Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Director: Luis Buñuel

Cast: Pierre Batcheff, Simone Mareuil

Runtime: 16 minutes

My Rating: ★★★★★

In Short: One of the most important movies in history

It is one of the most famous short films of all time. In my opinion, it is one of the greatest movies in existence. Some agree with me, some disagree vehemently. But one thing cannot be denied: it opens with one of the most famous images in cinema’s history, that of a calf’s eye being sliced by a razorblade. And from there, it only continues to dazzle, amaze, shock, frighten and intrigue viewers for sixteen precious minutes more.

You may be asking: what has prompted me to write an article about a film running only sixteen minutes? Well, recently I recommended the film to a coworker, who watched it and returned, bemused, to ask me: “What the hell was the point of that?” I smiled. Indeed. What is the point? Is there any point? I mulled it over for a while, watching it again and thinking about it. I soon realized what angered people about the movie was not so much its content, but that the director Luis Buñuel freely admitted that none of the images in the film meant anything at all. They all came straight out of the head of Buñuel and his friend Salvador Dalí from dreams they’d had or random thoughts their minds had drifted to. Unlike many other arthouse or avant-garde films that were to follow, there was no “symbolism,” no “hidden meaning,” no possible interpretation of any of it. Buñuel simply made it, as only he would dare at the time, because he didn’t give a fuck. So many films homage it today, but very few manage to succeed where it does: in crafting a compelling and interesting collage of randomness for no reason at all.

Buñuel famously said once that if he was given twenty years to live and asked how he would live them, he would reply: “Give me two hours a day in activity, and I’ll take the other twenty-two in dreams, so long as I can remember them.” This quote doesn’t surprise me at all, because so many of his films are crafted around dreaming. Some of his films consist of absolutely nothing but dream sequences (see The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, where scenes often end with the characters waking up from them), and many are so Surrealist in style that their content can only be attributed to dreaming. Later in his career, Buñuel began to use his films to provoke and anger people – particularly the middle and upper class, as well as the devoutly religious. In Simon of the Desert, he makes fun of religion by presenting a devoutly religious man who has devoted his entire life to God, only to give it all up in seconds for the temptation of modern life, for no reason other than the Devil has offered it to him. But the middle-upper class were a more common target: in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Phantom of Liberty, and The Exterminating Angel he put rich or pompous people in embarrassing situations they could not get out of, most famously in the latter of those three films, which sees a group of upper-class men and women finding themselves physically unable to leave a room despite the door being wide open. Sometimes his humour was subtle, but after presenting a series of subtly embarrassing situations in Discreet Charm, he grew tired of his creativity and hilariously concluded the movie with all his main characters being gunned down by a firing squad for no reason whatsoever.

You may ask what all this has to do with Un Chien Andalou. Well, I believe it’s important to establish Buñuel’s later career, his motifs and trademarks, to get closer to the man behind the earlier work. Un Chien Andalou, alongside its follow-up and “sequel” of sorts L’Age D’Or (which I’ll also be reviewing), showcase all of Buñuel’s most popular techniques just as they were beginning. In the early stages, we can sense the mayhem to come. Buñuel, as well as making his main characters feel uncomfortable as usual, also pokes fun at sexuality with a darkly comedic rape scene (Buñuel was perhaps the first person who could ever make rape funny), and the common romantic drama movie, by having his lead characters, just as they have begun a new life together, suddenly shown decomposing in the dirt.

The film opens with the image of none other than Buñuel himself, sharpening a razor (you can guess what’s coming up). After slicing the eyeball of the main character, we cut jarringly to a scene eight years later, where of course the woman whose eyeball was sliced is seen alive and well and with fully functional eyesight. What, you didn’t expect the film to make sense, did you? Admiring a transvestite nun on a bicycle, the Woman is shocked to see the cyclist collapse dead, and rushes to hug and kiss his corpse. Setting out his clothes on the bed, the Woman then stands next to the man as he examines his hand, from which ants are crawling. This is only the first four minutes of the movie, and I shall not reveal anything more. To describe the plot is to take away the pleasure of simply experiencing the movie. I still laugh when people tell me they don’t understand it, because many people today seem to be unable to comprehend that some movies just aren’t made to make sense, and to try and make sense of a Buñuel movie is an exercise in futility.

You simply have to be in it for the ride. Some people ask: “What makes this great? Anyone could do something like this.” True. But Buñuel was the first, and with this film he completely reinvented the independent cinema genre, providing inspiration for generations of filmmakers ahead of him. While perhaps the greatness of Buñuel’s second film L’Age D’Or is more appreciable (a film which ends with Jesus Christ exiting a brothel after raping prostitutes), Un Chien Andalou was where it all started, and where Buñuel’s skill is on full display. Consider this film was made by a young man in his 20s with no money, and that it changed the face of film forever. Consider that its images were unlike anything audiences had ever seen (how often in films from that era would filmmakers dare to show a man rubbing a woman’s bare breasts which inexplicably become her buttocks?). Consider that in sixteen minutes it managed to completely revolutionize non-studio based cinema. Not only did it reform a genre, it practically created one. Its influence is still seen in movies made today, despite the fact that at the time it was so unpopular Buñuel had to stand behind the screen with a bucket of stones to throw at cinemagoers in case they became agitated by it.

Luis Buñuel, is in my eyes, one of my cinematic idols, and one of the most daring, brilliant, important directors who has ever lived. With Un Chien Andalou, he brought his skill to the stage in full, uncensored form. Nothing was held back, everything was shown. Sure, Un Chien Andalou is relatively tame in comparison to his later films, but it is the all-important start, where all the ground work is laid and all the most important themes are introduced. From the eyeball slicing to the piano heaving to the haunting image of the death-head moth and everything else, Un Chien Andalou frightens, intimidates and challenges viewers with its raw power, skill and brilliance.

