There are many who can’t set aside 90 to 120 minutes a day to watch a movie. They are preoccupied and have a variety of tasks to bother for the time. Well, short movies are a perfect resolution for such people. There are people who consider alternatives in different art forms but the hardcore film buffs have to have a visual movie-like experience and me being at that end of spectrum, believe me I know what they go through. A film or a motion picture is a series of still images when shown on a screen that creates the illusion of moving images and there is no time constraint whatsoever.
As an avid learner, you have to understand that everything begins with a short film, an experiment to measure your own talent and entertain at the same time. Some good short movies have influenced and defined cinema to an extent many are unaware of and they usually capture a blooming director’s essence sublimely. With the restrictions by your side and cinematic devoidness, you always have the option to explore short films and some of the greatest films had been conceived after the short ones. There are thousands of short films on the net, with not all of them necessarily being of quality and it is tasking to search with the minimal information provided about them quite obviously because of the minimum exposure.
Now, being a horror movie fan I always tend to search for shorts that rattle me and do not only serve the purpose of scaring me, you have to agree that jump-scares are only thrilling during their duration but have no memorable effect. Psychological or atmospheric horror films are usually the best of the lot and despite their comparatively low budget are tricky because they demand finesse through technique, while the technique could be of visual imagery or story or the performances.
With that said, here’s the list of top short movies ever that will blow your mind. You can watch some of these best short films online on Youtube, Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
25. Code 8
‘Code 8’ was produced in 2016 by Stephen Amell (Arrow) and Robbie Amell, directed by Jeff Chan who also made ‘Operation Kingfish’, the prequel short to Call of Duty : Modern Warfare 2. The Amell brothers and Chan made this short film as a teaser for a full length feature that they had planned, and intended on using this video to get their project crowdfunded. The decision to go down the indie route was to exercise complete creative control on their film, as production houses’ meddling with films has been on a steep rise. The reason why I liked it was because it doesn’t go full on with its cyberpunk elements, it rests somewhere between our world and the one in ‘Blade Runner’, similar to Carpenter’s ‘Escape from New York’. The movie also has a similar concept as ‘X-Men’ with a minority of mutated humans facing the brunt of the exclusively oppressive government.
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People familiar with the character of Pinocchio must be aware of Jiminy Cricket, and this is where the film gets its title from. Now, the story of Pinocchio has two versions, the original one which is bleak and disturbing and the one by Disney toned down for wider audiences. ‘Jiminy’ is a futuristic reimagination of a world where people have cricket-like controlling chips that provide them an alternative to carry out every task to perfection. The chips on the surface seem to be very helpful and supportive like Disney’s version, but as we proceed, we grasp the extent of control they have on people’s mindset, turning them into a mentally hollow state in its deficit.
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23. Darth Maul : Apprentice
When I was going through various short films, this was a name I wouldn’t have generally opted for in a million years. A fan made “21st century” Star Wars film, one can only expect the least out of it. But I was surprised by the quality of the film and to be honest, this is one of the best live action ‘Star Wars’ work I’ve seen. Being a Star Wars fanboy, I despised the treatment of Darth Maul being restricted to a stepping stone for the awful Anakin Skywalker development. Here, we get to see the skillful warrior grow into a Sith lord, killing what resembles a vague version of Obi-wan and his disciples in the process. The fight scenes are very well choreographed and carried out with agility that is expected from people who’ve devoted their lives to the art.
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22. Kung Fury
I don’t know what left me more refreshed after watching ‘Kung Fury’, the tribute it pays to 80’s retro entertainment with its groovy synthesized atmosphere or the fact that I finally found the source of the “Hackerman” memes. The short film by David Sandberg forays into the fantasized future and also parodies similar films from the retro era. Kung Fury, our hero gets struck by lightning which turns him into an unbeatable martial arts warrior, and what follows next is something you’ll only believe if you check it out. The movie is best played at a resolution of 240p, so that you may let yourself engulfed by the VHS nostalgia, and if that isn’t enough, the Knight Rider David Hasselhoff makes a cameo too.
