Medics in the Movies: Les yeux sans visage/Eyes without a face

Posted on December 18, 2010. Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , |

My last post in the medics in the movies set.  Just in time for Christmas we found ourselves watching a rather grim and solemn tale about a young girl mutilated in a car accident and her deranged doctor father, who conducts horrific transplantation experiments in order to find her a new face.

Horror is not my thing.  I just don’t see the appeal.  However, this is not a conventional horror film.  There are only 3 moments of real horror that I can think of, the major one being the surgery scene, but as a med student, I’ve become slightly desensitized to that kind of thing since what he was doing looked pretty much like a bad facelift.  It’s also not a conventional horror in the way that director Georges Franju develops his characters and builds tension.  Christiane, the young girl trapped in a mask, is a very sad character for whom we feel great sympathy.  Beutifully played by Edith Scob, she conveys a wealth of emotion through her eyes.  Doctor Genessier in contrast is cold and emotionless.

Paradoxically, one of the things I liked most about the film was also the reason I didn’t enjoy it.  Franju cleverly uses silence to create a sense of unease, pairing it with an eerie score which repeats with each new kidnapping.  The dialogue is sparse, allowing the audience to fill in a lot of the plot themselves, particularly at the beginning when it isn’t clear who we are supposed to believe.  While I thought that this was a very effective way of building tension, the combination with the real-time shooting of some scenes made the pace of the film very slow, so at times it dragged.

In essence this is a very simple film following a fairly conventional mad scientist story arc.  What has made it stand out across the years is the skillful way in which it has been shot, never being gratuitous with the violence but never quite letting the audience relax.  A quick consultation with The Big Book finds it revered for its imagery (there are some nice moments with doves, and the parallels between Christiane’s mask and the surgical masks we see).  I’m not going to be including it on my list though.  If you’re intrigued by all means track it down because it is worth a watch, but probably only once.

And that’s the last of the Medics in the Movies series.  Hope you’ve found it interesting. I’ve got to find a scene to present in the new year now, so I’ve got a date with my insanely huge DVD library.

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