Today Franju’s first work as a director is considered to be an essential title in the history of documentary films. A look at life in a Paris slaughterhouse turns into a cruel, eye-opening experience thanks to what Franju called “my attraction to the unusual and poetic realism”.
Franju always said that, of all his documentaries, this was the one he liked best. This French Government commission to demonstrate life in a hospital for war veterans metamorphosed into a brutal critique of militarism denouncing the horrors of war.
In this documentary, Franju pays tribute to a figure for whom he always had great admiration: the filmmaker and father of fantasy film, Georges Méliès. A look at the figure and work of a unique artist evoked by his wife.
A tribute to the scientists who led the way in radioactivity studies. Franju uses documentary reconstruction with actors to demonstrate the methods of the Curie husband and wife team and the precarious conditions in which they went about their far-reaching research.
A scientific documentary about the effects of industrial waste on human beings brought to us by Franju with his personal poetic touch.
A lyrical evocation of times past and a reflection on the inevitable passing of time through the recollections of an old fisherman.
Once again in this documentary Franju depicts a distressing scenario, another of those corners of society hidden from everyday eyes: the tale of an abandoned dog finally taken to the pound, where a sad fate awaits it.
Documentary on the Popular National Theatre, an important experimental centre formerly directed by Jean Vilar. Franju combines films of plays with documentary images, creating connections and confrontations between theatre and the real world.
The Ministry of Fine Arts commissioned Franju to make a film on the famous Parisian cathedral. In view of the filmmaker’s well-known background, he was instructed: “Only to film the cathedral. No priests, no masses. Only the architecture”. The film, shot in Cinemascope, turned out to be a delightful ode to the beauty of the building.
Franju makes his first inroads to fictional cinema with this short film, an updated take on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice represented in the story of a child lost in a modern underground hell: the Paris Metro.
(Head Against the Wall) (1958)
Franju’s feature film debut, following his experience as a documentary-maker, is an acerbic movie taking a similarly critical look at institutions. Based on a novel by Hervé Bazin, the film constitutes a disturbing reflection on madness and how it is treated viewed through the experience of a young boy forcefully committed to a psychiatric hospital.
(Eyes Without a Face) (1959)
Crime novel writers Boileau and Narcejac adapted a macabre tale by Jean Redon for Franju. The plot describes the experiments of a brilliant surgeon who kills women to remove the skin from their faces and graft it onto his daughter, badly disfigured in an accident. Possibly the most popular film in Franju’s filmography and undoubtedly one of his masterpieces; a cult title in the history of fantasy movies where horror and poetry walk hand-in-hand.
The second collaboration between Franju and novelists Boileau and Narcejac resulted in a delicious homage to classic crime fiction, plain old entertainment with all of the typical genre ingredients: a big house in the country, a hidden fortune, greedy heirs, a missing dead body and the odd crime. All wrapped in a sound and light show where nothing is what it seems to be.
Franju took to the screen the excellent book of the same name by François Mauriac, adapted to film by the author’s son, Claude. Set in a small provincial town, the movie revolves around Thérèse, a young girl married to a man she doesn’t love who is driven by her stifling life in a boring, repressive environment to take desperate measures. The film earned its starring lady, Emmanuelle Riva, the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Festival.
Franju wanted to pay tribute to the work of the master of silent film, Louis Feuillade, with this remake of one of the popular serials that made him famous. Feuillade’s grandson, Jacques Champreux, wrote the script for a film recovering the innocence and beauty of the feuilleton, a world packed with villains, crimes and abductions, beautiful women, disguises, tricks and all sorts of marvellous situations.
(Thomas the imposter) (1964)
Adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s novel on which Franju once again worked with Emmanuelle Riva as the leading lady. Set in the First World War, the film focusses on the friendship between an aristocratic woman who organises a convoy to evacuate wounded from the front and a 16 year-old boy who claims to be a famous general’s son. The cast also featured Cocteau’s fetish actor, Jean Marais, and the singer Charles Aznavour.
With a script by Marguerite Duras and music by Georges Delerue, this short focuses on the relationship between an old lady with amnesia and an illiterate child used once again by Franju to explore subjects like time and the memory.
A portrait of feuilleton author, Marcel Allain, creator of one of Franju’s favourite heroes: Fantômas.
(The Demise of Father Mouret) (1970)
Franju once again adapts a classic of French literature, this time by Émile Zola. Here the moviemaker takes an anti-clerical novel to the screen, removing absolutely nothing of the fury and aggressiveness from its message. A suffocating, claustrophobic tale about a priest in a country town who loses his memory in a fall. As he is nursed back to health by a beautiful young girl, the priest falls in love with her... not remembering who he is or his religious duties.
Franju and the screenwriter Jacques Champreux created a mini TV series in old serial format, entitled L’Homme sans visage, while shooting this complementary film conceived for cinemas. A return to the universe of silent film master Louis Feuillade, described thus by Franju: “A film entered like the traditional fiestas to which you’d better take your innocence if you don’t want to be disappointed”.
Franju was one of the prestigious directors who participated in this project organised by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs: a series of short documentaries intended to spread knowledge of some aspects of regional, cultural and artistic life in France.
Television adaptation of a novel by Jean-Louis Curtis shot by Franju for the TV programme Cinéma 16, broadcast by the French channel FR3.
A television drama shot for the programme Cinéma 16 broadcast by the French channel FR3, where Franju adapted an argument written by one of his favourite actors, Pierre Brasseur, and worked with his fetish actress, Edith Scob.