Surrealist Cinema: the Unconscious in Films

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Table of Contents

Where was surrealism born?


Surrealism was also an avant-garde movement for the development of the history of films. Like the cinema of the Lumiere brothers and most of the avant-gardes of the twentieth century was born in Paris. As the New York of the new world developed like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis spaceship chasing the economic success of the American Dream, Paris, the city of lights, continued to be the world capital of art and the avant-garde movements that changed the history of the 20th century. The city of lights was the meeting place for surrealist artists identified to change the state of things, fighting against tradition and dominant thought. Crazy and visionary men looking to carry out radical cultural projects and battles. Surrealist art was one of their most powerful weapons.

André Breton and the Legacy of Dadaism

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The poet André Breton who sought to channel the creative but destructive energy of Dadaism was the main theorist and inspirer of surrealism. The Dadaist rebellion and transgression had become over time an end in itself and self-destructive. André Breton and the first exponents of surrealism understood that it was possible to take the best of it and channel it into a creative and positive energy. Surrealist art had to be something constructive and the surrealist artists did not want to give in to nihilism and rebellion as an end in itself.

The Unconscious and the Depths of the Psyche

Surrealism was born in Paris in 1924, inspired by the books of Jung and Freud, such as The Interpretation of Dreams. His goal was to explore the unconscious and the depths of the human psyche. Abandoning rational forms of narration to descend into the irrationality and madness of the psyche. Surrealism and surrealist art uses the mysterious symbols and figures of the world of dreams, with their violent and inexplicable conflicts. Surrealist artists love monstrous and grotesque apparitions, nonsense, mysterious links of meaning between the objects of the narrative.

Automatic Writing and Free Association

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The main technique of surrealism is automatic writing and uncontrolled psychic automatism mechanisms. The surrealist works show the free associations of irrational thought of the unconscious, of the imagination in a sub-conscious state, apparently disconnected projects, figures and symbols. Surrealism rejects logical rationality to explore the mysterious connections of the dream world.

In some encounters, for example, the surrealist artists played a game. It started with a word or an image written on a sheet of paper that circulated among all the participants, without anyone being able to see what changes and additions the other made to the sheet. Each one added an image or a word according to their own association of ideas. The game often evolved in unpredictable ways, producing seemingly meaningless designs. For example, once upon a time, from the initial concept invented by one of the players of “corpse” followed that of exquisite, wine, drink. The following sentence came out, with a singular emotional suggestion: the exquisite corpse will drink good wine.

The works of the Surrealist artists revolved around the three fundamentals: love as the driving force of life, the dream as the liberation of the imagination and its power. The liberation of social conventions as an act of rebellion against social homologation. The third was the lifelong cinematic obsession of the greatest surrealist director, Spaniard Luis Bunuel.

Surrealism is the most widespread and most successful avant-garde art movement ever. Born in a period where the avant-garde movements followed one after the other with a short life. The surrealist artists have instead spread all over the world and are still many today, disciples of a vision of the world that will probably last a very long time.

It could be said, in a certain sense, that the seeds that gave birth to surrealism have existed for centuries. The reason for the success of surrealism is perhaps that the exploration of the unconscious and the unknown territories of the human psyche is always connected to the creative mechanisms of art and, more generally, to the growth of awareness of one’s inner world.

Surrealist Artists

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In addition to his spiritual guide, the poet André Breton, well-known exponents of surrealism were the painters Jean Mirò, René Magritte, Salvador Dalì, Max Ernst, and poets and writers such as Guillaume Apollinaire, Louis Aragon, Antonin Artaud, Tristan Tzara. Some of them came from Dadaism. Some surrealists later married the anarchist and communist current. Others, such as Luis Bunuel, considered the Marquis de Sade a precursor and inspirer of the movement. In fact, Bunuel’s surrealist works are imbued with erotic perversions and sadomasochistic impulses.

Surrealist Cinema

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In cinema we can mention three great surrealist directors, even if the real list, also counting the contaminations between reality and fantasy that occur in many films, would be gigantic. Luis Bunuel, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Federico Fellini. The purest and most militant surrealist director of the three, who personally attended the surrealist artists of Paris, is Luis Bunuel, who, together with his friend Salvador Dalì, initiated the path of the movement in cinema. Most of his filmography is composed of surrealist works. Surrealist movies inspired by movement cross the entire history of cinema, cinema is the art that works best to tell the irrational and the unconscious.

surrealist-films

It could be said that surrealist movies is the apex of the evolution of Méliès’ fantastic cinema, as opposed to the realistic and “documentary” path of the Lumière brothers. Cinema and surrealism seem to have been born for each other. The list of surrealist films and their makers is very long, but most of them are only partially affected. We could mention for example David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Abel Ferrara, Tinto Brass, Alfred Hitchcock, but they are actually very many. The only 100% surrealist director recognized by film theorists is Luis Bunuel.

Surrealism continues to constantly inspire works even today and we find it in many modern works of art, in many films of the 2000s. But the official end indicated by historians and critics of the movement is the end of the world war. And subsequently the death of his spiritual leader, André Breton.

Surrealist Films to Watch Absolutely

Entr’acte (1924)

“Entr’acte” is a short avant-garde film directed by René Clair, a French filmmaker, in 1924. The film is known for its experimental and surrealistic style, which was influenced by the Dadaist and Surrealist movements of the time.

“Entr’acte” was originally created as an intermission film to be shown during a ballet performance by the Ballets Suédois at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. The film features a series of bizarre and disconnected scenes, including shots of a hearse pulled by a camel, a chess match played on a rooftop, and various stunts and visual gags.

The film is notable for its use of slow-motion and reverse-motion effects, which were groundbreaking techniques in cinema at the time. The music for “Entr’acte” was composed by Erik Satie, a prominent composer associated with the avant-garde art scene in Paris.

