Un Chien Andalou is a 1929 surrealist silent short film directed by the Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel and co-written by Buñuel and the Spanish painter Salvador Dalí. Despite its brevity—at its original frame rate, it runs just over sixteen minutes, and on current DVDs at twenty-four minutes—it was highly important in bringing the twentieth-century artistic movement known as surrealism, which established affinities between artistic representation and dreams, into film. The writing of the film itself supposedly began from Buñuel’s and Dali’s sharing their dreams with one another: Buñuel’s dream of an eye being sliced, and Dali’s dream of a hand crawling with ants. The film they ended up making has both of these images—as well as many others just as odd, and is structured less as a narrative than a series of images and events seemingly unconnected by any rational or narrative explanation. Indeed, while writing the film Buñuel and Dali volleyed against one another images that came to their minds, through a process of free association similar to that practiced in psychoanalysis. The only criteria was negative: if an image or event struck one of them as making too much rational sense, it would be struck down. Even the film’s title, meaning in French An Andalusian Dog, i.e. a dog from the Andalusian region of Spain, was chosen for its apparent lack of connection with anything that goes on in the film.
Despite its origin in a creative process that aimed to avoid rationality, Un Chien Andalou is not an unanalyzable film. First, the film can be examined as an important document of the surrealist movement that flourished in France between World War I and World War II. (Buñuel and Dalí made the film in France, where they spent much of their interwar careers, and where they affiliated closely with important French surrealists such as André Breton.) Second, just as with a dream, Un Chien Andalou can be analyzed for the repetitions and obsessions of its creators that it seems to betray. For example, the film shows repeated images of insects—moths and ants—a topic of particular fascination to the young Buñuel, who once studied entomology (the study of insects). Also, the film’s religious imagery—such as two Marist Brothers beings dragged across a floor—draws upon the Catholic upbringings of both Buñuel and Dalí (though the two would ultimately have very different attitudes toward religion: Buñuel remained a resolute atheist throughout his life, while Dalí later embraced Catholicism). Moreover, the film draws upon standard cinematic devices (intertitles to suggest narrative progression, as well as slow-motion and soft-focus) while disrupting our expectations about how these devices are used and what they mean. Therefore, the film can be also be analyzed in terms of its application of the traditional “grammar” of cinema. These are not the only ways of analyzing Un Chien Andalou, but they do give us some tools for unpacking this strange and powerful film.
Un Chien Andalou has had a massive impact on film, art, and culture at large. The film itself was a grand success upon its premiere at the Studio des Ursulines, where those in attendance included Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Le Corbusier, and all of the Paris Surrealists, despite Buñuel’s reportedly carrying rocks in his pockets to throw in case the film instigated a riot. Indeed, Buñuel later expressed disappointment at the film’s success, particularly its success among the Paris bourgeoisie, as he wanted the film to shock bourgeois sentiments. Though their collaboration did not last much longer (its only other result was a follow-up film, 1930’s L’Age d’Or) Un Chien Andalou catapulted Buñuel and Dalí into the front ranks of surrealist artists, where both would have distinguished (if often complicated and circuitous) careers. Though it was hardly the first experimental or avant-garde film, its shocking—but also entertaining—way of conveying meaning through seemingly unconnected images has earned it generations of admirers. For example, the film essayist Mark Rappaport has noted an affinity between the film’s ending, of the two principal characters buried in sand, and certain similarly shocking images in Sergei Eisenstein’s ¡Que Viva México! We might see the sudden appearance of a severed hand in Un Chien Andalou as anticipating the sudden appearance of a severed ear in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. The film has also had an impact on popular culture—for example, the title of Un Chien Andalou, and descriptions of some of its iconic images (such as the sliced eyeball) appear in the 1989 song “Debaser” by the rock band The Pixies.