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“Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought”.
The boundaries between surreal films and magical realism or films with a dreamlike ambiance at times can be blurred, the meaning of the term surrealism has become diluted, now often used to describe films that are simply weird or vaguely dreamlike.
Here’s professor Frank P Tomasulo on mubi: “Even though de Lautreamont was a poet, his striking image of the surreal as “the encounter of an umbrella and a sewing machine on a dissecting table” creates a visual image in the mind that addresses three other possible defining aspects of surrealism: incongruity, the conjoining of opposites (incompatible frames of reference), and sexual symbolism.”
Maybe it’s a case of surreal and neo-surreal. Anyway, deviating somewhat from a purist position (in which at least Bunuel would be pretty safe) and including offshoots, it’s a wider selection. Germaine Dulac’s The Seashell and the Clergyman is often cited as the first truly surreal film, but others in the 20s (i include Entr’acte) were clearly influenced by the surrealist movement; this developed from dadaism and was also indebted to the Greek-italian painter Giorgio de Chirico and the poet Apollinaire. Led by André Breton, it had leftist tendencies, though it attracted the hardly radical Cocteau, indeed he may be due father figure status, as it was a Cocteau ballet which led Apollinaire to coin the term in 1917. The movement in due course distanced itself from the self-serving preening poseur Dali (i’m with Sister Wendy on that particular artist). Breton saw the movement as a revolutionary one, emphasising the importance of surprise, illogicality and unexpected juxtapositions.
Suggestions or opinions very welcome. I’ve heard mixed views on whether Last Year at Marienbad qualifies as surrealist. It might even qualify as sci-fi! It’s been said on the forum- by Frank P. Tomasulo, Ph.D – that anyone who considers the Resnais film surrealist doesn’t understand surrealism. But i’m sure many films on this list will meet with his disapproval. What of 8 1/2? Or W.R.Mysteries of the Organism, Pan’s Labyrinth, Stalker? Gilliam, Greenaway, Paradjanov? Jean Vigo would appear to be on the fringe, and there was an anarchic element in surrealism. Maya Deren was clearly influenced by the 20s avant-garde and surrealists (and by her husband’s earlier Aimless Walk). Note that The Saragossa Manuscript was based on a classic novel long before “surrealism” existed- well, so too, Svankmajer’s Alice. And referencing Lewis Carroll we have Rivette’s great masterpiece Celine and Julie go Boating. Maybe not a pure model either, Hadzihalilovic’s beautifully haunting debut feature Innocence would also appear to have more than a hint of surrealism, and i’m including Feuillade’s 1915 serial Les Vampires as it was admired by the surrealists.