“Entr’acte” is considered a classic of early experimental cinema and is often studied for its contributions to the development of surrealism in film. It remains an influential work in the history of cinema and is celebrated for its innovative and unconventional approach to filmmaking.

Anémic Cinéma (1926)

“Anémic Cinéma” is an experimental short film directed by Marcel Duchamp, a renowned French artist associated with the Dadaist movement. The film was created in 1926 and is known for its highly abstract and conceptual nature.

The title itself, “Anémic Cinéma,” is a play on words that plays with the concept of anemia but doesn’t have any direct connection to the medical condition of anemia. The film is more of a moving visual artwork than a traditional narrative.

The film consists of a series of 700 frames, each of which contains a moving spiral and a series of visual and verbal wordplay. Duchamp uses visual art and words to create a surreal and conceptual experience, challenging traditional expectations of cinema.

“Anémic Cinéma” is considered an important example of avant-garde and Dadaist cinema and is known for its formal and conceptual experimentation. The film reflects Duchamp’s interest in conceptual art and the use of cinema as a medium to explore new visual and conceptual ideas. It is a work that challenges the viewer to think unconventionally and to explore the medium of film in an innovative way.

Emak-Bakia (1926) 

“Emak-Bakia” is another avant-garde short film directed by the French filmmaker Man Ray in 1926. The title “Emak-Bakia” is a Basque phrase that roughly translates to “Leave me alone” or “Stop bothering me,” which adds an element of mystery and ambiguity to the film.

The film is a notable example of Dadaist and Surrealist cinema, known for its dreamlike and abstract qualities. It features a series of surreal and disjointed scenes, often with experimental camera techniques and editing. Man Ray employed various visual effects and techniques, including double exposures, superimpositions, and rapid editing, to create a dreamy and disorienting atmosphere.

“Emak-Bakia” is considered one of Man Ray’s most significant cinematic works, and it exemplifies the Surrealist fascination with the subconscious mind and dream imagery. The film is also notable for its use of innovative visual and cinematic techniques, which were groundbreaking for the time.

Like many avant-garde films of its era, “Emak-Bakia” challenges traditional narrative structures and invites viewers to interpret its abstract and symbolic content in their own way. It remains an important and influential work in the history of experimental cinema and Surrealism.

La Coquille et le Clergyman (1928)

“La Coquille et le Clergyman” is a pioneering avant-garde film directed by Germaine Dulac, a French filmmaker, in 1928. It is considered one of the earliest Surrealist films and is often associated with Surrealist poet and writer Antonin Artaud, who wrote the screenplay.

The film is notable for its dreamlike and symbolic imagery, as well as its experimental narrative structure. “La Coquille et le Clergyman” explores the inner thoughts and desires of a clergyman who becomes obsessed with a woman’s beauty and is tormented by his repressed desires. The film uses surreal and abstract visuals to convey the clergyman’s psychological turmoil, and it blurs the lines between reality and the subconscious.

“La Coquille et le Clergyman” is significant not only for its Surrealist themes but also for its innovative cinematography and editing techniques. It was one of the first films to use dreamlike and symbolic imagery to tell a story, and it had a significant influence on the development of Surrealist cinema.

The film is celebrated for its pioneering approach to storytelling and its ability to create a hypnotic and dreamlike atmosphere. It remains an important work in the history of avant-garde and Surrealist cinema and is considered a classic of early experimental filmmaking.

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

“Un Chien Andalou” is a famous and influential Surrealist short film directed by Luis Buñuel and co-written with Salvador Dalí. It was released in 1929 and is considered one of the most iconic works of Surrealist cinema.

The title “Un Chien Andalou” translates to “An Andalusian Dog” in English, although it doesn’t have a literal narrative connection to a dog. The film is known for its dreamlike, non-linear structure and its shocking and surreal imagery.

“Un Chien Andalou” consists of a series of loosely connected, often bizarre and disturbing vignettes. It opens with a famous scene in which a man (played by Buñuel himself) sharpens a straight razor and then slices a woman’s eyeball open. This striking and unsettling image is often considered one of the most iconic moments in the history of cinema.

The film continues with a series of surreal and seemingly unrelated scenes, and it does not follow a traditional narrative structure. Instead, it explores themes of desire, sexuality, and the irrational through a series of striking and symbolic visuals.

“Un Chien Andalou” is celebrated for its ability to evoke strong emotional and psychological responses from viewers. It is often analyzed for its use of dream logic and its exploration of the subconscious mind. The film has had a profound influence on Surrealist and experimental cinema and remains an enduring classic in the history of film art.

L’Age d’Or (1930)

“L’Âge d’Or” (“The Golden Age”) is another influential Surrealist film directed by Luis Buñuel, released in 1930. Like “Un Chien Andalou,” this film was co-written with Salvador Dalí and is known for its provocative and surreal content.

“L’Âge d’Or” is a scathing and satirical critique of bourgeois society and its conventions. It uses surreal and absurd situations to challenge societal norms and expose the hypocrisy of contemporary mores. The film is notorious for its controversial and shocking scenes, which include sexual and blasphemous imagery, designed to provoke and challenge the sensibilities of its time.

The film’s narrative is fragmented and disjointed, much like a dream or a stream of consciousness. It tells the story of a couple in love who face various obstacles and societal pressures that prevent them from consummating their relationship. Throughout the film, there are abrupt and surreal shifts in tone and subject matter.

“L’Âge d’Or” was met with outrage and controversy upon its release, and its initial screening in Paris in 1930 led to riots and disruptions by conservative and religious groups. As a result, the film was banned in several countries and was not widely screened for many years.

Despite the controversy and initial backlash, “L’Âge d’Or” is now considered a classic of Surrealist cinema. It remains an important work for its bold and uncompromising exploration of societal taboos and its challenging of conventional narrative and visual storytelling.

Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

“Meshes of the Afternoon” is a short experimental film directed by Maya Deren, an influential American filmmaker, and artist. The film was made in 1943 and is often cited as a classic of avant-garde cinema.

The film is known for its dreamlike and surreal narrative, as well as its innovative use of cinematic techniques. “Meshes of the Afternoon” explores themes of identity, perception, and the unconscious mind. It tells the story of a woman (played by Maya Deren herself) who is trapped in a cyclical and surreal series of events within her own home. The film blurs the lines between reality and dream, creating a sense of disorientation and ambiguity.

One of the notable features of the film is its use of repetition and symbolism. Various objects and actions are repeated throughout the film, creating a sense of déjà vu and suggesting that the protagonist is caught in a loop of recurring experiences.

“Meshes of the Afternoon” is celebrated for its visual poetry and its ability to convey complex emotions and ideas through its abstract and symbolic imagery. It has had a significant influence on the development of experimental and feminist cinema and is considered a landmark work in the history of avant-garde filmmaking. Maya Deren’s contributions to the world of experimental cinema continue to be highly regarded, and “Meshes of the Afternoon” remains one of her most enduring and celebrated works.

Beauty and the Beast (1946)

“Beauty and the Beast” is a famous French film directed by filmmaker Jean Cocteau in 1946. It is considered one of the most iconic and beloved cinematic adaptations of the “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale.

The story of the film is an adaptation of the traditional fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, focusing on the relationship between Belle, a young and intelligent woman, and a monstrous Beast who is, in reality, a prince under the spell of a curse. The plot follows Belle’s journey as she looks beyond outward appearances to discover the Beast’s inner beauty, ultimately leading to his transformation back into a prince.

“Beauty and the Beast” is renowned for its extraordinary set design and special effects, which were considered advanced for its time. Jean Cocteau created a magical and fairytale-like world that helped define the visual imagination of the “Beauty and the Beast” story. The film is an example of poetic and surreal cinema, blending fantastical elements with a distinctive artistic sensibility.

The film is still considered a classic of French cinema and one of the most beloved versions of the “Beauty and the Beast” tale. It is appreciated for its visual beauty and artistic approach to the fairy tale narrative, as well as for how it explores themes of inner beauty and genuine love.

Nazarín (1959)

“Nazarín” is a 1959 Mexican film directed by the renowned Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel. The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Benito Pérez Galdós and is notable for its exploration of religious and moral themes.

The story revolves around the character of Father Nazario, played by Francisco Rabal, a humble and devout Catholic priest who seeks to live his life in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ. However, his unwavering commitment to helping the poor and downtrodden often leads to conflict with the church hierarchy and societal norms.

“Nazarín” is a critical examination of the contradictions and hypocrisies within the church and society. Father Nazario’s attempts to live a life of pure Christian virtue are met with skepticism, rejection, and betrayal by those around him. The film raises questions about the true nature of Christian charity and the challenges of living a life of uncompromising moral principles in a world filled with corruption and cynicism.

Luis Buñuel, known for his surreal and subversive filmmaking, took a more straightforward and realistic approach in “Nazarín.” However, his signature style is still evident in the way he explores the complexities of human nature and the clash between religious ideals and earthly desires.

“Nazarín” is considered one of Buñuel’s masterpieces and is praised for its thought-provoking examination of faith, morality, and societal norms. It is a powerful and contemplative film that continues to be studied and appreciated for its exploration of these enduring themes.

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

“Last Year at Marienbad” (French: “L’Année dernière à Marienbad”) is a highly influential French film directed by Alain Resnais and released in 1961. The film is celebrated for its avant-garde and enigmatic narrative, as well as its innovative visual and storytelling techniques.

The story of the film is deliberately elusive and open to interpretation. It revolves around a man (played by Giorgio Albertazzi) who meets a woman (played by Delphine Seyrig) at a luxurious European hotel. The man insists that they had met the previous year at the same place and that they had planned to run away together. However, the woman does not remember this encounter, and the narrative becomes a complex interplay of memory, time, and reality.

“Last Year at Marienbad” is known for its intricate and non-linear narrative structure, with scenes and dialogue often repeated or reconfigured. The film blurs the boundaries between past and present, memory and fantasy, and reality and dream, creating a sense of disorientation and mystery.

The film’s striking visual style, characterized by its elegant black-and-white cinematography and the use of long tracking shots, contributes to its hypnotic and dreamlike atmosphere. The hotel setting is visually opulent and labyrinthine, adding to the sense of ambiguity and uncertainty.

“Last Year at Marienbad” is considered a masterpiece of French cinema and a seminal work of the French New Wave movement. It challenges conventional storytelling and invites viewers to engage actively with its narrative, making it a film that continues to be analyzed and discussed for its complex themes and innovative approach to cinema.

The Exterminating Angel (1962)

“The Exterminating Angel” is a film directed by the Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel and released in 1962. It is known for being one of Buñuel’s most emblematic and provocative works, as he often explored surreal and critical themes in his films.

The plot of “The Exterminating Angel” is set in a luxurious mansion during an elegant dinner party. After the meal, the guests discover that, for some mysterious and inexplicable reason, they cannot leave the house. This situation continues for days, and the civility and decorum of the characters begin to crumble, leading to a chaotic and disintegrating environment.

The film is a satirical critique of bourgeois society and social conventions. It serves as an allegory for the conformity and hypocrisy of the privileged social class. The house becomes a metaphorical prison, and the situation exposes human weaknesses, pettiness, and collective madness among the characters.

“The Exterminating Angel” is one of Buñuel’s most discussed and enigmatic films. As is often the case in the director’s works, the plot is rich in symbolism and open to various interpretations. The film is celebrated for its ability to unsettle viewers and provoke intense reactions.

