Les Yeux Sans Visage/ Eyes Without A Face (1959 86mins.) [Film4 1.40am thursday & +1]
A surgeon is guilt-ridden when his daughter is left disfigured after an accident he caused and works tirelessly to give the girl a new face, but he turns to crime in the process.
Georges Franju's surreal horror, starring Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli and Edith Scob. In French.
From the opening scene, in which a woman is seen driving through the countryside at night with a look of intense concentration on her face and a mysterious passenger in a hat and coat in the back seat, Eyes Without A Face works by disorientating the viewer and by building and maintaining an atmosphere of curious dislocation.
The shocking conclusion to this opening scene sets the tone for what is to come - often wrongly classed as a horror film, Eyes Without A Face is more accurately a psychological thriller with a couple of moments of genuinely disturbing horrific shock.
Pierre Brasseur leads the small ensemble cast as Dr. Gennessier a brilliant cosmetic surgeon who is attempting to rectify a personal tragedy involving his daughter (Edith Scob).
He's helped in his personal work by Alida Valli as Louise, a former patient and the woman we met in the opening scene, and in his professional life by Francois Guerin, the former fiancee of his daughter.
The only other substantial characters are a trio of police officers investigating the disappearance of young female students of oddly similar physical appearance from the university in Paris.
Away from the story - which, despite its echoes of Frankenstein, was remarkably innovate at the time of it's release and has been recycled and rehashed dozens of times since - a great deal of the successful creation of mood and the ultimate effectiveness of the film is down to the luminous black and white photography of Eugen Shuftan. Almost all of the action takes place at night and the glowing whites and blacker than black darkness are used to remarkable effect.
Words too for production designer Auguste Capelier and costume designer Marie Martine who provides Edith Scob with some remarkable floor length outfits. Scob is clearly not much of an actress but this plays to the films advantage : her expressionless face is perfect to convey the internal turmoil that her character is suffering. The gowns that hide the lower part of her body give the impression of a disembodied head floating in a ghostly way through the scenes. A very simple but effective trick.
And above all of these elements is Franju's absolutely perfect direction - he doesn't put a foot wrong throughout. The camera spins in and out of the action, the location filming is superbly done and the set-piece central grand guignol scene is shot with the unblinking eye of the neutral observer despite the obvious technical difficulties he would have encountered at the time.
A proper old-fashioned thriller, out of step with the majority of French cinema of the time which is brilliantly constructed by it's director and his technical team and delivered to the screen as near perfect as it's possible to be.
If I was ever forced to provide a list of my favourite films this would easily be in the top thirty, if that helps convince you to watch it.