Georges Franju opens his 1958 short La Première Nuit with an epigraph that could easily preface any of his other films with equal insight and justification: “It only requires a little imagination for the most ordinary action to become imbued with disquieting meaning, for the décor of everyday life to engender a fantastic world.” The division between reality and fantasy is not so much highlighted as blurred: Franju imbues the fantastic with a quotidian casualness and uncovers the dormant nightmares in our everyday life.
Famous for co-founding the Cinémathèque Française with Henri Langlois, Franju’s legacy as a master filmmaker rests largely on his second feature, Eyes Without a Face (1960). His only feature film released on DVD, its macabre story concerns a renowned surgeon who murders young women in an attempt to transplant their faces onto his own disfigured daughter. Franju’s characteristic fascination lies in the film’s baroque compositions, a keen eye for locating artistry in violence (explored deeply in his 1949 documentary on slaughterhouses, The Blood of the Beasts) and an investigation of the power dynamics of imprisonment. The daughter, robbed of her identity and forbidden to leave the house, seems almost an adolescent allegory, and finds a parallel in Thérèse Desqueyroux (1962), a domestic noir with echoes of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. The title character, played by Emmanuèlle Riva (Hiroshima Mon Amour), marries into the upper class only to feel suffocated by their formalities and heterosexual conventions. Franju’s concern for institutionalized violence is equally applicable to societal customs and to the slaughterhouse: the casual acceptance of brutality is, for Franju, the most frightening and real of all nightmares.
March 14-19 at Anthology Film Archives