View Un Chien Andalou online here.

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Posted on May 18, 2012, in Movie Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 28 Comments.

  1. Un Chien Andalou and The Exterminating Angel are the only two I’ve seen. To be perfectly honest, I prefer Exterminating Angel (which I loved. I thought it was hilarious). That’s not to say Un chien didn’t have me….engrossed, is the only word I can think of. I just think my problem was I had a hard time letting go of trying to read it like any other film. It was completely dreamlike though.
    I don’t think anyone would have the guts to make a film like Bunuel did with this one! Great write up!!

    • That seems to be the problem most people have with Un Chien Andalou, and it’s perfectly acceptable. If you see any more of Bunuel’s films, let me know. There’s a lot of great stuff out there if you liked Exterminating Angel.

  2. It’s a very clever film. It challenges people to not do what comes naturally, and that’s find some justification for what they’re watching. Scene juxtaposition is incredibly important in film and takes a great deal of skill to do it well. Un Chien Andalou goes against people’s natural instinct to assume that one shot/scene logically follows the next. It’s a very intriguing film and as Ruth said above, it’s engrossing. I probably enjoyed Discreet Charm more however, as that is pretty funny at times. Godard’s Weekend is one that seems pretty influenced by this, although i just found that frustrating more than anything. Nice review!

  3. My first viewing of it was in 1993, when I was doing first year film studies. The entire room (which would’ve been well over a hundred people) screamed at the eyeball shot. Nearly 20 years later, I still have trouble watching that bit. That’s not bad for a film of that vintage.

  4. In my opinion, the only reason this film is remembered today are because of the names Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel. If it had been made by “Joe Smith and Marty Brown” it would have quickly started gathering dust in a can somewhere.

    • Perhaps you’re right. I’m glad it has survived though.

      • daveackackattack

        Chip, I have to disagree. I’d say it’s hardly a footnote in Dali’s or Bunuel’s careers. Even without their names on the film the razor/eyeball scene alone caused enough of a scandal to get the film a lot of notoriety back in the day. It’s a landmark in experimental filmmaking and it’s probably the single best and one of the earliest representations of Surrealism captured on film. Does it work as a traditional film? Of course not. It’s experimental. It’s surreal. You’re not really supposed to “get it”. Also it paved the way for the likes of filmmakers such as Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, Jan Svankmajer, Derek Jarman, Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch, The Brothers Quay, E. Elias Mehrige etc.

        Hitchcock thought highly enough of Dali’s unique visual eye to have him set design the dream sequences in Spellbound.

        It’s almost like saying that Eraserhead isn’t sitting on a shelf collecting dust because Lynch is a household name today.

  5. The Bunuel films I’ve seen so far are Viridiana, The Exterminating Angels, Diary of a Chambermaid, and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgiesie w/ Robinson Crusoe in my DVR queue. This is the one I really want to see, largely because David Bowie played that film every night during his tour to promote Station to Station back in 1976.

    • You’ve seen a few great ones. Make sure after you watch Un Chien Andalou you watch L’Age D’Or as well. That film is perhaps Bunuel’s most controversial ever, and I love every minute of it. Also essential is 1974’s The Phantom of Liberty.

  6. It’s a film literally imitating a dream, with its almost complete lack of narrative logic, and that doesn’t work for me. Although certain images might be arresting, even startling, the film as a whole doesn’t hold my interest. Bunuel’s subsequent films are much more successful because there’s an overarching narrative constantly eroded by the strangeness (perhaps, the unconscious impulses that produce dreams?). So, there’s a tension between the irrationality and creativity of dreams and the rigid logic of social norms.

    • I agree that some of Bunuel’s later films are better (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is my favourite thing he’s ever done), but every time I watch any of them I keep coming back to Un Chien Andalou. Perhaps it’s a film that doesn’t hold up well on rewatches, but I remember the first time I saw Un Chien Andalou, and I was in its firm grasp for all 16 minutes. I loved it. For me, a narrative wasn’t necessary and would have been destructive more than anything. Though it was probably wise of him to move on to films with narrative later on, as their brisk strangeness and deviation from the plotline makes them all the more unnerving.

  7. INCREIBLE BUNUEL. UN SER ELEGIDO POR LOS DIOSES PARA VESTIR EL MUNDO DE VERDADES Y DEL INFINITO SURREALISMO, NADA MAS QUE GENUINO QUE ESE MANIFIESTO DE BRETON. EL LEMA ERA, BELLO, COMO UN PARAGUAS Y UNA MAQUINA DE ESCRIBIR SOBRE UNA MESA DE DISECCION, LO DIJO GUILLAUME APOLLINAIRE, SI MAL NO RECUERDO..EXCELENTES TIEMPOS LOS DE DALI Y BUNUEL, SALUDOS Y MUCHO EXITO PORQUE ES UN POST DE COLECCION. MANON KUBLER

  8. I have seen this film several times over about thirty years plus also recently had to study the script and film again under a filmmaking degree course. I must admit I have swung between love and hate after viewing but have never been in any doubt that for when it was made (1929 – the year of the Great Crash!) it was way ahead of its time. Plus it set set a level for visual and cinematic storytelling that even in Europe was not easily matched over subsequent decades (not helped of course by the subsequent depression and WWII).

    The film really is Bunuel’s with Dali’s input as the subsequent career trajectories of both Bunuel and Dali evidence but I find it also interesting that Bunuel never hit these innovative heights again though me made many memorable and varied movies especially in the 60s & 70s before his death.

    • It was miles ahead of its time and stunningly outrageous. I think personally that Buñuel never lost the genius spark ignited here (he made some of his greatest films in the 60s and 70s) but it is incredible how particularly creative he was with this film.

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