Sunday, September 21, 2008

Un Chien Andalou

Part 1
Part 2

Directed by Luis Buñuel. Written by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali. France, 1928, 16min.
Source: Avant garde and experimental films – VHS 5278 and

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.


Tj said...

I really wanted to see this short after your blog post but it seems to have been removed.

Anyway, why do you think Dali and Bunuel called it "A Dog?" Or am I trying to find a literal meaning where there is none?

Estuardo said...

Es que cuando de sueños se trata no solo las interpretaciones pueden ser variables, si no que, también las sensaciones, si a eso sumamos que mis sueños, tus sueños o los sueños de cualquiera son por mucho diferentes no digamos las ambigüedades que se pueden encontrar entre la cabeza de Dali y Buñuel. Aunque y gracias al YouTube tenemos la posibilidad de repetir el corto cuantas veces queramos y darnos tiempo de rascarnos la cabeza tratando de descifrarlo en una primera vista creo que a todos nos ha sucedido, es un cumulo de sensaciones, grotesco, espeluznante, genial, se erizan los pelos y da risa.

Pamela said...

The title is symbolic perhaps not referencing the film directly. Buñuel and Dali disliked romantic writers and poets, and supposedly the Andalousian Dog is one particular writer (I can’t remember his name) from Andalusia that they despised. Knowing that, you can of know what to expect from the film since it would go against the “normal” romantic narrative.

The embedded option was removed from the video but I reposted the direct links.

Lindsay Z. said...

I think it's interesting how this film has been canonized to the point that is THE textbook "experimental short." I've watched this film in at least four classes I can think of offhand. And while I absolutely love it, I can't help but wonder how many other great experimental shorts must get slighted in favor of screening Un Chien Andalou in yet another intro film class. But really, I wouldn't want to deny a future generation of students the pleasure of jumping out of their seats the first time they see the eyeball get sliced. What a rite of passage!

Drew Rosensweig said...

It is amazing that this is the only work of Bunuel many people will ever see, likely in their sole intro to cinema class. Not that it isn't great, because it is, but more so because the man had so a long and prolific career with so many different phases to it, that it makes it kind of sad to see it reduced to slicing up eyeballs.

Pamela said...

I totally I agree with Drew on this one. I wanted to post on "Tierra sin Pan" (Land Without Bread) Buñuel's short documentary with a touch of surrealism but I didn't get to do the short documentry one. Plus, as Lindsey said, this a rite of passage film.
And though I'm not so fond of Buñuel's melodrama phase, it still worth checking out. I can only describe his cinematographic style as beatifully raw. I love his feature film "Los Olvidados" (The Young and the Damned).

Sarah said...

You are right Pame! Some things are better taken as what they are, dreams. I just love the irony that film schools all around the world spend all that time analyzing a film that was intended to have no rational meaning at all.

karlarossana said...

I think that the film is done quite well, and because of the universal nature of dreams, people throughout the world can relate to it. However, because the interpretation of dreams has been a fascination of humankind from time immemorial, it would be interesting to know how different cultures interpret it now. I think you make a good point by telling us how it was interpreted in the 1920s.

Marce said...

let's see the short from the music side....First of all, it does not have any dialog. all the interpration is made by gestures and no talking involve. In addition, music is very important and attractive. For example, the music style Tango has a very important role in this short. Tango is a music style that talks by itself it is erotic and sensual as a couple of lovers and also it can be expressed by a felling of angry. This is one example of how music gives the a different point of view in this short and it makes it interesting.

Raul R said...

While I was reading your blog, I felt like if you were trying to increase our (readers) comprehension and ability to access the film through interpretation. After all, this film was made by a surrealist; “dreamy relations” come to the fore as an interpretative method. Yet interpretation is ultimately pointless. I think that the most efficient way in which to be pleased about the film is to allow the images to seduce us, and not to seek an explanation. ;)