UN CHIEN ANDALOU
Directed by Luis Buñuel. Written by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali. France, 1928, 16min.
Source: Avant garde and experimental films – VHS 5278 and YouTube.com
Trying to find rational meaning in a short film that was not supposed to have any is a ludicrous idea, but, so is to dismiss it because it “doesn’t have any” or because we can’t understand it. Whether we understand it or not, like it or hate it, Un Chien Andalou is, for various reasons, one of those must- see classic shorts. It has its place in film history as one of the first movies without a coherent narrative, hence, the perceived lack of “meaning¨. It was also one of the first non-studio shorts to (unintentionally) make money, using shock value as means to make the audience not only uncomfortable but also unhappy with the film itself.
One of the “explanations” of the film goes as follows: the two unnamed characters are lovers who are discovered by her husband and her dad and then face the consequences. Sounds simple, but now, imagine the following series of dream-like events, so things don’t really make sense. They’ll be out order, you’ll leave a room just to enter the same room again, ants will come out people hands, a severed hand will lay on the side walk, an androgynous boy will get run over which in turn will cause the male lover to be aroused, he will be turned down by his lover and will then pull on two pianos with two priests, the 10 commandments and two dead donkeys; books turn into pistols and the male lover shoots his lover’s father; to then “in (the) spring” on a beach where the lover and her husband are buried up to their chest dead. But before it all began, you read a title card that said “once upon a time” and then saw the woman’s eye slid with a razor.
Dali and Buñuel wanted to shock their audience so they opened their film with the razor/eye-slid sequence. They expected the 1928 Parisian audience to be shocked, to start riots, but, to Buñuel’s disappointment, they didn’t. The surrealist movement was in its beginning and this short granted the entrance into it. Today’s audience would probably have a different opinion; one can just look at the boards in IMDB to get an idea. Perhaps, the 1920s audience was more familiar with Freud and more willing to accept dreams for what they were.
But, the lessons of the film go beyond the unexpected reaction of the audience; its 8-month run enabled the duo to pay Buñuel’s mom back. We can be melodramatic and say that dreams can take you as far a you want, aka two young men literally sharing a dream and two weeks of filming turned into a classic. But, there is more. Aesthetically, Un Chien editing work is great not just visually but also musically. In the scene were the androgynous boy gets run over, we anticipate it happening but the music and the intercutting to the lovers watching from the window keeps the tension. The famous thin cloud covering the full moon for a few second then cut to the woman’s eye being slid makes the audiences gasp every time and no matter how many times you watch it there will always be a chill going down your spine.
At the end, that chill is left unresolved. After the bizarre sequences, our minds could try to extract some structured narrative from the title cards “once upon a time”, “eight years later”, “about three in the morning” and “sixteen years before”. But, as in dreams, the timeline does not make sense, and perhaps some things are better taken as what they are, dreams.