Un chien andalou is a sixteen minute silent surrealist film produced in France by the Aragonian director Luis Buñuel and the Catalonian artist Salvador Dalí. Its title means "An Andalusian Dog", but it is normally released under its original French title in the English-speaking world. It was Buñuel's first film and was initially released in 1929 to a limited showing in Paris, but became popular and ran for eight months. It is one of the best-known surrealist films of the avant-garde movement of the 1920s.
The film has no plot, in the conventional sense of the word. The chronology of the film is disjointed, jumping from the initial "once upon a time" to "eight years later" without the events or characters changing very much. It uses dream logic in narrative flow that can be described in terms of then-popular Freudian free association, presenting a series of tenuously related scenes.
The film opens with a title card reading "Once upon a time". What may be the film's conclusion unfolds; a middle-aged man, the "husband" (played by Buñuel), sharpens his razor at his balcony door and tests the razor on his thumb. He then opens the door, and idly fingers the razor while gazing at the moon, about to be engulfed by a thin cloud, from his balcony. There is a cut to a close-up of a younger woman, the "wife" (Simone Mareuil), being held by the "husband" as she calmly stares straight ahead. Another cut occurs to the moon being overcome by the cloud as the "husband" slits the "wife"'s eye with the razor.
The subsequent title card reads "eight years later". A slim younger man, the "lover" (Pierre Batcheff), bicycles down a calm urban street wearing what appears to be a nun's habit and a locked box with a strap around his neck. A cut occurs to the "wife", who has been reading anxiously in a sparingly-furnished upstairs apartment, and she hears the "lover" approaching on his bicycle. She promptly throws aside the book she was reading to look out the window. She emerges from the building and attempts to revive the "lover" after witnessing him collapse.
Later, the "wife" assembles pieces of the "lover"'s clothing on a bed in the upstairs room, and seemingly through concentrating on the clothing causes the "lover" to appear near the door. The "lover" and the "wife" analyze his hand, which has a hole in the palm from which ants emerge. A slow transition occurs focusing on the armpit hair of an unknown figure and a sea urchin at a sandy location. An androgynous, seemingly blind figure, the "detective", appears in the street below the apartment, poking at a severed hand with a cane while surrounded by an angry crowd and police.
The crowd clears when the police place the hand in the "lover"'s box, and the "detective" stands contemplating something happily in the middle of the now busy street while clutching the box, subsequently being run down by a car. The "lover" and the "wife" watch these events unfold from the apartment window. The "lover" seems to take sadistic pleasure in the blind figure's danger and subsequent death, and as he gestures at the shocked "wife", he leers at her and grasps her bosom. The "wife" resists him at first, but then allows him to touch her as he imagines her nude from the front and the rear. The "wife" pushes him away as he drifts off and attempts to escape by running to the other side of the room. The "lover" corners her as she reaches for a racket in self-defense, but he suddenly picks up two ropes and drags two grand pianos containing dead and rotting donkeys, stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, and two rather bewildered priests (played by Jaime Miravilles and Salvador Dalí) who are attached by ropes. As he is unable to move, the "wife" escapes the apartment.
The subsequent title card reads "around three in the morning". The "lover" is roused from his sleep in a different apartment's bed by the sound of a doorbell (represented visually by a martini shaker being shaken by a set of arms through two holes in a wall). The "lover's" "father" (also played by Pierre Batcheff) angrily arrives in the apartment, possibly to punish him for his lecherous actions against the "wife"'s "husband", and a chase around the apartment ensues. The "lover" eventually shoots his "father" with two books that seemingly fascinated the "father". The "father" picks these up and gives to the "lover". The books then abruptly turn into pistols; the "wife" comes into the apartment to possibly confront the "lover" and is shocked by what has happened. The "lover" wipes his mouth off his face with his hand; this is followed by a cut to a death's head moth on the wall. Subsequently the "lover" makes the "wife"'s armpit hair attach itself to where his mouth would be on his face through gestures. The "wife" looks at the "lover" with disgust, and leaves the apartment sticking her tongue out at him.
