Directed by Salvador Dali, Luis Bruñuel
Les Grands Films Classiques
Starring Pierre Batcheff, Simone Mareuil
Art films are like that person at a party who doesn’t drink or talk to anyone there. Most of the time, they seem pretentious and douchey, more suited to the lecture theatre than an actual cinema. However, Un Chien Andalou is different. It doesn’t drink because it knows it will need about five bottles of chardonnay before it feels a buzz, and it doesn’t talk because it’s the only one in the room with three PHDs and it has literally nothing in common with anyone else there. In short, this film is hardcore.
There’s a clue as to just how hardcore at the start of this very review; Salvador Dali and Luis Bruñuel are the directors. Though Bruñuel’s name probably doesn’t mean anything to anyone not physically in love with cinema, Dali should at least conjure images of a most surrealist nature, with melting clocks, landscapes in women and tigers leaping off the world featuring in his most famous works. Yes, it’s a silent black and white French film by Spaniards made in the middle of an art revolution sweeping Europe. Not the most mainstream of films, it is however quite possibly the most important art film ever made.
It starts, as all good films do, with a man slicing a woman’s eye open with a razor blade. No warning, no sense of climax – just a woman’s eyeball cut in half. It would spoil the moment to delve any further, but this sort of violence and graphic imagery predates Hostel by 77 years; it is still one of the most talked about scenes in cinema. The lack of narrative and any sort of structure beside the occasional time card means the viewer is allowed to let the images wash over them. Scenes of priests and donkeys tied to a piano, a man’s hand infested with ants, a woman standing in the road, clutching a box, refusing to be moved – these dominate the film as a dripping clock would dominant a painting. Character and narrative can go to hell in a hand cart; this film is about the image.
Of course, many academics have taken one glance at it and written dissertations about how it’s all about Freud and we should be ashamed if we DON’T kill our fathers after watching it, but, like any good painting, any meaning can be derived from it and it still makes perfect sense. It could be about male identity, Christian ethics, a woman’s right to not shave her armpits. Or it could be a dare between Dali and Bruñuel about who could come up with the weirdest scene. It’s in the public domain and less than twenty minutes long, so do check it out, it is very much worth the twenty minutes of your life not playing Portal 2.