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I unfortunately watched this 30 minute classic by the pre-21st century Tim Burton after sitting for 90 mins through the ‘Corpse Bride’ ripped off version. This was the time when Burton didn’t stuff every possible inch of screen with Expressionist era inspired palette. This short film got the director fired because Disney considered it inappropriate for the targeted young audiences. It works as a modern day rendition of Frankenstein with a dog being resurrected by his heartbroken young friend. Dog has been man’s most faithful friend, and one can ask grown ups as to how much their childhood pets meant to them, and if they would do anything to save it. Though grown-ups may come to terms with death, but children can’t and this gives a very solid foundation for the purpose of the movie.
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20. The Nostalgist
‘The Nostalgist’ may indeed shower nostalgia upon fans of Steven Spielberg’s ‘A.I. Artifical Intelligence’. The movie takes place in a dystopian world where people can use modified visors that present a virtual reality. The movie presents the bond between a father and son, and made me think about how the term “father-son” is very subjective. In fact, one can love and care for the other as a father, and the other can reciprocate the respect that is associated with sons. Though being 17 mins long, along with recent sci-fi movies this one disregards what are consider “prerequisites’ to be in a relationship.
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19. I’m Here
I read Shel Silverstein’s ‘The Giving Tree’ when I was a kid and though coming across various versions of it, none stand as tall as Spike Jonze’s short film. ‘I’m Here’ stars Andrew Garfield as a robot in a world where they are treated as inferiors, they aren’t “misused” but looked down upon as freaks. Garfield’s Sheldon is an introvert who lives a monotonous life, resembling Theodore from ‘Her’, which was modeled on this. Sheldon falls in love with the reckless robot Francesca who’s the polar opposite of him, and the film explores his unconditional love for her. Unlike the story, Francesca isn’t selfish, she ends up making innocent mistakes that cost the couple a lot.
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18. Electronic Labyrinth : THX 1138 4EB
Though George Lucas is renowned for starting the Star Wars franchise, his debut feature ‘THX 1138’ remains his best work and one of the best science fiction movies of all time. Apart from being a chilling portrayal of the Orwellian world, the movie did help kickstart a category of films that blended sci-fi with social satire. ‘Electronic Labyrinth’ is the basis for the feature, and Lucas made it for his film university project. Though may it lack in quality because of a shoestring budget, Lucas got access to restricted Navy quarters and hence it feels like a projection of a distant world.
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17. A Trip To The Moon
It’s been 115 years since A Trip to the Moon was made, take a moment, and let that sink in. George Melies depicted space travel in 1902, decades before the first rocket capable of covering long distance was even built, and more than half a century before someone even came up with the design that could send man to space. If this wasn’t enough, he even depicted Martian resembling aliens on screen. Melies was a true visionary and his work indicates early surrealism and magical realism, and his infatuation with geometry is almost hypnotizing. It’s available in both B/W and color version on YouTube, and I’d advise the former as the latter does feel robbed of authenticity because of the everlasting restoration process.
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16. La Jetee
I hypothesized a situation, suppose Chris Marker saw La Jetee at a local theatre one day as a kid, and years later if he was sent back into time and would’ve realized that he was the creator, would he change the way the film was made? I heard he wasn’t able to afford a video camera, and hence opted to compile the stills, which I think syncs very well with the abruptness in the flow of time from the protagonist’s perspective. Interestingly, according to his own creation he couldn’t, because no matter how vaguely and metaphysical time travel is in the film, there is simply no escape from the present. Your plane of existence is confined to the present, which is probably the only thing that matters, because it is the only thing capable of affecting you. La Jetee is experimental, there is barely anything realistic about the movie; the premise, the process, the love, everything is just an exercise in deception.
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Starting off with ‘Alexia’, an Argentinian short with a dominating social media-cyber horror plot. It features a supernatural account of events, which lacks in verisimilitude but makes up for its shortcomings with some great attention to detail. Alexia was a girl who committed suicide after her boyfriend (the lead) broke up with her and we see him going through her profile, a sign of guilt and affection that probably resides within. After conversing with his present girlfriend online he decides to unfriend Alexia, which results in his computer going haywire and messages from the dead Alexia including an image ripped off from ‘Ringu’.
