From Rialto Pictures)

Preceded by:

Blood of the Beasts
Georges Franju (France, 1949).

(Le sang des bêtes). In filming the work of an abattoir and the Paris suburb in which it is located, Georges Franju reveals the almost ritual nature of the slaughtering process; reality, Franju’s films assert, is its own brutal poetry. (20 mins, In French with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From Institut Français)

Total running time: 108 mins