Cast & Crew
Random scenes -- including the famous eyeball-slitting, a bicycle race and a hand crawling with ants -- capture the insanity of dreams.
Ludwig Van Beethoven
Un Chien Andalou
To begin with the basics, Un Chien andalou is not the sort of film you'd expect to become an acclaimed masterpiece. It's a silent movie, about sixteen minutes long, and carefully constructed so that nothing in it makes sense. That includes the title, which means "an Andalusian dog," even though the film has nothing to do with Andalusia and there isn't a dog in sight. In all, it sounds like a scenario for disaster. Yet this unique work, first shown in 1929 to a mix of enthusiastic cheers and outraged boos, stands as a towering classic of world cinema, still explored and enjoyed by movie buffs far and wide. Roger Ebert called it "the most famous short film ever made," adding that "anyone halfway interested in the cinema sees it sooner or later, usually several times."
For newcomers and experts alike, Un Chien andalou is best approached by way of its director, Luis Buñuel, who wrote the film with painter Salvador Dalí, another Spaniard with an inimitable style. Buñuel and Dalí are the most famous advocates of surrealism, the enormously important artistic movement that commenced in the 1920s and influences filmmakers (David Lynch, Harmony Korine) and artists (Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons) to this day. Surrealists want to bypass logical, everyday thinking in order to express the vast realms of experience - passions, obsessions, extremes of love, hate, hope, fear - that reason and rationality can't fully account for, much less tame or control. Dalí did this by painting hallucinatory visions (melted watches, a sphinx with Shirley Temple's head) and sporting a mustache that looks like a lethal weapon. Buñuel did it by directing dozens of films that attack commonsensical values and conventions with ferocious glee.
Like other surrealist works, Un Chien andalou was inspired by the world of dreams. Asked how the film originated, Buñuel recalled a conversation with Dalí in 1928, when they decided to make a film together. Dalí said, "Last night I dreamed about ants swarming in my hand." Buñuel replied, "Well, I dreamed that I sliced someone's eye open." With those key images settled, they wrote the entire script in six days, according to Buñuel, "systematically rejecting anything that emerged from our culture or education." Buñuel recruited Pierre Batcheff and Simone Mareuil to play the Man and Woman in the film, and he played the Man with the Razor himself. He financed the production by asking his mother for money.
Buñuel shot the opening scene first because he considered it the easiest, and probably because he knew it would be instantly notorious. The Man with the Razor is sharpening his blade on a balcony. Approaching the Woman from behind, he places the razor in front of her face, holding her eye open with his other hand. In a shot of the nighttime sky, we see a sliver of cloud moving across the moon, symbolizing the ghastly event we were afraid we'd actually see. But then we do see it, with nightmare clarity, in a tight close-up: the razor slashes the eye exactly as in Buñuel's dream, demolishing our old, established ways of seeing with one of cinema's most audacious acts of creative destruction.
Later we see Dalí's dream image of a man staring at ants swarming in and out of a hole in his hand, and another iconic moment comes soon afterward. Sexually aroused by seeing a fatal accident through a window, the Man starts molesting the Woman - in startlingly explicit images - and the Woman gets away, grabbing a tennis racket to fend him off. With a confident smirk, the Man reaches to the floor, grasps the ends of two ropes, and hauls something in the Woman's direction - a pair of grand pianos with dead donkeys stuffed inside and two bewildered-looking seminarians tied below. This is ultra-surrealistic by any standard, and if you're as bewildered as the tied-up divinity students, you have lots of company; but it's incredibly powerful nonetheless. As critic Ado Kyrou wrote, Buñuel successfully captures "a glimpse of that incandescent world in which dream and reality mingle in a magnificent gesture of liberation" from the limitations and imitations of ordinary life.
