Watching Georges Franju excellent horror film of 1960 one can only realize what Dr. Genessier was going back then, would have been possible with the advance of science. "Les yeux sans visage", his ground breaking horror film, proves to be one of the most satisfying pictures of this genre. Mr. Franju was an unusual talent whose main interest was not to shock, but entertain and tell a different story. He achieved what he set out to do in this classic that doesn't seem to age thanks to the great transfer the people at Criterion DVD did with the original material.
Right at the start we watch Louise, Dr. Genessier's assistant, drag a body late at night and dumps it in the river. The discovery of the body, brings the doctor to identify it as that of his own daughter, a young woman that was disfigured in a car accident. After the burial, we are taken to the doctor's mansion in a secluded area where we meet Christiana, the real daughter, who is afraid to show her face. With the help of a mask that Louise urges to wear, she appears to be a lifeless doll floating around the house.
Louise, who acts as the procurer for her boss, follows an attractive young student, who she happens to hear needs a place where to stay. Louise befriends her and lures her back to the house where the macabre experiment will be performed on her by Dr. Genessier. Her face is going to be transplanted in Christiana's face. The operation, which at first is considered a success backfires on the doctor as he watches in horror how his daughter rejects the transplant.
We also get to see how Dr. Genessier is experiment with the dogs he keeps hidden in another part of the house. Dr. Genessier is doing evil things to the animals. Christiana understands she will never have a life again and decides to deal with her father and Louise in the only way she knows how.
Georges Franju directed with sure hand. He doesn't go for the cheap theatrics that other men in his position would have fallen for. Instead, his narrative is linear with scenes in which one watches the horrors this doctor, who loves his daughter dearly, will go into any extremes in order to make her recover the beauty she lost in the car accident. Maurice Jarre's musical score enhances the action.
Pierre Brasseur underplays the evil doctor to surprisingly good results. The same can be said of the Louise of Alida Valli, who is never in anyone's face as she plays the link between the victims and her boss. Edith Scob is seen as the fragile Christiana. Francois Guerin and Juliette Maynill have key supporting roles.
As a final note, Jean Redon, the author of the novel in which the film is based, was a man of vision. Writing more than forty years before the first actual, and legal, face transplant that was done in France in 2004, he pointed to the possibility of a total face replacement, something that was only fiction when he wrote his book. Imagine his reaction upon learning the recent medical achievement if he were still alive.
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