Review: Un Chien Andalou

Directed by: Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali
Category: Cult Classic

Un Chien Andalou was a film I only recently came across. The cover's certainly mesmerizing, which is why I probably kept going to it every time I went to the local retail store where I found it. But the hefty $30 price tag for a 15 minute short film was just a little too steep for my taste. 

Written and directed by surrealist artists Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali in 1929, Un Chien Andalou is a visually haunting experience full of surreal and disturbing images, some not for the faint of heart. And I think that fact alone, that it was made so long ago in the silent film era, is one of the reasons that makes this experience all the more fascinating. It's a black and white silent film with sporadic subtitles that much like the film itself, make no sense. 

The inspiration for "Un Chien Andalou" began with the dreams of two men, two artists, and two friends. Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali exchanged the dreams they both had, Bunuel - about a slender cloud slicing the moon in half "like a razor blade slicing through an eye", and Dali - about a dream involving a hand enveloped by ants. Both artists soon began working on a film script based on these ideas.

Well I finally got a chance to check this short film out last night and here are my thoughts. While it's visually impressive as far as trick photography, surreal imagery and optical effects goes, there's not a single thread of coherency that I could find that can link any of these images into a cohesive idea or story, and I watched this thing 3 times in a row since it was only 15 minutes long. Still, I couldn't find any way that these sequences could be linked together to form anything that resembles a story line. It's main purpose which is obvious right from the beginning is to shock you. There really is no other explanation as far as I can tell. Maybe a lot of the little things that happen like the image in the book that falls to the floor, or the guy riding a bicycle who suddenly falls to the ground, or the woman who gets hit by a car have some kind of meaning to the filmmakers themselves, but unless you know every little detail about these artists lives then you won't know what the hell it all stands for. 

The imagery, though as strange and as shocking as it is, is rather quite impressive. In the beginning you see a man slice a woman's eye with a razor blade. That is probably the most shocking image you'll see in the film and is probably why they put that image on the cover. You know they didn't actually slice a human eye in half with a razor blade, but it looks pretty damn spectacular and is probably the single most fascinating image that this film will always be remembered for. There's also a scene where a guy is looking at his hand as ants crawl out of an open wound in his palm. That was also pretty impressive. But there are too many other sequences that only leave you scratching your head in confusion. Like when a guy is attempting to rape a woman as he gropes her until she finally fights him off and holds him at bay with a tennis racket she gets off of the wall. Then he turns around and grabs two pieces of rope over each shoulder and lunges with all his might towards the woman. Each rope is attached to a tablet of what appears to be scripture looking like the ten commandments and then attached to a piano with a dead and bloody donkey laying on the piano and then a priest attached to the end of each rope behind the pianos. I don't know what it all means and if there was an actual meaning behind it, then they didn't convey it enough through there imagery to explain it to any of us. 
There is also a fair amount of nudity in it's short 15 minutes. Shocking for a film made in 1929 undoubtedly when I don't think people were even allowed to kiss on screen. 

Surreal, experimental and haunting even 82 years later, it hasn't lost it's ability to shock and awe. If only the characters portrayed in here were better linked in some way that made some 
kind of sense. None if it ever feels like it "says" anything and all the surreal images in the world can't save this from being completely confusing, which is incredibly frustrating. 

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