Eyes Without a Face (Franju, 1960)

Eyes without a Face is not exactly a horror film in the traditional sense. There are no supernatural spooks to make your flesh creep. No sudden jump scares or moments of visceral terror. Just an overwhelming sadness, because at its heart is a tale about women who are victimized for their beauty, and disposed of when that beauty is “taken.” One can’t watch this now without thinking of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and others like it, knowing that the agony of sexual abuse and assault is synonymous with the kidnapping of unsuspecting girls and the removal of their faces. A powerful man deciding to play God because he wants to, stealing a vital piece of the women he comes across, irreparably damaging them forever. How can you not feel repulsed?

The film moves in patterns. It’s unhurried about the task at hand, nor does it hurry to reveal too much, too quickly. The scalpel-like precision of Dr. Génessier is replicated in the mis-en-scène, until we’re forced to watch his scalpel slice through the skin of one of his victims. That particular scene is itself protracted past the breaking point. You want it to cut away. Dissolve into something more bearable. Franju says No, you must look. Regarde l’horreur. Témoin cette depravation. There is no other way.

Looking, my friends, has never been so horrific. It is no wonder Christiane is unable to bear her reflection. What peers back at her is the compendium of female sorrow throughout the ages. She is the Cumaean Sibyl who lived in the jar. Who, when asked by Trimalchio what she wanted most, said very simply: I want to die.

We are relieved when we learn her ending is different. If only it were the ending we could give everyone who suffers. The triumph of dogs and doves. Venturing into forests of green to write prophecies on ferns and leaves.