A man (Buñuel) takes a straight razor to a womans eye. Then, a young man (Batcheff) struggles with obsessive desires, hampered by absurd interventions from ants, an androgyne playing with a severed hand, pianos, clergymen, dead donkeys and a doppelgange
In 1929, aspiring director Luis Buñuel and painter Salvador Dali collaborated on a seventeen-minute short which would become the most important film manifestation of the surrealist movement. It is at once a parody of conventional Hollywood narrative, seeming to end with a happy couple strolling into the sunset, and an aggressive deconstruction, trumping the fade-out shot with a grotesque image of the couple transformed into grotesque human trees.
It opens with an archetypal caption, ‘once upon a time’, and a sequence which remains shocking in the 21st Century – probably more than its imitation in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters – as Buñuel himself sharpens a straight razor, tests its edge on his thumbnail, holds open a woman’s eye and, in unflinching close-up, sinks the blade into an eyeball. It’s an editing trick, using an animated shot of clouds slashing across the moon and an insert of a dead calf’s aqueous humour being sliced, but it’s still a seminal moment of film splatter.
Buñuel and Dali claimed that they arrived at the scenario, which of course features no dog, by drawing on their dreams and impulses, then throwing out anything which might be interpreted as having a meaning. This has not prevented generations of audiences and critics from interpreting it as the story of a man struggling with sexual desire and frustration, with his own psychological hang-ups and the forces of society (cops, priests) getting in the way.
Buenel and Dali's short masterpiece is a must-see.