Un Chien Andalou was the calling card of two desperate, unknown Spanish artists. It “came from an encounter between two dreams.” The script was an easy and joyful joint collaboration between Buñuel and Dali (Buñuel would continue to write scripts in collaboration for the rest of his life), and Buñuel shot the film quickly over two weeks on a small budget supplied by his mother. Dali later claimed to have had a greater involvement in the filming, but by all contemporaneous accounts this does not seem to have been the case.
The film illustrates Buñuel’s awesome ability as a fledgling filmmaker and served as a calling card for Buñuel and Dali into the elite club of the surrealists. After just over seventy years, the remarkable opening sequence still retains its power: “Once upon a time.” the introductory title proclaims. A proletarian Buñuel, feverishly puffing a cigarette, sharpens the blade of a razor. He cuts his fingernail to prove it is sharp. He exits the room for a balcony and looks at the full moon. A slither of a cloud is about to bisect the moon. Buñuel forces open wide the eye of a woman who has appeared from nowhere. The cloud cuts across the surface of the moon and the razor slices the eye apart. There is a second title, “Eight years later,” which like all of the titles in the film is paradoxical and seemingly irrelevant.This sequence still shocks and it is purported that Buñuel, although the originator of the idea and the images, was nauseated the first few times he viewed the scene. This is the most famous sequence but it is also the key to the rest of the film. As Jean Vigo so profoundly stated: “Can there be any spectacle more terrible than the sight of a cloud obscuring the moon at its full? The prologue can hardly have one indifferent. It tells us that in this film we must see with a different eye.”
It is with this different perspective that the film must be viewed. One sequence leads seductively to the succeeding one, objects from one shot reappear in the next, a process of free association occurs; the illusion of a narrative of sorts develops. Dali stated in 1928, of the film’s theme: “the pure and correct line of ‘conduct’ of a human who pursues love through wretched humanitarian, patriotic ideals and the other miserable workings of reality.” This seems to be the general perspective of most writers discussing the film. Nevertheless, Buñuel offered an alternative explanation: “Our only rule was very simple: No idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted. We had to open all doors to the irrational and keep only those images that surprised us, without trying to explain why.”