“The dead should keep quiet.”
Now that i’ve watched Franju’s Shadowman and Judex, lesser-known masterpieces of light, shadow and creepy atmosphere with pulpy serial subjects, it’s time to revisit the original. I’m not sure how he got from Blood of the Beast to the psychiatric hospital drama Head Against the Wall, but as cofounder of the Cinematheque Francaise, perhaps he had an omnivorous love for poetic film in all forms.
Upbeat carnival music – not creepy sounding, which possibly makes it even creepier – as a woman with a pearl necklace (Alida Valli of The Third Man, schoolmistress of Suspiria) furtively dumps a trenchcoated faceless body (movie always fades out quickly after showing us anything faceless) into the river. She works for surgeon Pierre Brasseur (the actor Lemaitre in Children of Paradise), who saved her face from disfigurement and hopes to completely recreate a face for his even-more-disfigured daughter Edith Scob, who spends most of the movie behind an uncanny featureless mask, as recently spotted at the end of Holy Motors.
In her full-faced years, Edith dated a handsome young doctor with plastic hair (Francois Guerin of The Aristocrats), who suspects she is still alive and involves a heavy-set inspector (Alexandre Rignault of La Chienne and Mon Oncle d’Amerique) in the case. I get the young doctor confused with a young cop (Claude Brasseur, Pierre’s son, of The Elusive Corporal), but neither of them ultimately matters.
L-R: elder Brasseur, elder cop, young doctor, young Brasseur/cop:
Paulette having her treatment:
The very reasonable-acting mad doctor kidnaps more girls, attempting to graft their faces onto his daughter’s to only temporary avail – first Edna (Juliette Mayniel of Chabrol’s Les Cousins), who escapes into the main house then suicides when she sees herself in a mirror, then police-plant Paulette (Beatrice Altariba, Cosette in the Jean Gabin Les Miserables). Faceless Edith, hidden away in her room with no entertainment except her own funeral program, finally loses her patience, frees Paulette, stabs the pearl-choker assistant in the throat and sets the lab dogs loose on her dad, then wanders outside, a walking statue surrounded by doves.
Franju made after Head Against the Wall, assisted by Claude Sautet (a noted director in the 1970’s). Cinematographer Eugen Schufftan had shot People On Sunday, worked with GW Pabst, Max Ophuls, Rene Clair and Edgar Ulmer. A quiet movie but for the judicious, counterintuitive use of upbeat music.