As Cosmos, the final film from late Polish director Andrzej Zulawski, hits UK screens, we spotlight five other unmissable masterpieces of cinematic surrealism
This year has been a punishing one in terms of creative heroes checking out from the planet – Andrzej Zulawski among them. If any consolation is to be had after the February loss of this beloved Polish director, we’ll always have Cosmos. His first film in 15 years, it also turned out to be his swansong. Its irreverent, sensual playfulness, full of feverishly bizarre antics, is a wonderful outpouring from his surrealist spirit, which remains to be celebrated. Adapted from the novel by Witold Gombrowicz, it sees two French students staying at a family boarding-house in Portugal subjected to a string of mysterious discoveries. It makes its much-anticipated UK debut this week. So to get you in the mood, we present five more of our favourite films embracing the outlandish vivacity of surrealism.
You might lose your mind if you watched them back-to-back – but Bruno Dumont’s Slack Bay joins Cosmos among the most bonkers arthouse features in recent memory. The French provocateur’s films have often been bleak, but his latest is resplendent with absurdist japery and surreal touches. It’s 1910 on a French sea coast. A family of inbred aristocrats (including Juliette Binoche in giddily over-the-top mode) pass the time in all manner of lunacy in their Egyptian-style villa atop a hill, while a poor family of boatmen below feed themselves through cannibalism. A romance blooms between children of the two clans as an incompetent, perilously round policeman tumbles his way through his investigation of the local disappearances.
The Exterminating Angel
The image of a woman’s eyeball being sliced with a razor in Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, made with Salvador Dalí, shocked audiences and saw him embraced by the Surrealists. The Spanish director kept making bourgeoisie-disrupting cinema of dreamlike visions and odd, unbridled impulses. In his macabre yet comic 1960s masterpiece The Exterminating Angel, all the servants inexplicably leave a high-society dinner party. The guests find themselves unable – for no rational reason – to leave the room. They run out of food, days pass, and hysteria sets in.
Czech New Wave auteur Věra Chytilová was a vibrant innovator. Her 60s masterpiece Daisies is an irreverent carnival of destruction. Amid a psychedelic onslaught of coloured filters and fragmented editing, two giggling accomplices, Marie I and Marie II, wreak havoc around Prague in a number of absurdist episodes, to the despair of the men around them hell-bent on sexual conquest. Its disruptive surrealism and black comedy were everything the communist authorities despised, and they banned it for years. It’s a blistering attack on the patriarchy and social decorum that is today as radical as ever.
The Holy Mountain
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s particular kind of highly imagistic, magic-infused surrealism created a cult following. A thief who bears a striking resemblance to Jesus is on a quest for enlightenment in The Holy Mountain, which was bankrolled by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the 70s. The Chilean director and Tarot aficionado himself plays an alchemist with a talent for transforming shit into gold. A Bolivian mystic and magic mushrooms were called in to aid the production process of the film, which some claim was inspired by René Daumal's surrealist novel Mount Analogue.
The Colour of Pomegranates
Sergei Paradjanov’s so-called “surrealist tendencies” were among the accusations that landed the filmmaker in jail under the repressive Soviet climate he was creating under. His 1969 masterpiece The Colour of Pomegranates is bursting with strange dreamlike imagery, arranged in exquisitely coloured tableaux. It was inspired by the life of Armenian poet Sayat-Nova (“King of Songs”) and is told in charged symbols, such as blood-red pomegranate juice that spills into the shape of a kingdom’s borders. Surrealist poet Louis Aragon was among the figures that campaigned for the Tbilisi-born director’s release from imprisonment.
Cosmos is in cinemas nationwide from August 19, 2016.
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