Essentials #19: UN CHIEN ANDALOU (1929)

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Once upon a time…

Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí intentionally made a film that had no rational or logical connection from one image to the next. As a result, I’d be lying if I tried to explain what this movie is about.

That’s all you need to know. Don’t watch this movie and try to explain it. It doesn’t symbolize anything. I guess I could just wrap up this review now since the film is about 16 minutes long. But I’ll talk a little more of the importance of this movie to cinema (and to me).

The movie came out at a time when cinema was in its infancy.

Synchronized sound had barely been introduced so movies were solely a visual art form. Therefore, many silent films were inherently simple in its narrative.

Beginning. Introduce the characters.

State the said problem through title cards.

Show reactions of actors trying to solve problem.

Climax…followed by conflict resolution.

End film.

Simple. Even the style of filmmaking was elementary as almost every film looked the same. Master. Wide. Close-up.

In a sense, cinema was merely an extension of theatre, photography, and literature from the start.

UN CHIEN ANDALOU is a departure from all these categorizations. It’s plotless. It completely shatters narrative conventions. For example, one scene occurs and suddenly, a title card reads, ‘8 years later.’ It utilizes unorthodox camera angles and editing techniques (the famous match-cut with the moon and the eyeball sequence). Its content is Freudian by nature and has the association of dreams, but again, nothing is there to piece together any sort of coherence. It’s like a sentence that works syntactically, but has no semantic meaning overall. For example, Noah Chomsky’s famous linguistic sentence:

“Colorless green ideas sleep furiously”

Like that sentence, the film grammatically works as cinema, but overall, its meaning is nonsensical.

Why UN CHIEN ANDALOU is important to cinema: This film represents that separation of cinema as a truly unique art form. I think there are many films that get made, but very few I would qualify as ‘cinema.’ For example, a lot of films, especially silents, are just as effective if they were told in a theatre or written as a novel. To truly be cinematic, a filmmaker must employ elements that separate the work from other forms.

This film cannot be replicated in other art forms, which is why it is historically important.

I always think of this notion when I make my own films. How can I create a visual sequence that can only be effective in the cinema? How can I tell a story without a character saying one word?

UN CHIEN ANDALOU basically separates the medium of film from being an extension of other art forms. That’s pure cinema.

This is why this movie is important to me. It should also be important to those who care about the future of filmmaking. In my work, I subscribe to the same idea of creating images that are unique to cinema and no other art forms, because what is a cinema if it can be reproduced in other mediums?


Other Highlights

  • If you dig this, watch L’AGE D’OR (1931); Buñuel and Dalí had a falling out after that, so we only got two collaboration films from once-in-a-century geniuses. Too bad.
  • Also, this is a great introduction to the work of Luis Buñuel. Every film of his is unique, original, and cinematic and will push the boundaries of what cinema can be. There are many visual themes and recurring motifs in this film you will in his later work (critique of organized religion, sexual fetishes, etc)
  • Watch for the cameos of Buñuel and Dalí! Hint: One has a razor; the other is a member of the clergy.
  • I love the playful tango music and the use of ‘Tristan and Isolde’
  • David Lynch paid homage to the decaying hand in his almost equally disturbing film, WILD AT HEART (1990)
  • Can you imagine watching this back in 1929? This was extremely controversial since there’s violence, nudity, and its all whimsically treated. I can picture the average human seeing this and thinking it was made by Satan because it must have been pretty fucking weird.
  • Rumor has it: Luis Buñuel hid behind the curtain with rocks in his pockets because he feared the violent reaction of people from this work.

This is part of an ongoing series where I will be doing movie reviews from my original ESSENTIALS Film List.

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