In the realm of surreal and avant-garde cinema, “The Exterminating Angel” is a seminal work and remains one of the most iconic and thought-provoking films in Luis Buñuel’s career.

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Juliet of the Spirits (1965) 

“Juliet of the Spirits” is an Italian film directed by Federico Fellini and released in 1965. The film is notable for being Fellini’s first feature-length color film and is known for its dreamlike and surreal qualities.

The film follows the story of Giulietta, played by Giulietta Masina, a middle-aged woman who is experiencing a personal crisis in her marriage. She begins to suspect that her husband is unfaithful to her and seeks solace and answers through her encounters with a variety of eccentric and mystical characters.

“Juliet of the Spirits” is often described as a journey into the inner world of the protagonist, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. The film is rich in symbolism and features dream sequences, hallucinations, and colorful and extravagant visuals that reflect Giulietta’s inner turmoil and desires.

Fellini’s film explores themes of female empowerment, sexuality, and the search for personal identity. It’s a departure from his earlier neorealistic works and represents a transition into a more surreal and fantastical style of filmmaking.

The film is celebrated for its visual inventiveness and the performance of Giulietta Masina in the title role. It’s considered a significant work in Fellini’s filmography and in the history of Italian cinema. “Juliet of the Spirits” is appreciated for its unique and imaginative storytelling, making it a classic of European cinema.

Simon of the Desert (1965)

“Simon of the Desert” is a Mexican film directed by the Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel, released in 1965. The film is a surreal and satirical exploration of religious themes and human nature.

The story centers around Simón, played by Claudio Brook, a devout ascetic who lives on top of a tall pillar in the desert, seeking spiritual enlightenment and closeness to God. He is visited by various characters, including the Devil, who tempts him with earthly desires and questions the authenticity of his piety.

“Simon of the Desert” is known for its provocative and subversive take on religious devotion and the concept of asceticism. Buñuel uses the character of Simón to challenge conventional religious notions and to explore the human tendency toward sin and temptation, even in the most devout individuals.

The film is characterized by Buñuel’s trademark surreal and absurd humor, as well as his sharp critique of organized religion. It is a relatively short film, but it packs a powerful punch in its exploration of faith, doubt, and the complexities of human spirituality.

“Simon of the Desert” is considered one of Buñuel’s important works and is appreciated for its artistic and intellectual engagement with religious themes. It is a thought-provoking and visually striking film that continues to be studied and discussed in the context of surrealist and avant-garde cinema.

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Weekend (1967)

“Weekend” is a 1967 French film directed by Jean-Luc Godard. It is known for its experimental and provocative style, as well as its scathing social and political commentary. The film is often associated with the French New Wave movement and is considered one of Godard’s most audacious works.

The story follows a bourgeois married couple, Roland and Corinne, who set out on a weekend trip to visit the wife’s father and collect an inheritance. As they embark on their journey, they encounter a series of bizarre and surreal situations, including traffic jams, car accidents, and encounters with various eccentric characters.

“Weekend” is notorious for its extended tracking shot of a massive traffic jam, which is one of the film’s most iconic and memorable sequences. The film also features scenes of graphic violence and dark humor.

Beyond its unconventional narrative and visuals, “Weekend” is a biting critique of consumerism, materialism, and the decadence of Western society. It explores themes of greed, exploitation, and the breakdown of social order. Godard uses the chaos and violence depicted in the film as a metaphor for the societal upheaval of the 1960s.

“Weekend” is considered a landmark in the history of cinema for its groundbreaking approach to filmmaking. It challenges traditional storytelling and narrative structure and is celebrated for its thought-provoking and subversive content. While it may be challenging and polarizing for some viewers, it remains a significant work of art in the world of cinema.

Fando y Lis (1968)

“Fando y Lis” is a 1968 Mexican film directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky. It is based on a play by Fernando Arrabal and marks Jodorowsky’s directorial debut. The film is known for its surreal and provocative content and is considered an early example of avant-garde cinema.

The story follows Fando, played by Sergio Kleiner, and his paralyzed girlfriend, Lis, played by Diana Mariscal, as they embark on a surreal and nightmarish journey through a post-apocalyptic landscape in search of the mythical city of Tar. Along the way, they encounter a series of bizarre and grotesque characters and situations.

“Fando y Lis” is characterized by its dreamlike and hallucinatory imagery, as well as its use of religious and sexual symbolism. The film is known for pushing the boundaries of conventional storytelling and for its provocative and controversial content, which includes explicit scenes and depictions of violence.

Upon its release, “Fando y Lis” generated considerable controversy and was banned in several countries. It was also a subject of debate within the avant-garde and countercultural movements of the 1960s.

The film is often regarded as a cult classic and is appreciated for its bold and unconventional approach to filmmaking. It remains an important work in the history of experimental cinema and has influenced subsequent generations of filmmakers who explore surreal and provocative themes in their work.

The Milky Way (1969)

“The Milky Way” is a 1969 film directed by Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel. The film is known for its surreal and provocative nature and critically and provocatively addresses religious themes.

The film’s plot follows two vagabonds, played by Paul Frankeur and Laurent Terzieff, who embark on a journey on foot across France. Along their journey, they encounter a series of characters and engage in theological and religious discussions. As they progress, the vagabonds’ journey takes on surreal and metaphysical episodes, where they encounter representations of various religious heresies and historical inconsistencies.

“The Milky Way” is known for its provocative style and non-linear narrative. The film critically addresses religious themes and focuses on theological debates, doctrinal contradictions, and the diversity of religious beliefs. Buñuel uses the journey of the protagonists as a kind of exploration of religious incredulity and the search for truth.

The film is imbued with Buñuel’s typical surreal spirit and features elements of black humor and satire. It is considered an emblematic work of surreal cinema and represents one of the most audacious and provocative interpretations of religious issues on the big screen.

