Watching Un Chien Andalou is like being thrown into the deep end of the pool with no swimming lessons prior. A collaboration between the then friends Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel led to this 1929 short film. This stark black and white surreal film begins with a man with a razor blade slicing the moon and then eventually slicing the eyeball of a woman (it was a sheep’s eyeball),
it gets into transvestites on bikes, black ants crawling over a white palm,
a dismembered hand with people swarming around it like ants, a graphic attempt at sexual assault warded off with a tennis racquet, a dead donkey and two dead priest piled on a piano that is being dragged across a room, and so on and so forth. The story goes that Bunuel and Dali would talk to each other about dramatic or disturbing scenes, and the scenes they both agreed on would get put into the film. Are the scenes connected in any way into a narrative? Or are they stand-alone moments? As our brains try desperately to weave the scenes into a story the film becomes more disturbing. Where is the dog, or who is the dog?
Almost 30 years later Bunuel made The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. The film seems far removed from Un Chien Andalou, as it appears to have real people and a story to tell until…… We see six people, Don Rafael Acosta (The Ambassador of the fictitious Miranda), his friend M. Thevenot, Simone Thevenot, her sister Florence, a couple M. and Mme. Senechal, constantly trying to get together for dinner but never really achieving that aim as they are interrupted by a forgotten dinner date, a death, a military manoeuvre, several surreal dreams that get more and more bizarre with the passage of time, and a final walk by the group with no destination in sight!
Bunuel displays his contempt for the bourgeoisie by showing them as men involved in affairs with their friends’ wives, drug smugglers, prone to “displays” of their knowledge about high style in drinks, food, and behavior, and to living a life of excesses. Fernando Ray as Don Acosta is sleek and verging on oily, but urbane. However, even he has nightmares of being showed down when people talk of his homeland Miranda! The bourgeoisie seem quite obsessed with such nightmares – including one where they are invites at a dinner party that is shown to be on stage to a loud and large audience when a curtain lifts. The women are no better – lushes or adulterers, or greedy and loud in expressing themselves in sexual matters. The church is not spared either by Bunuel as the bishop is one who is only known by his outer garb, and when dressed as a gardener, seems to be the gardener, and indeed weirdly prefers to be the gardener in the Seneschal household in his spare time!
As the film unfolds it gets closer and closer to Un Chien Andalou when reality turns into a dream, and that dream turns out to be a dream within a dream. The difference is that the discrete scenes in Un Chien are now larger sequences in The Discreet Charm, but any attempt to find a connection between them seems futile. The priest’s father is shot dead by the gardener who is being ill-treated, the soldier’s father is shot dead by the jealous husband, the terrorists shoot at all concerned, the Ambassador shoots the army chief who was mocking his country, and yet each and every one of these sequences is a dream, perhaps suggesting that the Bourgeoisie are more concerned with their meals and sexual intrigue and boasting and money, any real passion of the violent kind is only the stuff of dreams.
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