Un chien andalou (Luis Buñuel, 1929)

A razor slicing a woman’s eyeball in half.  A cross-dresser riding a bike and falling over.  Ants crawling out of a human hand, with a similar hand (perhaps the same one?) falling out of a box onto the street.  I man pulling two pianos, complete with priests and dead cows, after being rejected by a woman he was feeling up.  Those same two people later frollicking on the beach, only to turn into statues.

All images that couldn’t be more random, and I must admit, many of which I had known about beforehand in reading about the movie.  For that reason, some of Un Chien Andalou’s “charm” (if that’s at all the right word, which it probably isn’t), was lost on me, but that was inevitable.  To describe this short film is in fact simply to describe scenes and images like those, and for that reason I was more than prepared to judge it as simply a random collection of strange, dream-like images with no coherency between them.  I was more than prepared to simply call such a thing the obvious precursor to the more surreal films of David Lynch (namely Eraserhead and Inland Empire), admire it for its technical innovations, and leave it at that.

No sir.

All those things I said – the dream elements, the Lynchian factor, the technical innovations, are all there.  What I wasn’t anticipating, though, is that I would actually find myself attracted to such a strange piece of film and like it quite a bit, while I have pretty much nothing but loathing and contempt for good Mr. Lynch’s descendants of this, Eraserhead and Inland Empire.  I think that’s because Lynch’s films were utterly chaotic with bizarre images just there for the sake of being bizarre, which pretty much cancels out some impressive performances that ultimately feel as superfluous as the images.  Un Chien Andalou, on the other hand, has no dialogue, no distinct identities to speak of in its “characters”, and certainly no easy story to follow, and yet, I felt like I could identify with these mystery people and connect them somehow.  And it’s that which really, I think, makes Un Chien Andalou truly dreamlike: rather than just a series of random crap a la Lynch, it’s random crap that has some kind of intangible connection that’s far from defined outright, but rather a link so faint that you can basically put any interpretation on it that you want.  The last dream I had that I can even faintly remember, for instance, involved a swimming pool in a Benihana restaurant, jumping off of a skyscraper-sized dinner table, and the death of political pundit James Carville: all incredibly random and bizarre things, but all somehow connected in a kind of narrative-type chain that I certainly can’t remember, but definitely know was there, and it’s that type of pseudo-logic that ties dreams into reality and vice-versa, and Buñuel captured that nearly perfectly I thought.

Of course, I’m not going to say that “this means this” or “that means that” or “in the grand scheme of things the whole film is a metaphor for…” because that would be downright insulting to Buñuel and the sensory experience he’s created.  I could so easily say that the ants coming out of the hand or the dead cows and the priests on the dragged pianos represent one’s excess baggage and inner demons, but I won’t.  I could so easily say that the man shooting himself (quite literally…at least I think they were the same person) and the subsequent landing in a grassy meadow could represent his sense of guilt and his redemption, but I won’t.  I could say that the man simultaneously groping the woman’s clothed breasts and naked rear-end and the cross-dressing man on the bike are all part of a short film that is simply intended as an explosion of sexual confusion and excess in a sexually-deprived world, but I won’t.  I could so easily say that the slicing of the eye…well, I’m not even gonna touch that one 😛 .  The point is that it’s impossible to understand what Buñuel was going for, and even if he was going for anything at all other than to show random crap as a means of exercising his artistic prowess.  And speaking of artistic prowess, there’s certainly enough of that in the film to rightly label it as one of the staples of expressionistic film, and film in general.  So many editing techniques that we take for granted seem new here, like the graphic match cut of the eye slicing with a cloud “slicing” the moon, or intercutting of the cross-dressing bike rider’s fall intercut with the woman looking out the window.  Such images might have nothing (or in fact everything) to do with each other, and yet our brain tells us to put them together, so that we assume the eye is the moon, or more simply, the woman is actually seeing the bike rider fall.  It’s that intercutting that made Un Chien Andalou so innovative: editing random images together in a way that our brain automatically tells us to interpret it in such a way as to make it logical, much like Kuleshov’s old experiment with the face and the images, so that we interpret them in any subconscious way we will.

A film like Un Chien Andalou is certainly not perfect, being made so early in the age of cinema and so obviously an experiment in style that’s been tweaked (sometimes perfected, sometimes merely imitated) for decades.  It’s a film rife for interpretation (and god knows I’ve already started to put my own interpretation on it), but like a dream, it goes deep into the subconscious, where you know the things you see and experience, when put together, mean something, but damned if you’ll be able to figure out what that innermost something (fears, desires, or what have you) might possibly be.



2 comments so far

  1. Sophie Kenny (@snkfilms) on

    ohh, nice review but i couldnt agree with you less in that Lynch’s imagery in Eraserhead was ‘just there for the sake of being bizarre’! One of Lynch’s biggest influence is Bunuel, and notably – Un Chien Andalou. The similarities are startling!

    Personally, I felt that lynch really drew on ‘Un Chein Andalou’ and built an even better film than it. Even more interesting, is that Lynch has never offered up a complete evaluation of his film and refuses to discuss any of its meaning at all – which leaves it totally up to public debate and which often, provokes remarks where people do not understand and therefore, denounce the film as having random imagery…etc

  2. Simon M. on

    Yeah, when I wrote this review three years ago I had seen Eraserhead once and hated it. Since then, I’ve rewatched it ad nausaeum, and it’s now one of my favorite movies. It’s like the consummate dream/nightmare-as-film, so much symbolic imagery that you could conceivably imagine being in YOUR subconscious. So brilliant. In other words, you can completely disregard this review 😛

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