“The Milky Way” is a thought-provoking film that raises questions about faith, religion, and spirituality. It is appreciated by fans of experimental and surreal cinema and remains an important work in Luis Buñuel’s filmography.

Satyricon (1969)


“Satyricon” is a 1969 Italian film directed by Federico Fellini. It is loosely based on the work “Satyricon” by the ancient Roman author Petronius, which is one of the earliest surviving works of fiction in Western literature. Fellini’s film adaptation is known for its surreal and extravagant visuals, as well as its exploration of themes related to decadence and debauchery in ancient Rome.

The film does not follow a traditional narrative structure but rather presents a series of loosely connected episodes and vignettes that depict the adventures and misadventures of Encolpio and Ascilto, two friends in ancient Rome. Their journey takes them through a bizarre and decadent world filled with eccentric characters, erotic encounters, and surreal landscapes.

Fellini’s “Satyricon” is celebrated for its extravagant set designs, colorful costumes, and dreamlike sequences. It captures the decadence and moral decay of ancient Roman society while also serving as a commentary on contemporary issues and the decline of Western civilization.

The film’s non-linear and fragmented narrative, along with its visual and thematic richness, has made it a subject of critical analysis and interpretation. It is considered one of Federico Fellini’s most visually stunning and audacious works, showcasing his unique approach to filmmaking.

“Satyricon” remains a notable and influential film in the realm of art cinema, known for its artistic experimentation and its exploration of the boundaries of traditional storytelling and filmmaking.

The Cremator (1969)

“The Cremator” (Czech: “Spalovač mrtvol”) is a 1969 Czechoslovakian film directed by Juraj Herz. This film is a dark and disturbing work that falls within the horror and psychological thriller genres. It’s based on a novel by Ladislav Fuks.

The story is set in Prague during the 1930s and follows the life of Karl Kopfrkingl, played by Rudolf Hrušínský. Karl is a seemingly mild-mannered and highly efficient cremator working at a crematorium. However, as he becomes more obsessed with his work and influenced by Nazi ideology, he begins to believe that cremating people liberates their souls and that he has a divine mission to “save” as many souls as possible by cremating the living.

“The Cremator” delves into themes of delusion, fanaticism, and the dehumanizing effects of totalitarianism. The film is known for its unsettling atmosphere, surreal visuals, and the gradual descent of the protagonist into madness.

Juraj Herz’s direction and Hrušínský’s performance are highly praised for creating a chilling and thought-provoking cinematic experience. “The Cremator” is often regarded as a masterpiece of Czech cinema and remains a powerful and disturbing exploration of the human psyche under extreme circumstances. It’s considered a classic of Eastern European cinema and continues to be studied for its complex themes and visual storytelling.

El Topo (1970)


“El Topo” is a 1970 Mexican western film directed by and starring Alejandro Jodorowsky. The film is known for its surreal and avant-garde style and is often categorized as a cult classic. “El Topo” was a groundbreaking work that had a significant impact on the world of cinema.

The film’s story follows El Topo, a gunslinger played by Jodorowsky, as he embarks on a quest for enlightenment. The narrative blends elements of the Western genre with surreal and allegorical themes. El Topo’s journey takes him through a series of bizarre and symbolic encounters, each challenging his perceptions and beliefs.

“El Topo” is characterized by its unique and visually stunning cinematography, its religious and philosophical symbolism, and its exploration of sexuality and violence. The film was influential in introducing the concept of the midnight movie and became a cult sensation, especially among countercultural and underground cinema audiences.

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unconventional and provocative approach to storytelling in “El Topo” made it a landmark in the realm of avant-garde and experimental cinema. The film’s non-linear narrative and surreal imagery challenge traditional cinematic conventions and continue to inspire filmmakers and artists to this day.

“El Topo” is often seen as a pioneering work of the midnight movie phenomenon, which led to the rise of unconventional and experimental films as late-night cult attractions. It remains a significant and enduring work in the history of cinema.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” is a 1972 French film directed by Luis Buñuel. The film is a surreal and satirical comedy that explores the absurdities and hypocrisies of upper-middle-class society.

The film’s narrative is structured in a series of vignettes, and it revolves around a group of six upper-middle-class individuals who repeatedly attempt to have a meal together but are constantly interrupted by strange and surreal events. These disruptions range from bizarre dreams to political revolutions, and they highlight the characters’ inability to fulfill their basic desires.

Buñuel uses the film’s absurd and dreamlike situations to critique the bourgeoisie’s complacency and detachment from the realities of the world. The characters are portrayed as self-absorbed and oblivious to the suffering and turmoil outside their social bubble.

“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” is known for its sharp wit, clever humor, and subversive commentary on social class and bourgeois values. It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1973 and is considered one of Buñuel’s masterpieces.

The film is a classic of surrealist cinema and remains highly regarded for its thought-provoking and humorous examination of societal conventions and human behavior. It’s a testament to Buñuel’s ability to use surrealism to critique and satirize the world around him.

Roma (1972)

“Roma” is a 1972 Italian film directed by Federico Fellini. The film is a semi-autobiographical work that presents a poetic and impressionistic portrait of Rome, as well as some of Fellini’s own memories and experiences.

The film is not structured in a traditional narrative format but instead offers a series of vignettes and episodes that capture various aspects of life in Rome. It blends realism with surrealism, as Fellini explores both the historical and contemporary aspects of the city. The film touches on themes of memory, time, and the passage of history.

“Roma” is known for its visual richness and its evocative depiction of the city. It features elaborate and dreamlike sequences, including a memorable traffic jam scene, as well as moments of humor, nostalgia, and reflection.

