Un Chien andalou

(Luis Buñuel, France, 1929)


The directorial debut of Luis Buñuel, collaborating with artist Salvador Dalí, is etched into our consciousness of film history because of one image above all others: a razor slicing open an eyeball.

What is this: shock tactic, symbol of a modernist "new vision", male aggression towards woman? For Jean Vigo – who hailed Un Chien andalou for its "social consciousness" – Buñuel’s associative montage raised a philosophical query: "Is it more dreadful than the spectacle of a cloud veiling a full moon?"

One thing is certain: the image kicks off a classic Surrealist parable of Eros ever-denied, ever-frustrated by society’s institutions and mores.

Too often – because of its heavy influence on rock video – Un Chien andalou has been reduced to, and recycled as, a collection of disconnected, striking, incongruous images: dead horse on a piano, ants in a hand.

But this overlooks what gives the work its cohering force: the fact that, in many ways, Buñuel scrupulously respects certain conventions of classical continuity and linkage, creating a certain, disquieting narrative sense among these fragments from the unconscious.

This amounts to a dialectic of surface rationality versus deep, churning, forces from the Id – a dialectic that Buñuel will explore to the very end of his career.

MORE Buñuel: Belle de jour, Tristana, The Diary of a Chambermaid

© Adrian Martin April 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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