The camerawork and editing are phenomenal with the close-ups capturing the utter confusion in the lead’s eyes and his increasing anxiety through his fingers and the delayed cursor movement. The camera angles and the switching is slightly overdone but they request the right amount of attention and succeed in creating a perplexing mood. Technically the film is very sound, with the VFX despite its budget not deceiving the audiences’ intellect, the ghost and the iris shot are nice achievements. Alexia turns out to be more than just a virus that messes up the computer and the prospect at the end is terrifying and makes you ponder over the lead’s fate. The script is nothing great and it does rely on jump-scares, but the true impact of the movie only takes place when you relate it on a more ordinary level, thinking of it without inclining towards the supernatural aspect.
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14. The Smiling Man
‘The Smiling Man’ pitches a kid against the devil, and the kid possesses no superpowers or abilities characteristic of a Hollywood flick. No. The kid is made to confront pure evil and the birth of terror, because the word “fear” gets limited to ghosts and witches during childhood, and all of this takes place in the midst of death. I have no intention of discussing the plot because there is no possible way of focusing on important plot points in its 7 minute runtime as it would totally spoil the experience.
Intrusion is a routine subject for horror films and what makes some of them stand out is the way they are shot. Right from the beginning you are given an impression of the presence of a supernatural force, but what you discover is a physical embodiment of it and not a gassy creature or an invisible presence. It uses every trick in the Book for Clowns to lure the kid towards a most unfortunate event and this treatment may not pose jump-scares but it disturbs you, and a horror film only works when it lingers in your mind after you’re done with it. This film is not prescribed for any individual who tends to be unsettled in the company of clowns.
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13. He Took His Skin Off For Me
To place it under only horror would be a shame.This is the part of the list where we’ll leave worn-out conventional horror aside and focus on horror induced through matter and its realistic qualities. The 12 minute long short film abides by its title and focuses on a man who takes his skin off to prove his love for his girlfriend. Bolstered by some fantastic make-up and zero use of CGI, the skinless protagonist is a sight to behold (in terms of technique for the audience and emotionally for his girlfriend, who cannot express her reaction to his overwhelming beauty). The skinless guy does get under your skin (pun intended), but this is slowly drained out by the couple’s acceptance to the situation that works really well as a dark comedy. Further into the film, there’s a growing tension and the fad starts wearing out leaving behind traces of it everywhere, traces they don’t want to feel since they aren’t comfortable with it anymore.
The film is lovely with flawless writing, acting and camerawork (the close-up scene of fried meat and the long shot of imprints all over the house are very clever) and can be interpreted as a metaphor for transparency. By taking his skin off, the lead lays bare everything and stays honest to their relationship by opening up even though his partner doesn’t reciprocate. In the beginning, they get more intimate with the truth elevating their bond but as time progresses we notice complacency within him as his partner only helps resolve his matters but never follows him, to the point where there is an evident tension between them resulting in the shocking last scene.
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Canis is a stop motion horror short film that revolves around a boy trapped in a house surrounded by dogs that would have been the perfect pets for the ghouls in ‘Night of the Living Dead’. It’s bleak, heart-wrenching and is a big NO for people who can’t stand violence because of it’s unthinkable exploration of gore but this should not let you distract you from the masterpiece it is. The setting feels post-apocalyptic because of the survivalist plot points like conservation of food, ruins of civilization, birth of a human, rampaging animals and the faded monochrome.
The characters were made out of wire, fabric and wood and brought to life (a very harsh statement) through stop motion techniques by Anna Solanas and Marc Riba. Despite its nihilistic tone it has an ending that rightfully classifies this as a fairy tale, with the “fairy” part as dominant as a pinch of blood in the ocean. A coming-of-age story that would get a “R!” rating dealing with rape, species dysphoria, murder of a loved one, man-eaters and severed body parts it is anything but a film for kids. Technically it can only be bettered by the #1 choice on this list with impeccable detailing on production and sound design, every scar is slit with the perfect amount of madness and a single look can convey the story behind it.
Moving to the plot, Teo survives with his dog and an old man (who could possibly be his grandfather) and finds it difficult to come to terms with the gravitas of the situation they are stuck in. It all changes when a mistake leads to his guardian’s death at the jaws of the savage dogs, and he has to step up to protect him and his dog by killing intruders. He gets raped by a woman who dresses up as a dog to survive and has to resort to eating dog meat, while we see his dog getting increasingly restless and savage due to the adversities and the only thing separating it and the other man-eaters is a mere appearance. The story unfolds into an even grotesque and distressing phase that finally indicates the completion of Teo’s transformation into a man, ready to take on the world.
