This weekend at the 5th Avenue Cinema in Portland State-Portland’s only student theater – the theater’s film curators chose to screen faceless eyesa French film by Georges Franju.
The horror film follows a doctor and his daughter in their remote castle in the French countryside. When Doctor Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) causes an accident that disfigures the face of his daughter Christiane (Édith Scob), he leads the public to believe that she is dead. He is disgusted and appalled by the appearance of his once beautiful daughter. With the help of his laboratory assistant and now accomplice Louise (Alida Valli), the doctor begins to kidnap young women and deliver them to the Génessier house. Once they are unconscious in the lab, Dr. Génessier begins operating on them, removing their faces and attempting to graft them onto his daughter’s face.
The 1960 French horror was chosen for screening by one of 5th Avenue Cinema’s newest members, Clara Johnson. “[Eyes Without a Face] came out during the French New Wave, but I don’t think it was considered a French New Wave movie,” Johnson said. “I know viewers were shocked by this, and some of them even threw up and passed out in the theater when they watched it.”
The French New Wave was a film art movement that began in the late 1950s, known for its rejection of traditional cinematic conventions. Following the New Wave, French films became much more experimental, exploring different approaches to editing, storytelling, and visual style. Johnson said that Franju “was releasing films during the French New Wave, but I think he was pushing the boundaries of film, of what people expected even more, of a thriller aspect”.
Although the film remains Franju’s best known, it was initially not very well received. Critics criticized the film and called it disgusting. “I really don’t think the movies he released were as good as the other movies that were coming out at the time,” Johnson said. “People didn’t particularly enjoy watching this one in theaters, but then they re-released the movie in the US in 2003, and it did pretty well.”
faceless eyes premiered in US theaters in its original, uncut form more than four decades later, leading the film to earn a fresh rating of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics calling it poetic.
Johnson noted that she often considered older films to be slow and boring, but this one caught her eye. “It’s a slow-paced movie – there are scenes without a lot of dialogue and just music,” she said. “You would have to kind of observe and read between the lines of the dialogue – and some people don’t like that. They love everything presented to you.
There’s a lot less wiggle room in movies these days, as most focus on dialogue and getting to the next event. However, movies had a lot more space, giving you time to type in and think about what was happening on the screen. “It was 1960, so there was definitely this feeling of entering an era of dialogue in the film but not overwhelming for the viewer, because a lot of the scenes are just really long shots of an event. happening or unfolding,” Johnson said. .
Thrillers are great at capitalizing on silence, but on the other hand, the quick shock and horror we’re used to in today’s thrillers still existed in this one. “I really think the slow pacing is to make it more nerve-wracking, like you’re watching these events happen and unfold in real time – the way wounds take a long time to heal,” Johnson said. “But towards the end of the film, it definitely picks up, like many thrillers do. It’s just setting up the story. But not only can silence be considered a breather and a tool for exposition, Johnson added, “I think silence was a holdover from the era of silence.”
In addition to long periods of silence, audiences must be prepared for some good old-fashioned gore. “I can certainly understand why people would be disgusted by it,” Johnson said. “I was trying to get into the headspace of watching it in 1960 when they hadn’t seen any special effects or makeup to that degree.”
She talked about a scene where the doctor removed a woman’s face and compared it to psychology, the Hitchock film that was released a few months later, noting the wave of thrillers coming out at the time. “It could have been bloodier, but it was really disturbing to see a long shot of someone trying to take someone’s face off,” Johnson explained. “In that particular scene, they had no music, and it wasn’t quiet either. It was just the operator breathing very heavily for a long time. In his opinion, knowing that the filmmakers filmed that scene so many years ago made it even more awesome and bizarre.
Johnson noted another scene where the doctor is having dinner with his daughter wearing his new face. Before replacing her face, they had covered all the mirrors, but she was still afraid when looking at herself on reflective surfaces. At the table, the doctor compliments her saying that she is more beautiful than she was with her original face. “I think blocking your identity is one thing – obviously recognizing a face is a big deal, and it’s very human, you get to know people based on their appearance – but I think hiding behind a mask and losing your identity as the person is also important in many thrillers,” Johnson said. She mentioned similar thrillers that involve masks, like Scream, Friday 13and Halloween.
Johnson said the film hit her hard, seeing how easily society rejected the disfigured woman. “There are whole industries making billions of dollars every year trying to make people look a certain way – beauty has always been a pervasive thing in society,” she said. Not only does the father avoid looking at her face, but he helps fake her death so she can get out of her engagement. “I think it’s interesting that he’d rather kill people and steal their faces than just let his daughter’s face heal naturally and live out the rest of her life in the world, probably because they think the Life will be worse for her than if she doesn’t have a new face,” Johnson said.
faceless eyes to see only this weekend at the 5th Avenue cinema. Watch it Friday or Saturday at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., with another broadcast Sunday at 3 p.m.