As she exits her apartment, the street is replaced by a coastal beach, where the "wife" meets the "husband". They seem to walk away clutching each other happily in a long tracking shot. However, the film abruptly cuts to the final shot with a title card reading "In Spring," showing the couple buried in sand up to their shoulders, presumably dead after the unknown events of the opening scene, possibly bringing the film full-circle.
- Simone Mareuil — Young girl (as Simonne Mareuil)
- Pierre Batcheff — Man (as Pierre Batchef)
- Luis Buñuel — Man in prologue (uncredited)
- Salvador Dalí — Seminarist (uncredited)
- Robert Hommet — Young man (uncredited)
- Marval (actor) — Seminarist (uncredited)
- Fano Messan — Hermaphrodite (uncredited)
- Jaime Miravilles — Fat seminarist (uncredited)
The idea for the film actually began when Buñuel was working as an assistant director for Jean Epstein in France. Buñuel told Dalí at a restaurant one day about a dream in which a cloud sliced the moon in half "like a razor blade slicing through an eye". Dalí responded that he'd dreamed about a hand crawling with ants. They were fascinated by what the psyche could create, and decided to write a script based on the concept of suppressed human emotions.
The eye that was actually sliced in the opening scene was that of a dead calf. Through intense lighting, Buñuel attempted to make the furred face of the animal appear as human skin. During the bicycle scene, the woman who is sitting on a chair, reading, throws the book aside when she notices the man who has fallen. The image it shows when it lays open is a reproduction of a painting by Vermeer, whom Dalí greatly admired and referenced often in his own paintings. In Buñuel's original script, the last shot was to feature the corpses "consumed by swarms of flies". However, this special effect was left out due to budget limitations.
Given the general distaste for surrealism among the French public, Buñuel and Dalí carried sacks of rocks in their pockets on opening night as self-defense, expecting a negative response from the audience. They were disappointed when the audience enjoyed the film, making the evening "less exciting", according to Dalí.
The movie contains several thematic references to Federico García Lorca (who was in love with Dalí) and other writers of that time. For example, the rotting donkeys are a reference to the popular children's novel Platero y yo by Juan Ramón Jiménez, which Buñuel and Dalí hated.
Both of the leading actors of the film eventually committed suicide: Batcheff overdosed on Veronal on April 13, 1932 in a hotel in Paris, and Mareuil committed self-immolation on October 24, 1954 by dousing herself in gasoline and burning herself to death in a public square in Perigueux, Dordogne.
Modern prints of the film feature a soundtrack consisting of excerpts from Richard Wagner's Liebestod, the concert version of the finale to his opera Tristan und Isolde, and a recording of the Argentinian tango "Ole guapa". This is the same soundtrack that Buñuel chose and played live on a phonograph during the original 1929 screening in Paris. They were first added to a print of the film in 1960 under Buñuel's supervision.
In spite of varying interpretations made since the film originated, Buñuel made clear throughout his writings that, between Dalí and himself, the only rule for the writing of the script was that "no idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted." Moreover, he stated that, "Nothing, in the film, symbolizes anything. The only method of investigation of the symbols would be, perhaps, psychoanalysis."
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Film scholar Ken Dancyger has argued that Un chien andalou might be the genesis of the filmmaking style present in the modern music video. Roger Ebert has called it the inspiration for low budget independent films. Premiere ranked the opening scene as 10th out of "The 25 Most Shocking Moments in Movie History".
David Bowie had this movie opening for his 1976 World Tour for each concert rather than a warm up act. Bowie said that the movie was used in order to "set the tone for the evening."
Un chien andalou was mentioned in the book How To Become Famous and Influence People, by Adam Selzer. The movie serves as inspiration for the main character, Leon Harris.