Eyes Without a Face (Les yeux sans visage)

Eyes Without a Face

I wish I were blind. Or dead.

Eyes Without a Face falls into the frequented category of films from the list that weren’t well received upon their initial release, but have only grown in stature in the years since. A mixed reception at first, the film now boasts a devoted fanbase, which includes a number of other filmmakers who have been influenced by it, as well as a 97% on the Tomatometer. High praise indeed, especially for a film that ultimately offers so little. But, and this is a big one, that may very well be the intention of the film; not to really be a film, per se, but to be an experience.

Dr. Genessier is a surgeon attempting to complete the world’s first successful face transplant, or heterograft surgery, as it’s known in the film. His ultimate goal is restoring the face and features of his daughter, Christiane, whose face was destroyed in a car accident. However, in order to do so, he must kidnap, sedate, and operate on a series of young girls, removing their faces and transplanting them onto Christiane, in order to find one that won’t be rejected by her body. Really, the plot isn’t what’s necessary here, and unfortunately, it took me damn near the entire run of the film to figure that out; most of the time, I was just sitting there, wondering when something was really going to happen. But, ultimately, I was misleading myself; this film isn’t supposed to be about a compelling plot, it’s supposed to be about an unnerving situation, and the film essentially milks that situation for all it’s worth. The centerpiece of the film is, without question, the actual heterografty scene itself, where the doctor, after his secretary obtains him another young female as a specimen, proceeds to amputate the woman’s face in a surprisingly graphic sequence. It actually made me wonder how they accomplished this scene; it was that realistic, and I squirmed quite a bit as it went on. I can only imagine this scene alone is what caused the fervor upon the film’s release, because the rest of the film was remarkably tame in comparison. Special mention should also go to the score, as the music was a large part of the atmosphere, coming across like a funhouse carnival gone mad.

I wasn’t sure to make of this one after I’d finished it. It was only looking over the general consensus of the film, which made multiple notation of its poetic beauty and structure, that it finally clicked in my head. I won’t say not to see this, or even that you should see it. All I can say is, don’t see it with the wrong mindset; know what you’re getting into before you step into this one, and you should be alright. There is definitely merit here, but going into it with unreasonable expectations will make it that much harder to find, and will end up being rather unfair to both you and the film.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

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One thought on “Eyes Without a Face (Les yeux sans visage)

  1. I liked this film, because it reminded me of the sort of thing that was typically shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but done by a director who had some skill. As you mention, the surgery sequence was pretty gruesome. I still can’t believe it was allowed to be that graphic for the time.

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