Fellini’s use of Rome as both a backdrop and a character in the film allows him to explore his own personal connections to the city while also delving into broader themes of Italian culture and society. “Roma” is considered one of Fellini’s more personal and introspective works, and it showcases his distinctive style as a filmmaker.

The film is celebrated for its cinematography, art direction, and Fellini’s unique approach to storytelling. “Roma” remains a significant work in the director’s filmography and continues to be appreciated for its artistic and poetic exploration of the eternal city.

Pink Flamingos (1972)

“Pink Flamingos” is a 1972 American underground film directed by John Waters. This cult film is known for its provocative and transgressive content, pushing the boundaries of taste and acceptability. “Pink Flamingos” is often associated with the Midnight Movie phenomenon and the rise of independent, subversive cinema.

The film centers on the character Divine, played by the iconic drag queen Divine (Harris Glenn Milstead), who lives in a trailer with her family and competes for the title of “the filthiest person alive” against other contenders. The film is filled with explicit and shocking scenes, including scenes of nudity, violence, and various acts of deviance.

John Waters used “Pink Flamingos” as a means to challenge societal norms and conventions, particularly in the realms of sexuality and gender identity. The film is a celebration of the grotesque and a rejection of mainstream values.

Despite its notoriety and controversial content, “Pink Flamingos” has had a lasting impact on underground and independent cinema. It remains a significant work in the history of transgressive cinema and is considered a landmark in the subversion of cultural norms.

Please note that “Pink Flamingos” is an extremely explicit and provocative film and may not be suitable for all audiences. Viewer discretion is advised.

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

“The Spirit of the Beehive” is a 1973 Spanish film directed by Víctor Erice. The film is considered a masterpiece of Spanish cinema and one of the finest examples of auteur cinema.

The story is set in rural Spain in 1940, just after the end of the Spanish Civil War. The film follows the life of a young girl named Ana, played by Ana Torrent, who becomes fascinated by James Whale’s 1931 film “Frankenstein.” After watching the film at a small village cinema, Ana develops an obsession with the Frankenstein creature.

“The Spirit of the Beehive” is known for its melancholic atmosphere and contemplative pace. The film explores themes of isolation, loneliness, and disillusionment through the eyes of a child. It is also a highly symbolic work, with the Frankenstein monster representing the fear and alienation that pervade post-war Spanish society.

The film is renowned for its stunning cinematography and its ability to capture the beauty and desolation of the Spanish countryside. It has been praised for the performances of its actors, particularly the young Ana Torrent.

“The Spirit of the Beehive” is a deeply poetic and reflective film that has earned a place of honor in Spanish cinema. It is considered a work of art in cinema and continues to be studied and appreciated for its visual beauty and its profound exploration of inner conflicts in individuals.

The Holy Mountain (1973)

“The Holy Mountain” is a 1973 Mexican-American avant-garde film directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky. This surreal and visually stunning film is known for its psychedelic and metaphysical themes and has gained a cult following over the years.

The film’s plot is highly symbolic and non-linear, making it open to various interpretations. It follows a character known as The Thief, played by Jodorowsky himself, who embarks on a surreal and spiritual journey. Along the way, he encounters a group of individuals, each representing one of the planets of the solar system. Together, they set out to find the Holy Mountain, where they believe they will find the secret to immortality.

“The Holy Mountain” is characterized by its surreal and often shocking imagery, as well as its commentary on consumerism, religion, and the search for enlightenment. Jodorowsky uses the film to challenge societal norms and conventional thinking, inviting viewers to question the nature of reality and the human condition.

The film’s production design and visual effects are highly innovative and have been praised for their creativity and artistry. “The Holy Mountain” is often seen as a quintessential work of the 1970s counterculture and is celebrated for its mind-bending and thought-provoking qualities.

While “The Holy Mountain” may not be for everyone due to its surreal and experimental nature, it remains a significant and influential work in the world of avant-garde cinema, revered for its bold artistic vision and philosophical depth.

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The Phantom of Liberty (1974)

“The Phantom of Liberty” is a 1974 French film directed by Luis Buñuel. The film is a surrealist and satirical exploration of various absurd and unconventional scenarios that challenge conventional social norms and expectations.

The film is structured as a series of loosely interconnected vignettes, each presenting bizarre and disruptive situations. These scenarios include a dinner party where the guests sit on toilets instead of chairs, a group of monks who engage in strange behavior, and a police investigation that unfolds in reverse chronological order.

“The Phantom of Liberty” is known for its absurdist humor, dreamlike logic, and its ability to subvert traditional narrative structures. Buñuel uses these disjointed scenes to critique and lampoon various aspects of society, including religion, the legal system, and bourgeois norms.

As with many of Buñuel’s works, “The Phantom of Liberty” invites viewers to question the conventions and hypocrisies of everyday life. It is a film that encourages interpretation and reflection, with its surreal and fragmented storytelling challenging the viewer’s expectations and prompting them to consider the absurdities of human existence.

“The Phantom of Liberty” is a classic example of surrealist cinema and is celebrated for its intellectual and artistic exploration of unconventional storytelling. It continues to be studied and appreciated for its thought-provoking and subversive qualities.

That Obscure Object of Desire (1977)


“That Obscure Object of Desire” is a 1977 French-Spanish film directed by Luis Buñuel. The film is a surreal and provocative exploration of desire, obsession, and the complexities of human relationships.

The narrative of the film revolves around the character Mathieu, a wealthy and older Frenchman, played by Fernando Rey, who becomes infatuated with a young Spanish woman named Conchita. Conchita is portrayed by two different actresses, Carole Bouquet and Ángela Molina, who interchangeably play the role throughout the film. This duality adds to the film’s sense of ambiguity and surrealism.

Mathieu’s pursuit of Conchita is marked by his obsessive desire for her, and their relationship is characterized by a series of strange and enigmatic encounters. Conchita continually eludes Mathieu’s advances, creating a dynamic of desire and frustration.

