EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1959)

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“I do not speak as I think, I do not think as I should, and so it all goes on in helpless darkness.” 

                                                – Franz Kafka

Do we want resolution in film? Will we walk out of a cinema, out to the wet street, speaking about resolution, or do we dream of horror, the unexplainable? Do we go to sleep, staring at the fault-lines in the ceiling, safe in the knowledge that the damsel will always find safety and solitude, or do we want her to become mutilated, disfigured, unknowable? Of course, it is both. We are both sadist and saint. We live for the shriek of the innocents, but feel somehow violated when the hero never arrives.

A man is trying to find a new face for his daughter. She has become disfigured. There is a hole, ‘an open wound’, where her face should be. She wears a featureless mask, a veil that conceals what she has become. The title explains everything: she has become eyes without a face. And what unimaginable eyes Edith Scob had; the eyes of a perfect victim, trapped beneath synthetic pelt, helpless and beautiful. She is flawless in this new skin, but her father is kidnapping blue-eyed girls and stealing their flesh. He seeks a new face. We see the surgical procedures in full Bunuelian glory; rubbery faces lifted wholesale from skulls, innocent women become fetish objects.

In fact, Bunuel hangs over everything; the endless barking of dogs, the infinite corridors, the sexual thrill of dismemberment and sheer anatomization. The true epitome of horror is the rightness of evil, the matter-of-fact presentation of strangeness and depravity. Everything feels as if it cannot be otherwise; think of a dinner party where the guests cannot leave. Christiane must have a new face; others must suffer. This is the way of things. And horror derives directly from fairy tales, moralistic fables, mythology. This is a story that could be told to children, at night: a warning for bright-eyed boys and girls about the dangers of vanity, or the wickedness of fathers.

People say they do not ‘watch’ horror. This is idiocy, when horror looks like this. In our darkest thoughts, do we wish for the mad doctor to remain forever in his theatre of death, slicing the faces off beautiful women, and failing in endless repetition? Or are we like the father, the mad doctor: do we seek resolution, a new face, only for our own mad hubris, only in order to say that such a thing is possible? No, instead, we get what we deserve: the father is ravaged by dogs, like some Greek tragedy, and his daughter escapes into the night, surrounded by doves, with nowhere to go. Like the fairy tales, the villain is pushed into the Oven, but there is always a catch: the mask remains, with only the most gorgeous eyes in cinematic history left to us.

Horror, or beauty? It is hard to tell.

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