Dig deep into surrealist cinema with five stunning films

  • Danai Molocha - Culture & Travel Writer

The strange reality of the lockdown confused us, made us reflect and rethink, and gave us some of the weirdest dreams we’ve ever had. It left us scrambling to put back together the pieces of life’s puzzle. Days and weeks blurred into one another, and our bygone days outdoors suddenly seemed like distant sepia-toned memories. As if life’s new bonkers script had been written by a burgeoning surrealist master.

After seemingly endless weeks in isolation, there seems no better time to explore some lesser-known surrealist masterpieces. Surrealist films provide a visual gateway to the subconscious with alluring imagery inspired by dreams and their intricate explorations of the human psyche. We’ve rounded up five of our favorites here, from the 1940s to the 2010s, so you can bask in their transfixing and untamed symbolist beauty.
1. Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
Spike Jonze turned Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s picture book into a widescreen feral fantasy, punctuating its introspective narrative with a string of surrealist devices. It’s a wonderfully whimsical portrait of the child we all once were.
Tantrum-prone little Max takes us on a fantastical adventure on the wild side of his emotions, to a fictional land where he’s king. There, his swelling loneliness at home, the piercing question marks and fear of growing up take the form of giant furry beasts — playful, violent, unpredictable, bursting out against a backdrop of towering forests and vast, sun-bleached deserts. It’s a vivid psychoanalytical canvas that gives free rein to Max’s and our imagination, as we travel beyond the grounding hows or whys of our adult minds.
2. Alice (1988)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland takes a darker turn in Czech surrealist Jan Švankmajer’s hands. Flowing freely between live-action and stop-motion animation, the conscious and the unconscious, this largely dialogue-free ‘80s reading of the cult fairy tale follows Alice, a girl on the cusp of womanhood, magically shrinking and growing in size in what looks like a creepy dollhouse — the surreal corridors of a child’s mind.
Following the white rabbit through impossibly tiny doors and drawers, she discovers new passages, and boundaries. Despite adulthood’s bewildering curveballs, however, she remains oblivious to moral barriers, giving in to every whim and devouring every tart in sight. An apt metaphor for bottomless snacking during lockdown, perhaps?
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