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‘FUCKKKYOUU’ is a disturbing surrealistic film and a testament to the influence of Lynchian horror. Shot in grainy monochrome with blurred visions and the score by Flying Lotus playing the symphonies of ‘Eraserhead’, this is a film Lynch would be proud of. The film begins with an orientation reminiscent of 30s-40s horror flicks and a disfigured creature resembling ‘The Elephant Man’. I found it difficult to construct a theory explaining the events and my brain cells were completely attracted by the Element of Surprise, and I had to refer to virtual sources. The film basically revolves around a humanoid creature who struggles with its identity and gender when faced with rejection which takes place through interchanging time periods, the past being lapses of reality after it was turned by the injection that we are shown in the beginning.
The movie is filled with shrieking pain and howling despair, with the soulless music really capable of disturbing the sh*t out of any sane person. The title of the movie is an inside joke, and it came up during a session where Flying Lotus was jamming out tunes randomly and one of them sounded like “F*ck you”. It can also be interpreted as the last cry of the mutated being, a fitting reply to those plants tearing through him. Being at a loss for words, I can only request you to check it out yourself because the experience is riveting and though you may end up making nothing out of it, it will blow your brains out. Take my word for it!
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10. Cutting Moments
I would have put ‘Cutting Moments’ a bit higher on the list because of its highly disturbing visuals and subject matter, but ‘The Big Shave’ being a major inspiration for this had a greater impact at a time when only Peckinpah dared to use the color red more than what was considered normal. Cutting Moments revolves around an American family that looks normal from the outside; a man, his wife and their son but suffers from problems that plague a considerable amount of families in the Western society which result in headlines that make you tremble.
Sarah and Patrick live with suppressed emotions and have preferred isolation, with Patrick completely denying Sarah’s existence. The coldness between them is both on a physical and emotional level, with Patrick deviating his sexual urges towards his son during an event that is vaguely presented. Sarah tries to dress up in an erotic manner to please Patrick, but when this attempt fails so does her mental stability. In a completely broken down condition she indulges in severe self-mutilation as a last resort, which is followed by events that are simply unthinkable and would have influenced Lars von Trier’s ‘Antrichist’ to an extent.
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9. The Big Shave
Martin Scorsese’s first short film is the perfect preface to his career. Riddled with his trademark catholic extremist subtext of sin, physical mortification and the inner battle between faith and reality overlapped by themes of violence, strenuosity and tension. The whole film is set in a bathroom and in its 5 minute runtime, ‘The Big Shave’ involves a man who lathers his face twice, once with the intention of getting rid of facial hair and the next time with the intention of getting rid of himself. It’s experimental and there are too many close-up shots than Scorsese would normally use but he gets it right balancing between direct (the mirror) and indirect (the shaving blade) representation of the act, giving it an identity different from a flashy hippie movie.
Now I’ll be discussing the plot since it works as a metaphor hidden in its alternative title ‘Viet 67’ shown during the end credits. Viet 67 is a reference to the Vietnam War, a highly criticized issue during the time this was shot with a clear picture of the war and president Johnson being unveiled to the country. The self-mutilation reflects the self-destructive involvement of U.S in the war which resulted in the loss of 1 million American lives, men who were normal people like the audience and had minimal knowledge about the events that they had to confront.
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8. Melodrama Sacramental
Absolutely disgusting and vile piece of cinema. Melodrama Sacramental is a 17 minute long recording of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s play of the same name with his theatrical group The Panic Movement. The group can be considered a cult and their motive was to achieve what Bunuel and Dali did in the 20s by shocking audiences and reviving surrealism which had become petite bourgeoisie. It primarily starred Jodorowsky dressed as a motorcyclist and featured him slitting the throats of two geese, taping two snakes to his chest and having himself stripped and whipped. Other scenes included naked women covered in honey, a crucified chicken, the staged murder of a rabbi, a giant vagina, the throwing of live turtles into the audience, and canned apricots.
