Between 1929 and 1930, Spanish director Luis Buñuel joined forces with surrealist artist Salvador Dalí to create two surreal films.
Buñuel, who created films from the 1920s through to the 1970s, often played with themes of satire and erotica while blurring the lines of fantasy and reality. As the great Ingmar Bergman said: “Buñuel nearly always made Buñuel films.”
In 1917, while he attended the University of Madrid to study philosophy, he met a young Salvador Dalí and a blossoming, creative and tense friendship was born. With jealousy and artistic competitiveness driving them forward, both Buñuel and Dalí would often bang heads on key issues such as society, politics and more. Their ever-present cause though, the formation and development of surrealist art, continued to flourish.
Below, we explore some of their earliest work in the shape of two films created in collaboration.
Un Chien Andalou, 1929
The film, financed by Buñuel’s mother, is made up of a series of remarkable images of a Freudian nature with most infamous beginning with a woman’s eyeball being sliced open with a razor blade.
“Co-written by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali, this silent film was made completely according to surrealist principles and includes some of the most searing and memorable images ever filmed,” a synopsis of the project reads.
Buñuel and Dalí set aside six days writing time at Dalí’s home in Cadaqués and created a script for their next big step. “We had to look for the plotline,” Buñuel once explained in a letter sent to a friend in 1929. “Dalí said to me, ‘I dreamed last night of ants swarming around in my hands’, and I said, ‘Good Lord, and I dreamed that I had sliced somebody or other’s eye. There’s the film, let’s go and make it.”
Buñuel later explained: “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.”
See the film, below.
L’Age d’Or, 1930
After their first effort caught the attention of the cinematic elite, Buñuel and Dalí were then approached by Marie-Laurie and Charles de Noailles—who owned a private cinema on the Place des États-Unis—to commission a new project. That project would later be known as L’Age d’Or.
Jacques Manuel, Man Ray and Pierre Chenal would end up offering financial support for its creation and, while the film represented their surrealist creative vision, it also marked a major personal battle between the two who repeatedly came to disputes of the L’Age d’Or‘s direction.
Now revered as one of the key works of surrealist cinema, the film toyed with themes of social values, the insanity of modern life and the sexuality and desires of bourgeois society.
Typically, at the time of release, Buñuel and Dali’s project caused a public uproar. Richard Pierre Bodin, a critic who reviewed the film in a 1930 edition of Le Figaro, wrote: “A film called L’Age d’or, whose non-existent artistic quality is an insult to any kind of technical standard, combines, as a public spectacle, the most obscene, disgusting and tasteless incidents. Country, family, and religion are dragged through the mud.”
See the film, below.