An Introduction to Surrealist Cinema – Un Certain Regard
Have you ever heard about the surrealist movement ? It influenced art, writing and also cinema from the mid-1920s when it appeared, first in Paris, and was related to the Dada movement – which, when it came to art, put into question all ideological, political and aesthetic constraints in general. Surrealist cinema sought to distance itself from Hollywood films and impressionism, which mainly focused on psychological realism and naturalism. Its main characteristics are the juxtaposition of images, quite appalling imagery and the rejection of what is known as “dramatic psychology” – yet while being very (let me emphasize that once again – VERY) weird at first. René Clair, Germaine Dulac, Man Ray, Jean Cocteau and Luis Buñuel among others were at the roots of surrealist cinema. Here is a short introduction to three films that considerably marked the movement :
Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog, 1929, Luis Buñuel & Salvador Dali): Buñuel is undoubtedly one of the most prominent figures of surrealism and for this short film (16 min long), his association with the Spanish painter Salvador Dali makes it all the more interesting. It consists in a strange association of different scenes with only a few details, a Parisian interior and a few characters – including a couple, that sort of link the clips between each other. The scenes succeed one another with various events and change in places, making the whole work very odd and peculiar, but that defines surrealism perfectly with its oneiric dimension which mixes dream and reality as is, according to writer and theoretician André Breton, a sort of “absolute reality, the surreality.”
L’Age d’Or (The Golden Age, 1930): Although directed by Buñuel alone, the screenplay of L’Age d’Or has been written by him and Salvador Dali. This one-hour comedy makes fun of the bourgeoisie and its social and sexual conventions, as well as the values of modern life and the system of the Catholic Church. It is also about a couple, torn between conventions and religious taboos. Again, the film is composed with a succession of short scenes tinged with black humour and that are blasphemous, denouncing the bourgeoisie class which has, according to the film, provoked the Great War.
Le Sang d’un Poète (The Blood of a Poet, 1930, Jean Cocteau): An avant-garde film made by the French director Jean Cocteau. It is also rather short, lasting 49 minutes, and is divided into four parts that, excuse the term, seem totally “wft” at first – like most surrealist films. A statue inviting a man to discover another world, a little boy killed in a snowball fight, a suicidal poet and a woman holding a lyre and a globe to end the film and make the viewer realize that all was just a dream don’t help to make this work the most understandable of all times, but yet again, you just have to see it to believe it, and perhaps… even enjoy it !