All of Buñuel's films are spiced with humor, as he enjoyed pointing out. Un Chien andalou is no exception; watch the Man do a pratfall when he tries to pull those grand pianos, for instance. Even the opening scene is something of a joke: watch closely and you'll see that an animal's cadaver is used for the eye-slicing shot, with no attempt by Buñuel to hide the substitution. As for the music, at an early showing Buñuel played amusingly random pieces on a phonograph - oscillating between an Argentine tango and the "Liebestod" from Richard Wagner's opera Tristan and Isolde - that are now considered the official soundtrack. Notice also how the film's seemingly nonsensical structure contains a witty satire of conventional movies, with arbitrary intertitles ("Once upon a time," "Sixteen years ago") and a scene where an incongruous action - the Woman throwing someone's possessions out a window, one by one - is shown in a shot-countershot sequence right out of the commercial-film playbook. And don't miss the doorbell button that activates disembodied hands jiggling a cocktail shaker!
Buñuel followed Un Chien andalou with the feature-length L'Âge d'or (The Age of Gold, 1930), a slightly more linear mélange of odd characters and bizarre incidents. He then spent decades making extraordinary films in France, Spain, and Mexico, earning Academy Award nominations with two of them - The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), which won the Oscar® for Best Foreign-Language picture, and his last film, That Obscure Object of Desire (1977). He never wavered from his loyalty to surrealism, even though the French Surrealists put him on trial for allowing the script of Un Chien andalou to be published in a movie magazine!
Un Chien andalou thus launched one of the most fertile and uncompromising careers in all of cinema. If you insist on giving it a coherent meaning, you can't do better than French critic Freddy Buache, who called it a movie about the magic of passion, which "sweeps away all the constraints normally imposed by time and space, eternalizes the moment, brings places closer or takes them farther away, reduces the universe and the passage of years to the unique delights of pleasure granted." That beautifully sums up a film that has as much power to shock, awe, astonish, and amuse on the fiftieth viewing as on the first.
Director: Luis Buñuel
Producer: Luis Buñuel
Screenplay: Salvador Dalí, Luis Buñuel
Film Editing: Luis Buñuel
With: Simone Mareuil (Woman), Pierre Batcheff (Man), Fano Messan (Woman in Street), Robert Hommet (Man on Bicycle), Marval (Seminarian), Salvador Dalí (Seminarian), Luis Buñuel (Man with the Razor)
by David Sterritt
Un Chien Andalou
Two by Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali - L'Age d'Or and Un Chien Andalou
The catalog of startling images and sequences in L'AGE D'OR include a man's face covered with flies; a blind man being kicked; a pseudo-documentary on scorpions; clerically-garbed skeletons on rocky cliffs; a pompous foundation-laying ceremony interrupted by a man and a woman noisily coupling in mud - then later, in evening clothes, trying to tryst while sitting on clumsy cane chairs and being interrupted by a phone call from the Minister of the Interior; guests at a fancy reception ignoring a farm cart rolling through; a cuckolded lover throwing a live archbishop out the window; a survivor of the "most brutal of orgies" emerging dressed as Christ. Bunuel & Dali's follow-up to Un Chien Andalou (original title: La Bete Andalouse) was financed by Gallic moneybags the Vicomte de Noailles as his annual cinematic birthday gift to his wife (a previous cadeau was Cocteau's Blood of a Poet); contemporary rightwingers threw stink bombs and purple ink at the screen, the cops banned it, and Noailles was kicked out of the Jockey Club (a good sport, he still pronounced it "exquisite and delicious"). If brutal assaults on religious, political, and social establishments no longer constitute the novelty they posed in 1930, Bunuel's first sound film remains perhaps the screen's greatest ode to Surrealism, and a veritable checklist of the obsessions that would mark the rest of his long career.
Bunuel & Dali's first collaboration, UN CHIEN ANDALOU slaps the audience in its opening moments with a shocking close-up - then piles on images that would still make both David Lynch and David Cronenberg jealous: hands swarming with ants (Bunuel studied entomology at school), breasts transforming into buttocks, mysteriously-disappearing underarm hair, a donkey corpse on top of a grand piano, with a bound priest in tow, etc. etc. Explained Dali, "the theme is 'the pure and correct line of 'conduct' of a human who pursues love through wretched humanitarian patriotic ideals and the other miserable workings of reality." Uh-huh.
Two by Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali - L'Age d'Or and Un Chien Andalou
Released in United States 1960
Released in United States 1960 (Soundtrack added by Bunuel in 1960, from records played at the film's premiere.)