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Un Chien Andalou (DVD)
Member Name: MrQuomps
Un Chien Andalou (DVD)
Date: 27/10/08, updated on 30/08/09 (382 review reads)
Disadvantages: Messes with your head
The writers of the film wanted Un Chien Andalou to work against the traditions of mainstream cinema, and to challenge the viewer's perceptions of reality. Both Buñuel and Dalí were interested in psychoanalysis and notions of the unconscious mind, with Un Chien Andalou they were attempting "...to disrupt the mental anxiety of the spectator..." (Dali)
Although Un Chien Andalou is clearly a bizarre and 'surreal' film, sections of it remain in keeping with the conventions employed in traditional narrative cinema.
The lack of narrative, or at least the lack of a coherent narrative, in Un Chien Andalou is reminiscent of the unfolding of a dream. Not everything in Un Chien Andalou can be explained and situations can change completely and irrationally in an instant, for example a character may suddenly appear in an entirely new location for no apparent reason. In dreams we accept that not everything will make sense, everyday things will be distorted, time will not be relevant, extraordinary situations will be commonplace and so on, it is the same with surrealist films; they defy logic.
By being 'surreal' Un Chien Andalou immediately falls outside the bracket of 'mainstream film'. Mainstream notions of narrative tend not to be concerned with anything other than reality and that which is easily definable through experience, identification, familiarity.
Un Chien Andalou challenges this. It is concerned with the unconscious mind and examples of this might be: irrational - a man dressed as a woman choosing to dismount his bike by letting it slow down and then falling off onto a pavement; excessive - slicing a woman's eye open with a razorblade; grotesque - mutilated donkey carcasses hanging out of grand pianos; libidinal - a man groping a woman's breasts (or perhaps buttocks).
The last example may allude to unconscious desires. First of all the man is fondling the clothed woman's breasts, then, through editing, the woman's upper body appears naked. The man rolls his head back as if in ecstasy as he fondles the naked breasts which then turn into naked buttocks before he is pushed away. It could be that the audience is seeing what the character desires; his repressed thoughts are being visualised, by both himself and the filmmakers.
No matter how much Un Chien Andalou is analysed nobody will ever fully understand it, because it contains scenes and images which are essentially nonsensical. The components of the film do not fit neatly together to provide a unified whole which carries a message and/or contains a clear meaning.
It is surreal because it is more closely linked with dream imagery than reality; any messages it does carry are the result of a confusion of distorted images and concepts which are typical of those conjured up by the unconscious mind during sleep.
The film plays with the audience in terms of upsetting the usual temporal structure of film; time in the film seems irrelevant. The viewer can never be sure when the events in the film are supposed to have taken place, or in what order. Inter-titles, usually considered as a means of relating a relevant piece of information to the viewer, appear to be employed merely to cause confusion. At one point an inter-title reads 'Seize ans avant' (translated in English as Sixteen years before) but the scene seems to contradict this, with the same two men, dressed the same, in the same room, in the same positions as in the shot preceding the inter-title. This illogical use of time goes against that which is generally presented in mainstream film, the use of inter-titles in Un Chien Andalou is almost a sarcastic stab at the conventional use of text in films at the time. It could also be seen as foregrounding the mechanics of film-making. This scene also includes a jump cut which, again, distorts time. The jump cut occurs where one character (the bicyclist) is holding two books which suddenly change to guns. This is not something which could happen instantly in reality, we have seen something occur which our minds cannot justify.
As well as the manipulation of time, Un Chien Andalou also includes scenes where space does not function as it does in the reality we are used to. For example in one scene a character is shot within the confines of a normal four walled room, but instead of falling to the floor in the room, we see the man fall down in a countryside location, onto a naked woman near a lake. This is very disorientating through its unpredictability and abnormal use of space.
It has been suggested that when Buñuel and Dalí were writing the film they were very much influenced by their own dreams and that they may also have experimented with 'automatic writing', whereby spontaneity and the unconscious mind provide the concepts.
Regardless of whether the writing of the film was 'spontaneous' or 'automatic', the actual production of the film must have been far more calculative. Un Chien Andalou has been carefully constructed to appear dreamlike and surreal, as with a Dalí painting, the concept may have appeared in his mind in a flash of inspiration, but many hours of meticulously committing brushstrokes to canvas would follow before the vision would be realised and reproduced for others to experience.
Un Chien Andalou in some ways remains in keeping with traditional films. The sets look real, the people are real; there are no bizarrely painted sets (like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)) or over-sized props etc. A lot of the situations themselves could occur in real life, it is the way they are presented and the way they are dealt with by the characters within the film which make them surreal. It is possible (unlikely, but possible) that two pianos with donkeys in them could be in a room, but would a sane person attempt to drag them across the room at a frightened woman? A less possible scenario involves the man wiping his mouth then revealing it has disappeared and where his mouth was there appears to be a wad of hair. It is suggested that this is the lady's armpit hair, she checks her armpit and is shocked but by no means awestruck or horrified. She looks at the man with contempt, as though she is irritated with him, but she does not question how he has done what he has done. Her reaction is to poke her tongue out at the man and leave the room.
Throughout the film the characters take within their strides occurrences which the viewer is constantly questioning and curious about. Events which in reality would be extremely strange, if not impossibilities, are presented as everyday, unremarkable actions.
So, not only does Un Chien Andalou consist of familiar and realistic settings: a bedroom, a street, a beach etc, but it also makes use of conventional, therefore familiar, methods of filming. Again, these methods are carefully deployed and by using these techniques the film does not appear to be too radical until the rules are broken. Shot/reverse shots are used regularly, dissolves, un-alarming framing and so on, but then a jump cut, erratic change of setting, super imposition or montage sequence will break away from the traditional cinematic conventions.
At times the film progresses just like a mainstream film, there are sporadic conventional narrative sequences, but any discernible narrative gets pushed aside in favour of haphazard sequences of events taking place in ambiguous spaces and an uncertain timeframes.
It was the intention of Buñuel and Dalí to create a piece of cinema that provoked its audience and questioned the conventions of film. According to the two writers the film should not be analysed too deeply because there is nothing to analyse, they insisted the concepts on display in Un Chien Andalou have no meaning or significance worth reading into. Luis Buñuel was unimpressed with the importance which many viewers attached to his film and its separate components.
Summary: One for the weirdos (and me)