Un Chien Andalou" ("Andalusian Dog")
France, 1928, 17 minutes.
Producer: Luis Buñuel
Director: Luis Buñuel
Screenplay: Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali
Cinematography: Albert Duvergen
Editor: Luis Buñuel
Design: Pierre Schilzeck
At its premier in the Ursalines Theatre in 1929, Gramophone records of selections from Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" and some Argentine tangos accompanied the film. Using these same musical themes, Buñuel himself later added the soundtrack in 1960.
Pierre Batcheff, The Cyclist
Simone Mareuil, The Woman
Luis Buñuel, The Man with the Razor
Salvador Dali and Jaime Miraville, The Marist Monks
The musical score is the tango, and together with the action in the film evokes a music that won't behave, or, if it does, speaks to urges rather than to expectations. This singular rhythm--so polite it is fierce--brings to mind the Apache dances, created by the Parisian Apaches, as these ruffians were known. American audiences recognize the Parisian Apache dances from the Ed Sullivan show, where a man in a striped shirt, wearing a scarf around his neck and a beret, would alternately dance and assault his woman partner, who was dressed in a wide set of skirts and underskirts, which showed all the nuance of a shove to the floor. This is, at very least, the music and dance of obsession and impulse. And only two people at one time can dance the dance on the floor.
The opening metaphor--the cloud passing over the moon, followed by the eyeball event--signals many more metaphors to come. In the beginning, however, this particular image may be a warning to the viewer of the film: Our regular way of seeing will be assaulted. It may also be a key. If we know what the opening metaphor suggests, then we may know what all the other metaphors suggest as well. Or at least, we know that they intend to mean something. The filmmakers are instructing us in the grammar of this film.
The bicyclist in the beginning is supplanted by an afterimage. This suggests memory and obsession at work in the everyday, invoking the experience of daydreaming even while riding a bike. But in this reverie, he crashes his bike on the sidewalk and is, presumably, injured or dead as a result.
The woman assembles the clothes of the man on her bed, then concentrates. This suggests a sympathetic or conjuring magic--that is, if we want something enough, and will it to be so, something will happen.
We see a man looking at his hand, which has an ant hole with ants emerging and crawling around his palm. This imagery suggests the feeling of hand going to sleep, but presents it in terms of public, or waking world, understanding. How is a feeling explained? In this case, the film suggests that a hand fallen asleep but which now has blood returning to it feels like having ants under the skin. The film simply makes the leap from linguistics to the physical world, from words to things, from "like" to "is." This invokes the later Magritte observation, This is not a pipe, but goes farther: if we say that there are ants under our skin, then this is the fruit of that statement. There should be ants under the skin. This is honest language. Ants are ants. And, as such, I am likely to take your complaint more seriously when you say your hand feels like it has ants inside it. Or pins and needles. Or that your heart is breaking.
The people outside the window, photographed from above, mimic the look of the ants. As the film shows us, they are swarming around a severed hand. The hand fallen asleep idea is still operating, but now the ants are people.
Later we see the woman's armpit hair become a sea urchin and then the man's beard. While we might consider, given the context, that the filmmakers were suggesting intimate hair of another kind here, we see the woman having an epiphany, and perhaps the man as well. The profundity of sexuality--all the man's words speak only to the hair, are the hair--shows itself.
The man begins to assault the woman, and we see him fondling the woman's breasts. While much imagery leads us to this moment, the filmmakers boldly lead us elsewhere. The breasts, with his eyes closed, feel to the man like buttocks. We see in this moment a pragmatic, rather than romantic, statement on sexuality.
The man considers sexually assaulting the woman further. But as he walks toward her, suddenly the weight of his conscience and background all come to bear. This is one the most suggestive and complex images in the film. In walking toward her, suddenly he is carrying two monks (the Church), a piano (beauty), and a dead horse (base sensuality and desire, complicated and illuminated both by images of strength, blood, and death). In other words, he brings some baggage to the moment.
As the woman leaves, the man tries to follow, and she traps his hand in the door, signaling the return of the ants, or rather, showing that his circulation to the arm has again been cut off.
As the doorbell rings, we get another example of moving from "like" to "is." The doorbell sounds like someone shaking a martini--so that is what it becomes. This is like the hand fallen asleep.
Throughout the film, we see various devices whose job is to measure the regular world in some way thrown aside. We see a tape measure, for example, thrown out the window, and when a wrist is raised to show a watch, it is pushed down and out of the frame.
In a moment of desperation, the woman wishes she had something to defend herself, and so a gun suddenly appears. This echoes her earlier attempt at wishing for something, as she willed the man to be alive and in her bed again.
Suggesting the elements of a morality play, we see various images of crucifixion after the attempted assault. There is a Christ-like image hung on the tennis racquet, and we see the same figure suggested as the man stands as a dunce in corner.
If death can somehow be good, be redemptive, how then does this man understand it? If he has seen sexuality as good, then the equation is made in a startling leap: death is sensual. Good equals good. The man, then, dies deliciously, sensuously, with his falling hands going down a nude woman's back. And in this moment, as well, he is in another place, an anti-place: This is the forest, suddenly, not the city.
We see a close-up of a moth with a skull image in its markings, followed by a shot of the man--who also has a skull inside him, as suggested by his gaunt features. This perhaps suggests flight, or the flight into death, connecting the morbidity of the skull with the wings of the moth.
Regular or traditional measures continue to be discounted. Time and distance don't rule this world. The woman goes through her door, but instead of finding what she has always found before, this time the door leads her to the beach. And then suddenly, by an inserted information placard, it is spring, "au printemps."
Even the two people, finally, are only halfway seen at the end, stuck in the sand and unmoving as the film searches for its own final measure.
Octavio Paz, in Labyrinths of Solitude, would many years later observe that passionate love, which is after all obsession between two people, is an antisocial act. It is therefore not ours to understand, and has no single set of rules. As such, it is dangerous, not in the public interest, and for that reason a crime. This film poses the question, Can there truly be an honest film about two people in love?
The music on this website, if you are hearing any, is the tango "El Choclo," or "The Preoccupation" (Villoldo/Discépolo)