classic film

Five-star cinema: Georges Franju’s ‘Eyes Without A Face’

The French horror classic features Edith Scob as the woman with the white mask.

A successful plastic surgeon with controversial views on skin grafting; a well-appointed villa that houses a secret operation theatre; a loyal staffer who is a keeper of secrets; a young woman who is the subject of constant experimentation – not Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In (2011) but Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (1960).

The French movie that also inspired the title of one of British punk star Billy Idol’s most well-known songs opens on a dark road where a determined-looking woman is driving a vehicle with a passenger, who is then tipped into a nearby lake. The body is identified as Christiane (Edith Scob), the daughter of plastic surgeon Genessier (Pierre Brasseur). The doctor claims that his daughter killed herself since she could not bear the disfigurement caused to her face in an accident. But Christiane is alive, her burnt visage hidden by a white mask. Her father is capturing young women and transplanting their skin tissue onto Christiane’s face in the hope that she will grow a new visage. Christiane is divided about the horrific experiments. “My face frightens me, my mask frightens me even more,” she tells her father’s secretary (Alida Valli), who is both the procurer of women and the dispatcher of their bodies.

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The trailer of ‘Eyes Without A Face’.

Franju’s best-known films include the crime thriller Judex, in which a masked vigilante kidnaps an unscrupulous banker, and the documentary Blood of the Beasts, which is set in a slaughterhouse and has the power to make vegetarians out of its viewers.

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Franju’s ‘Blood of the Beasts.’

The methodical stripping of flesh from the bone in Blood of the Beasts finds an eerie echo in Eyes Without A Face, one of the earliest films to warn about the ethical problems with plastic surgery and the obsession with blemish-free skin. Franju directs the simple story with economy and flourish, using close-ups beautifully to explore the psychological state of the key characters. Edith Scob is especially haunting as Christiane, her skeletal frame and sad eyes conveying her anguish and ambivalence at her father’s dogged attempts to restore her beauty.

In one of the movie’s most moving scenes, a series of photographs depicts a failed experiment to fix Christiane’s face, proving the inability of human intervention in halting atrophy.

Christiane’s deterioration.
Christiane’s deterioration.

Although Scob has appeared in several French films, and most recently starred in Mia Hansen-Love’s Things to Come (2016), her performance in Eyes Without a Face proved to be iconic. She showed up with her memorable mask in Leos Carax’s Holy Motors (2012), in which she chauffeurs the lead character around. In the final sequence, Scob reaches for the face shield that still has the ability to haunt the imagination all these years later.

Edith Scob in ‘Holy Motors’.
Edith Scob in ‘Holy Motors’.
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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.