Luis Bunuel's first film, the legendary Surrealist short UN CHIEN ANDALOU, was made in 1928 with the collaboration of painter Salvador Dali. Impossible to describe in a traditional narrative sense, it is a succession of alternately beautiful and shocking images that are seemingly unrelated
but have the internal logic of a nightmare.
A title card reads "Once Upon a Time." A man (Luis Bunuel) sharpens a razor blade, looking at the moon; he then holds open a woman's eyelid and, as a cloud passes across the moon, he slices her eyeball in half.
"Eight Years Later," a man (Pierre Batcheff) rides a bicycle down the street, wearing a starched collar, a winged cap, and a skirt over his suit. A striped box hangs around his neck. A woman (Simone Mareuil) looks out her apartment window and sees the bicyclist fall over and hit his head. She goes
down and starts to kiss him, then opens his striped box, which contains striped ties. Upstairs, she lays his things out on her bed while he stares at his hand, which is crawling with ants. As the woman looks at the ants, the shot dissolves to a hairless armpit, a sea urchin, and an overhead shot
of another woman poking a severed hand with a cane. A crowd gathers around her, and a policeman picks up the hand and puts it in the striped box. The crowd leaves and, as the bicyclist and woman watch from upstairs, the other woman is run over by a car. The bicyclist chases the woman around her
apartment. Blood drips from his mouth as he fondles her breasts, which dissolve into bare buttocks. She picks up a tennis racket defensively. He grabs two long ropes and pulls them, dragging two priests, followed by two dead donkeys on two grand pianos, across the floor. She slams the door on his
hand, which is again covered with ants.
"About Three in the Morning," a stranger rings the apartment doorbell, represented by a pair of disembodied hands shaking a cocktail shaker. He enters and yells at the bicyclist, tears off his collar and skirt, throws them out the window, and makes him stand against the wall.
"16 Years Before," the stranger turns in slow motion to reveal he has the same face as the bicyclist. He gives the bicyclist two books, which turn into guns. The bicyclist shoots the stranger and when he falls, he lands in a garden, grabbing a woman's bare back before she disappears. A crowd comes
over and carries his body away. The woman in the apartment sees a moth on the wall. A series of dissolves reveal it to be a death's-head moth. The bicyclist appears and wipes his mouth off with his hand. She puts on lipstick, and he suddenly has hair on his mouth. She looks at her shaved armpit,
sticks out her tongue at the bicyclist, and leaves the apartment. Stepping outside, she's on a beach and runs to a man in a striped vest. He shows her his watch. They embrace and walk away. The striped box lays broken on the shore, along with some torn clothes.
"In the Spring," the man and the woman, tied to sticks and buried up their chests in sand, are being eaten by insects.
When Bunuel joined the Surrealist group in Paris in 1928, he borrowed $2,500 from his mother to make the first "official" Surrealist film and began collaborating with Salvador Dali on the story. Each told the other their dreams and selected the resulting images for the film. Bunuel took the title
UN CHIEN ANDALOU ("An Andalusian dog") from a book of poems he had written, justifying it in absurdist fashion by pointing out how the film has neither Andalusians nor dogs in it.
The film can be interpreted in countless ways, from being a meaningless joke to being a profound commentary on human behavior. Bunuel himself called it "a desperate appeal to murder," and added that "nothing in the film symbolizes anything." The nonsensical images have a primitive, intrinsic
beauty to them that reaches viewers on a subconscious level and effects them in a visceral, not intellectual, way. The infamous slashing of the eyeball (a cow's) at the beginning of the film was meant, according to Bunuel, to "produce in the spectator a state which could permit the free
association of ideas. It was necessary to produce a near-traumatic shock at the very beginning so the spectator could enter into the cathartic state necessary to accept the subsequent events of the film."
If all of this sounds a little heady and pretentious, it should be noted that the film itself is riveting and hilarious, never failing to produce a strong reaction even decades later. It is also the first example of Bunuel's work on the themes of l'amour fou and sexual desire, and serves as a
model for his subsequent films in which seemingly normal characters in realistic environments behave in a highly bizarre and irrational manner. The soundtrack, featuring Argentine tangos and Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde," greatly contributes to the overall effectiveness of the film. (It was added
by Bunuel in 1960, since the film was originally silent and accompanied by phonograph records at its initial Paris premiere.) Cinematically, it is quite sophisticated for a first film, impressively, but never ostentatiously, using dissolves, irises, slow-motion, p.o.v. camera movements,
interesting angles, and witty editing. UN CHIEN ANDALOU is quite simply one of the most auspicious debuts in the history of cinema. (Violence, nudity, sexual situations.)
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