12 Great French Surrealist Films That Are Worth Your Time

7. Last Year at Marienbad (1961) Directed by Alain Resnais

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

In this film, a young man tries to persuade a married woman to elope with him, but she can’t seem to remember whether or not she had an affair with him the year before in the same chateau. Although the plot sounds simple, the story is told through unreliable narration and fragmented segments.

The spectacular cinematography is constantly changing from dark to light throughout the film, accompanied by a curious soundtrack resembling an old organ. Even the set design in this film is unique.

For example, the expansive lush courtyard has precise geometric hedges that do not cast shadows. The sequences and the meaning of the film are still widely debated, yet it remains described as a beautiful nightmarish love story. Many people also consider it to be a “love it or hate it” movie since it is an arthouse film.

 

8. The Triplets of Belleville (2003) Directed by Sylvain Chomet

The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

The only animated film on this list, but a spectacular film nonetheless. The story surrounds Madame Souza and her grandson, Champion, who was sent to live with her after the death of his parents.

Madame Souza tried desperately to cheer him up by teaching him piano and buying him a puppy, but her attempts are unsuccessful. She ends up buying him a tricycle after discovering that his parents were cyclists, and Champion’s passion was born.

Madame Souza acted as his coach as he started cycling professionally in his adulthood which prompted him to participate in Tour de France. But during the race he is kidnapped by the mafia along with two other cyclists. Madame Souza sets out on a quest to find Champion with the help of their dog and three elderly jazz singers known as The Triplets of Belleville.

This film is unusual among animated films due to the fact it has almost no dialogue and the animated style is particularly outlandish.

For example, the cyclists are all depicted as tall and thin with ridiculously large, bulky legs and the main mafia villain is actually three people, a short man with two tall men on either side, who move as one entity. The film is successful in its attempt to be humourous without dialogue which resulted in subtle visual humor rather than the typical slapstick.

 

9. Un Chien Andalou (1929) Directed by Luis Buñuel

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Although it was released almost ninety years ago, this film is still widely recognized as one of the most iconic surrealist films of all time. The director, Luis Buñuel is often regarded as the most prolific surrealist filmmaker of all time and directed over thirty five films during his career.

Un Chien Andalou was Buñuel’s directorial debut. It was co-written by famous artist, Salvador Dali, who was and remains well known for his bizarre and hypnotic style.

Even though this film is silent and only sixteen minutes long, it’s still able to disturb and astound audiences. Several sequences are easily analyzed to have a hidden meaning, such as the ants crawling out of a man’s palm which is a literal depiction of the French saying “ants in the hand” meaning “itching to kill”. But of course, much of the imagery remains debatable about their meanings.

 

10. Delicatessen (1991) Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro

Delicatessen (1991)

“Nobody is entirely evil: it’s that circumstances that make them evil, or they don’t know they are doing evil.”
Delicatessen is a black comedy film and is the directorial debut of the directors who made City of Lost Children.

The story is set in a post apocalyptic world where food is not only scarce but is also used as currency. Clapet, a landlord and butcher, places ads in the paper for a handyman/assistant, however it is discovered that he has alternate intentions. Over the course of their employment, he fattens them up then kills and butchers them so he can consume and profit from selling their meat.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet obtained the idea for this film while living with his girlfriend above a butcher’s shop. At the same time every morning, they would hear the butcher yell “Chop, chop!” and they would joke about how he was butchering their neighbors. All of the violence and gore in the film is implied which leaves everything up to the imagination, and even though the film is primarily about cannibalism, it still manages to be humourous.

 

11. I Will Walk Like A Crazy Horse (1973) Directed by Fernando Arrabal

I Will Walk Like A Crazy Horse (1973)

Perhaps the most graphic and disturbing film on this list, I Will Walk Like A Crazy Horse deals with many taboo subjects such as children being executed, incest, cannibalism, and coprophilia. The story surrounds Aden, young epileptic boy who is accused by police of murdering his mother. He flees to the desert and forms a bond with a magical dwarf named Marvel as the police start a manhunt in search of Aden.

There are lots of various metaphors in the film that are made to discuss the “nature vs. civilization” dilemma. For instance, many critics believe that Marvel is a symbol for Mother Earth and when he was eventually exposed to the Western civilization, he became miserable and corrupted by it. This film has received countless censorship problems and has been banned in various countries.

 

12. The Science of Sleep (2006) Directed by Michel Gondry

The Science of Sleep (2006)

The Science of Sleep is a spectacular film about an imaginative young man named Stéphane who moves back to his childhood home in Paris after the death of his father. He starts to work at a calendar company and falls in love with his equally creative next door neighbour, Stéphanie. Through out the course of film, Stéphane’s dreams begin to slowly infiltrate reality.

Michel Gondry acquired the idea for this film after hearing a bedtime story that Bassam Nessim wrote when he was ten years old. The film has terrific special effects and superb acting. It doesn’t have a strong plot and many of the scenes are too hypnagogic to understand, but it is exactly like a dream. This is truly is an avant-garde film that is filled with infatuating and awe-inspiring imagery.