Buñuel uses “That Obscure Object of Desire” to delve into the complexities of human desire, the power struggle between the sexes, and the irrationality of love. The film is filled with surreal and dreamlike sequences that challenge conventional storytelling and invite viewers to question the nature of desire and obsession.

As with many of Buñuel’s films, “That Obscure Object of Desire” is characterized by its sharp wit and subversive commentary on societal norms and sexual politics. It’s a thought-provoking and enigmatic work that encourages interpretation and reflection on the mysteries of human desire.

The film is often regarded as one of Buñuel’s late masterpieces and remains a significant contribution to the surrealist and avant-garde traditions of cinema.

Eraserhead (1977)

“Eraserhead” is a 1977 American surrealist body horror film directed by David Lynch. This cult classic is Lynch’s first feature-length film and is known for its unsettling and dreamlike atmosphere, as well as its ability to evoke a sense of existential dread.

The film follows the life of Henry Spencer, played by Jack Nance, a man living in an industrial, dystopian landscape. After his girlfriend gives birth to a deformed and seemingly inhuman baby, Henry’s life spirals into a series of disturbing and surreal events. As he struggles to care for the child and navigate his bleak surroundings, the film delves into themes of isolation, alienation, and the horrors of everyday life.

“Eraserhead” is renowned for its stark black-and-white cinematography, eerie sound design, and unconventional narrative structure. It features a haunting and otherworldly score by composer Alan R. Splet, which adds to the film’s nightmarish quality.

David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” is often regarded as a seminal work of independent cinema and a prime example of Lynch’s distinctive filmmaking style. Its enigmatic and open-ended storytelling leaves room for interpretation and has made it a subject of academic analysis and discussion.

The film’s surreal and unsettling imagery, along with its exploration of the dark corners of the human psyche, has earned it a dedicated following and solidified its status as a classic of both the horror and art house genres. It continues to influence filmmakers and artists who seek to challenge conventional narrative and visual storytelling.

Stalker (1979)

“Stalker” is a 1979 Soviet science fiction film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. This visually stunning and philosophical work is often regarded as one of the greatest films in the history of cinema and is a cornerstone of Tarkovsky’s filmography.

The film is loosely based on the novel “Roadside Picnic” by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and is set in a mysterious and post-apocalyptic landscape known as “The Zone.” In this Zone, there is a room that is said to grant the innermost desires of anyone who enters it. A guide, known as a “Stalker,” leads two clients, the Writer and the Professor, into the Zone in search of this enigmatic room.

“Stalker” is renowned for its slow and deliberate pacing, long takes, and intricate philosophical themes. It delves into questions about the nature of human desire, the power of faith, and the consequences of achieving one’s deepest wishes.

The film’s visual style is marked by its striking cinematography, with Tarkovsky and cinematographer Alexander Knyazhinsky creating memorable and mesmerizing imagery. The use of color and composition contributes to the film’s dreamlike quality.

“Stalker” is celebrated for its intellectual depth and its ability to provoke thought and reflection in viewers. It’s a film that invites multiple interpretations and has been the subject of extensive analysis and discussion.

As with many of Tarkovsky’s works, “Stalker” is a challenging and profound cinematic experience that rewards attentive and contemplative viewing. It remains an enduring masterpiece of world cinema and continues to influence filmmakers and artists with its philosophical and visual richness.

Alice (1988)

“Alice” is a 1988 American fantasy film directed by Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer. The film is a dark and surreal adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass.” It combines live-action with stop-motion animation and puppetry to create a uniquely unsettling and dreamlike interpretation of the classic tale.

In this version of Alice’s adventures, the film begins with a live-action Alice who, after falling asleep, dreams of a nightmarish world filled with bizarre and grotesque characters. Švankmajer uses a variety of unconventional and sometimes disturbing techniques to bring Carroll’s story to life. Everyday objects are transformed into surreal and often unsettling creations, and the film blurs the line between the ordinary and the fantastical.

“Alice” is known for its meticulous attention to detail in its stop-motion animation and its ability to create a sense of unease and wonder. It explores themes of transformation, identity, and the absurdity of everyday life, all while maintaining a distinctly dark and surreal atmosphere.

Jan Švankmajer is celebrated for his unique and innovative approach to filmmaking, and “Alice” is considered one of his most iconic works. The film appeals to those with an appreciation for unconventional cinema and a taste for the bizarre and the fantastical.

It’s worth noting that “Alice” is quite different from more traditional adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s stories and offers a decidedly darker and more surreal take on the source material, making it a unique and compelling cinematic experience.

The Reflecting Skin (1990)

“The Reflecting Skin” is a 1990 British-Canadian horror film written and directed by Philip Ridley. The film is known for its dark and atmospheric storytelling, as well as its exploration of themes related to innocence, violence, and rural life.

Set in the American Midwest in the 1950s, the film follows the life of a young boy named Seth Dove, played by Jeremy Cooper. Seth becomes fascinated with the mysterious and disturbing events happening in his small rural community, including the unexplained deaths of several children. As he delves deeper into the mysteries, he encounters a series of bizarre and unsettling characters, including his troubled family and a mysterious woman named Dolphin Blue, played by Lindsay Duncan.

“The Reflecting Skin” is marked by its moody and evocative cinematography, which helps create a sense of unease and foreboding. The film explores the themes of loss of innocence, the impact of violence on individuals and communities, and the blurred line between reality and the supernatural.

Philip Ridley’s directorial style in “The Reflecting Skin” is often described as both dreamlike and nightmarish. The film combines elements of horror, drama, and surrealism to craft a unique and haunting narrative.

While “The Reflecting Skin” may not be as widely known as some other horror films, it has gained a cult following for its atmospheric storytelling and thought-provoking themes. It’s a film that invites interpretation and reflection on its dark and unsettling narrative.