In the disguise of originality, this short involves animal cruelty and sexual abstraction but unlike Bunuel’s works it ends up being so raw, it neither shocks nor lends its surrealistic pathos to the artform. It works like ‘Human Centipede’ or ‘A Serbian Film’, to use pointless physical horror to achieve nothing and this is a very underwhelming proof of Jodorowsky’s unusually magnificent vision, which was conveyed through ‘El Topo’ and ‘The Holy Mountain’. I don’t dislike it, I quote Rick Blaine “If I gave it any thought I probably would”.
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7. Six Men Getting Sick, Six Times
David Lynch‘s first film, made on a budget of $200 was a stop-motion animated short that earned him a Memorial Award at his film school’s experimental-painting-and-sculpture contest. The film consists of an animated painting, depicting six dysmorphic figures regurgitating in sequence with the sound of a siren loop in the background. Critics have described it as a helpful paradigm for Lynch’s narrative sense with many pointing the similarities that it shares with ‘Eraserhead’.
The actual plot (for the sake of convenience) runs for a minute with the state of the figures undergoing transformations, their internal organs become visible and their stomachs get filled with a brightly colored substance, which travels up to their heads, causing them to vomit, and this is played 4 times to account for its 4 minute runtime. Notice the abnormal appearances, the intention to disgust (vomit), the use of physical horror (depiction of internal organs), the booming sound design that was present in his earlier movies and the funny part is some viewers may feel sick or disoriented after watching this and people who are perfectly alright with it, either way the joke’s on you and you do represent the six sick people.
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6. L’Amour Existe
Although a master of cinema in his own right, Maurice Pialat has eluded wide renown just as much as he eluded pre-existing cinematic rules. Yet, those familiar with his work will appreciate how definite his influence on countless modern-day films is. It is difficult to club Pialat into any concrete category as his films were rooted in a realism so unsentimental and emotionally dense that it appeared formalistic. One of his earliest works is the 20-min documentary short, L’Amour Existe, which is his commentary on the urban sprawl in post-War France and its underlying class conflict. It constructs a shot by shot narrative of the sordid reality of Parisian development with the suburbs decaying in neglect, with a voice-over by Jean-Loup Reynold. Pialat highlights with elaborate patience how grim life in the suburbs was in the post-War era as advertising took over reality and people embraced a materialistic and dull life.
L’amour Existe also points out how the Parisian middle and upper class enjoys better education not only academically but also culturally while the suburban children lack access to theatres or concert halls. Pialat describes the new housing buildings that sprang up rapidly as ‘concentration camps’ with tiny, horizontal windows from where there is nothing to look at. This short film went on to win awards at the Venice Film Festival and Prix Lumieres. Maurice Pialat went on to make many brilliant movies like A Nos Amours and Sous le Soleil de Satan, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
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5. Cigarettes & Coffee
Although Cigarettes & Coffee was only P.T. Anderson’s second time behind the camera, it does in no way feel like an amateur’s work. The movie takes place almost entirely in a diner, and we are procedurally introduced to five characters, their stories and a $20 note that connects them. There is a tense & jittery man who narrates his story, seeking help from a more composed old friend who is very particular about waiting till the coffee is poured and the cigarettes are lit, or else the conversation will have no real meaning. In the other booth, there is a couple on their honeymoon who have lost all their money after the wife blows it all on gambling. A while later, a shady man seemingly unrelated to the others walks into the diner. However, as a $20 bill makes its way from one of the characters to the other, we get to know that they may be connected to each other.
This 23-min short has enough story for a film before it and another after it. The dialogue, framing and the camerawork in the film show that it is made by someone who knows exactly what he wants. The most distinctive feature of this film is the use of the tracking shot for scene breaks. The acting in this film is also especially good. Anderson later adapted and expanded this short into a full-length feature film, ‘Hard Eight’ – his very next venture.
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4. Six Shooter
Martin McDonagh, who has directed In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, first started out by making a 27-min black comedy film set in Ireland, called Six Shooter – which went on to win an Oscar and is one of the best known short films of all time. It is almost surprising how a film so heavily laden with death and personal loss manages to be so funny and expressive at the same time. The short is extremely well-made and intelligent so that the humour feels different from both American as well as British brands of black-comedy. It follows an aging man, Donnelly, who has just lost his wife and on the train ride back from the hospital, he finds himself sitting with a rambunctious teenage boy whose mother has just died. Sitting next to them are a gloomy couple who have just lost their new-born child.
