With their short film, “Un Chien Andalou,” Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali create a mesmerizing litmus test for viewers. In it, they force the audience to disengage every intellectual notion we have of watching cinema, and accept what they show us on its own terms. The great surrealist of the cinema, Bunuel would spend many of the next 50 years integrating dreams and fantasy into his stories in a way that continues to inspire filmmakers. With his first film, however, Bunuel challenges us as never before with a series of images and events that FEEL connected, but in fact, were never intended to be so by the director.
However, what if Bunuel meant for us to try and connect them anyway? I mean, I’m not as familiar with his movies as I should, but based on the ones I’ve seen (“Belle de Jour,” “That Obscure Object of Desire”), Bunuel was nothing if not playful, and while I don’t doubt that he and Dali’s primary focus was to shock his audience, the inclusion of title cards stating “Eight Years Later” and “Sixteen Years Before” go against the notion that these images are NOT connected. The use of conventional editing techniques as a young woman looks out a window while a man rides his bike down the street implies that indeed, the woman is WATCHING the biker. The fact that the woman, who has rebuffed a man’s sexual advances, is still in the room as the man tries to pull pianos (which have priests and dead donkeys in them) across the room, helps one make the case that indeed, one action has to do with another. Of course, the first thing we see in the film is the famous image of a man slicing a woman’s eyeball with a knife; what does THAT have to do with the events that, the movie tells us, take place eight years later?
My guess? They have nothing to do with one another. As with the man who takes off in a balloon at the beginning of Tarkovsky’s “Andrei Rublev,” their connection is not a matter of one leading directly to another, but rather, one setting the stage, symbolically, for what is to come later. I’ve watched “Un Chien Andalou” a few times now, and I do, truly believe that Bunuel is putting forth a narrative about the two people performing most of the actions in the film past the hair-raising, and eye-slicing, opening. Still, Bunuel did take profound pleasure in screwing with people in his movies; it was one of his gifts. Whatever his and Dali’s intentions, though, there’s no denying that they creating one Hell of a film, whatever they set out to do with it.