Arizona Dream (1993)

“Arizona Dream” is a 1993 surrealist comedy-drama film directed by Emir Kusturica. The film is known for its eccentric and dreamlike storytelling, blending elements of comedy, drama, and surrealism.

The story follows Axel Blackmar, played by Johnny Depp, a young man from New York who travels to Arizona to attend his uncle Leo’s wedding. While in Arizona, Axel becomes entangled in a series of bizarre and whimsical events, including falling in love with two women, Elaine and Grace, played by Faye Dunaway and Lili Taylor, respectively. The film explores themes of love, freedom, and the pursuit of one’s dreams.

“Arizona Dream” is characterized by its offbeat and quirky humor, as well as its use of surreal and fantastical elements. It features surreal dream sequences and imaginative flights of fancy, which contribute to its unique and unpredictable narrative.

The film also benefits from a distinctive soundtrack composed by Goran Bregović, which blends Eastern European and gypsy music with a contemporary twist.

“Arizona Dream” is a visually striking and emotionally resonant film that appeals to those who appreciate unconventional storytelling and off-kilter humor. It has gained a cult following over the years and remains a noteworthy entry in the filmography of Emir Kusturica.

Mulholland Drive (2001)

“Mulholland Drive” is a 2001 American neo-noir mystery thriller film written and directed by David Lynch. The film is known for its complex and enigmatic narrative, as well as its surreal and dreamlike atmosphere. It has garnered critical acclaim and is often regarded as one of the greatest films of the 21st century.

The story of “Mulholland Drive” revolves around a young woman named Betty Elms, played by Naomi Watts, who arrives in Los Angeles with dreams of becoming an actress. She discovers an amnesiac woman, Rita, played by Laura Harring, in her aunt’s apartment and together, they embark on a mysterious and disorienting journey to uncover Rita’s true identity. As they delve deeper into the labyrinthine mysteries of Hollywood, the film explores themes of identity, illusion, and the dark underbelly of fame.

“Mulholland Drive” is celebrated for its nonlinear storytelling and its ability to blur the boundaries between reality and dreams. The film is divided into two distinct parts, with the second part offering a reinterpretation of events from the first part, adding layers of complexity to the narrative.

David Lynch’s signature surrealism and Lynchian style are on full display in “Mulholland Drive,” and the film features haunting visuals, a mesmerizing score by Angelo Badalamenti, and memorable performances by its cast.

The film has sparked extensive analysis and interpretation, with various theories about its meaning and symbolism. It continues to be a subject of discussion and debate among cinephiles and scholars.

“Mulholland Drive” is a cinematic masterpiece that challenges conventional storytelling and invites viewers to immerse themselves in its enigmatic and hypnotic world. It remains a testament to David Lynch’s filmmaking prowess and his ability to create thought-provoking and unsettling cinema.

Inland Empire (2006)

“Inland Empire” is a 2006 experimental mystery film written and directed by David Lynch. It’s known for its complex and enigmatic narrative, surrealistic elements, and its use of digital video. The film is Lynch’s longest and one of his most challenging works, with a runtime of over three hours.

The story of “Inland Empire” revolves around an actress named Nikki Grace, played by Laura Dern, who is cast in a mysterious film project. As she delves into her role, reality and fiction blur, and Nikki becomes increasingly entangled in a labyrinthine and hallucinatory narrative that weaves together multiple storylines and characters.

The film is notable for its nonlinear storytelling, dreamlike sequences, and Lynch’s signature use of symbolism and unsettling imagery. It creates a sense of unease and disorientation as it explores themes of identity, performance, and the blurred boundaries between fiction and reality.

“Inland Empire” was shot on digital video, which allows Lynch to experiment with different visual styles and to create a deliberately disorienting and otherworldly atmosphere. The film’s fractured narrative and surrealistic sequences make it a challenging viewing experience that invites interpretation and discussion.

As with many of David Lynch’s works, “Inland Empire” has sparked extensive analysis and debate among cinephiles and scholars, and it continues to be a subject of fascination for those who appreciate unconventional and thought-provoking cinema.

It’s important to note that “Inland Empire” is a film that deliberately eschews traditional storytelling conventions in favor of a more abstract and experimental approach, making it a unique and immersive cinematic journey for those willing to explore its mysteries.

Holy Motors (2012)

“Holy Motors” is a 2012 French-German fantasy drama film written and directed by Leos Carax. The film is known for its surreal and enigmatic narrative, as well as its exploration of identity, performance, and the nature of cinema itself.

The story of “Holy Motors” follows Monsieur Oscar, played by Denis Lavant, a mysterious man who travels through Paris in a stretch limousine, taking on various roles and personas throughout the day. These roles range from a businessman to a motion-capture performer to a motion-capture performer to an accordionist in a musical interlude. As he transforms into these characters, the film blurs the lines between reality and performance, and it becomes unclear who Monsieur Oscar truly is.

The film is a meditation on the nature of acting and the masks people wear in their everyday lives. It explores themes of transformation, identity, and the evolving nature of storytelling in the digital age.

“Holy Motors” is celebrated for its innovative and surreal storytelling, and it features a memorable performance by Denis Lavant, who embodies a wide range of characters with precision and emotion. The film also includes a cameo appearance by Kylie Minogue.

Leos Carax’s direction in “Holy Motors” is marked by its dreamlike quality and its ability to challenge conventional narrative and cinematic norms. The film invites viewers to question the boundaries between reality and performance, leaving room for interpretation and discussion.

As with many avant-garde films, “Holy Motors” may not appeal to all audiences, but it has garnered critical acclaim for its artistic and thought-provoking approach to storytelling and performance. It continues to be a subject of fascination and analysis among cinephiles and scholars.

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