However, this seemingly grim setting soon takes a darker turn and things become messier and funnier at the same time, with revelations of murder, suicides, gun battles with the police, exploding cows and pet deaths. Anybody familiar with McDonagh’s other movies will not need further reasons to watch this masterpiece. However, this film also forms essential viewing for anybody who enjoys an intelligent black-comedy, which simply means everybody.
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3. Une Femme Coquette
Probably the most prolific of all New Wave directors, Jean-Luc Godard has been making movies since the 1950s with the same inventiveness as ever. So far, he has directed over hundred movies including Contempt, Breathless and Band of Outsiders. But Godard began his directorial journey with a lesser-known short film, Une Femme Coquette, in 1955. Based on a story by Maupassant, the 9-min black-and-white short follows a married woman as she is suddenly tempted to flirt with a stranger after seeing a prostitute gracefully attract bystanding men from a window above the street. She is extremely impressed by the graceful way in which the woman attracts strangers – with a casual yet inviting smile that could as easily have meant “What a beautiful day!”.
Having witnessed this, she impulsively decides to smile flirtatiously at the very next man she sees. Une Femme Coquette is reminiscent of other early works of Godard – with an upbeat soundtrack, driven by articulate dialogue, wide-angle shots and somewhat fast-paced editing. The movie was thought to be lost for a long time until recently when it surfaced on YouTube. The short also features a cameo by a 24-year-old Godard, which should be reason enough for cinephiles to check it out. (Watch it here)
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Krzysztof Kieslowski made Tramwaj, one of the best short movies, while he was still a student in film school. In this 5-min long film, we follow a young man on a winter night as he boards a tram on which he notices a beautiful young girl sitting alone. Their eyes meet, the girl seems uneasy initially but slowly warms up to his presence as he closes the tram door seeing how the air made her cold and then starts chewing a sugar cube childishly. But before anything could happen, the tram reaches the man’s stop and he deboards it. He immediately regrets missing such an opportune moment and is overwhelmed by the desire to approach the girl, so he runs behind the tram hoping to catch her. In the very beginning we had seen the man standing alone in a club where everybody’s dancing, and he doesn’t seem to be having a good time. He probably isn’t very lucky with the ladies which is why he must have felt a heavy sense of lament and hence his impulsive run.
Almost every one of use has at least once felt a similar warmth on seeing a random stranger, someone different than the rest, someone so appealing that we want to get to know them. This same predicament was also expressed by Mr. Bernstein in Citizen Kane when he tells how he still remembers a girl who he saw for just a second when he was young, wearing a white dress on a ferry. Apart from the plot, what makes the short interesting is the masterful prowess of Kieslowski behind the camera and his great talent for storytelling. Kieslowski has since become one of the biggest names in arthouse cinema and has made great works like The Dekalog and the Trois Couleurs trilogy.
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1. Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog)
The Andalusian dog is a breed with its origins in Spain, the birthplace of Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali, the two creators of this monumental short film. In the Iberian Peninsula there are cave paintings representing dogs with a strong resemblance to this breed and frankly, the element of hazy reality from cave paintings is the only thing the film borrows from the andalusian dog’s existence. Though the surrealist movement had already begun by the 20s, it didn’t succeed in drawing worldwide attention and Bunuel-Dali achieved this by shocking the audiences with visuals that symbolized nothing but the suppression of creativity.
Right from its opening close-up shot that involves Bunuel himself, slicing the eye of a woman with the spilled vitreous humor stirring your brains to the last image of a dead couple buried in beach sand, the film never drops its intensity once and though one could argue about the absurd pattern of scenes helping that cause, it is important to notice how they are arranged in a way that gives them a propitious continuity. The techniques and images of body horror in most scenes have been studied and applied in countless other films built on dreams or themes of horror. Most notable examples are ‘Oldboy’, ‘Spellbound’, ‘Quills’ and ‘The Blood of a Poet’. Though a myriad number of critiques have adopted various theories to explain the events of the film, they get restricted to the word “theory” with Bunuel laughing off any plausible explanation towards it.
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