In 1929, Salvador Dalí (1904 - 1989) collaborated in Paris with the Spanish film director and fellow student Luis Buñuel (1900 - 1983) on a film project that was so peculiar that it achieved legendary status. It was the first deliberate attempt to shock the audience.
Dalí took over most of the composition of the film and lent it his symbolic style. Viewers familiar with Dalí's work will recognise in this film the abundance of metaphors typical of his artistic vision.
In modern times, we have become accustomed to dream sequences in films and music videos that defy logical coherence and radically depart from narrative traditions with non-consecutive scenes and a lack of plot. However, in the Catholic Paris of 1929, this film caused a scandal because it showed erotic scenes and nudity, breaking the conventions of the time.
This avant-garde work left an indelible mark on filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock and the horror-thriller genre in popular cinema.
The genesis of the film goes back to a conversation between Buñuel and Dalí about their dreams. Dalí dreamt of a handful of ants, while Buñuel told of a dream in which the moon was enveloped by a cloud that looked like an eye cut by a blade. From this discussion, they explored ideas from the subconscious.
The makers emphasised the absence of rational thought or action in the film and laid down the only rule: nothing symbolic or explainable could be used. Buñuel claimed in the 1970s that the film did not want to represent or symbolise anything, so that any meaning had to be found out through the psychoanalysis of critics or academics.
The film unfolds in an anti-pattern and defies chronological sequence as the scenes play out in no discernible order. The film begins with a sign that reads "Once upon a time...", followed by another sign that reads "Eight years later"," although the characters have not visibly changed.
The film's most famous scene, which features strange imagery and mysterious special effects, is a startling cut to the eye, shot with intense lighting and the eye of a deceased calf or goat.
In one sequence, a figure pulls a collection of strange objects, including two pianos with dead donkeys, stone tablets with the Ten Commandments and two bizarre priests, one of whom is portrayed by Salvador Dalí himself. Interpretations vary, some suspect an allusion to Juan Ramón Jiménez's work "Platero y yo"," which both Buñuel and Dalí disliked. Due to budget restrictions, some planned scenes, including one with corpses covered in flies, were cut.
Expecting a negative social reaction, Dalí and Buñuel filled their pockets with stones at the film's premiere, only to be surprised by the public's fascination. The film became popular among friends of the Surrealists, which led to Dalí and Buñuel being accepted into the group of Surrealists.
Despite the film's dark undertones, as both main characters commit suicide in the following years, it achieved cult status. "Un Chien Andalou" continues to be shown at various festivals around the world, has influenced artists and musicians such as the Pixies and has become a reference point for the strange and surreal in literature, film and television.
Following the success of "Un Chien Andalou"," Dalí and Buñuel worked on another film entitled "L'Age D'Or" However, a dispute arose between the duo, which led Dalí to decide not to participate in the production of the film. This subsequent work sought controversy by directly challenging the Roman Catholic Church.
The continued screenings at various festivals around the world underline the enduring fascination with this surreal masterpiece. Its influence on subsequent generations of artists, musicians and creatives, as well as its frequent mention in literature, film and television, cements "Un Chien Andalou" as a timeless cultural reference point for the strange and surreal.
The film's thematic and stylistic innovations transcend celluloid frames, reminding us of the power of artistic collaboration and the enduring impact of those willing to challenge the status quo in the pursuit of creative expression.