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Chimera and the Elusive Art of Surrealism — A Life of Dreams

Written and Directed by Eddy Falconer | Review by Prarthana Mitra

[dropcap]E[/dropcap]ddy Falconer’s 15-minute short can aptly be described as a chimera. To clarify, cultural historians often use the term to analyze the voluminous art and literary works of Unica Zürn, whom the film is named after.

Zürn was a German surrealist who mingled with the likes of Max Ernst, Man Ray, and Hans Bellmer (whom she ultimately married).

What’s more —

Zürn was famously in love with Belgian poet Henri Michaux before succumbing to mental illness, drug-induced hallucinations, and ultimately suicide.


It is the latter that constitutes the metanarrative of Falconer’s film.

With this backdrop, we proceed to engage with the mise-en-scene.

Falconer’s experimental short is replete with elements of Zürn’s sketches, her fantastical beasts, and her penchant for anagrams.

Best of all is a series of images suffused in surreal light.

“The Man of Jasmine,” which is also the title of her autobiographical novel, also recurs throughout the film.

"The Man of Jasmine" the chimera of Unica Zürn.
Image courtesy of Eddy Falconer via Film Freeway

A parallel between life and art

Zürn struggled with failing mental and physical health after she underwent several botched abortions. Falconer’s protagonist is a chemist who suffers from many of the same maladies, as he tries to make sense of the world with metallurgy and atomic combinations.

The protagonist’s obsession is a direct parallel to Zürn’s attempts to unspool reality with asemic poems like “88, rue Mouffetard” (her address in Paris) that make repeated appearances in the film.

According to renowned psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, the anagrammatical method dissects the body of the language.

A close-up of lined notebook paper with written letters, so of which are crossed out.
Image courtesy of Eddy Falconer via Film Freeway

Zurn dissolves the words into the smallest units of the phonetic or graphical signifiers using the anagram. Likewise, the scientist in Falconer’s film directs his deconstruction of the periodic table to the potentiality of a new meaning in the presence of the old.

This, for me, embodies the essence of the film

With vivid and imaginative images stitched together from archival material, Falconer represents the protagonist’s psyche.

We see the ego and subconscious gradually become one with Zürn. This is especially true if we look at her final days when her works constantly foreshadowed her death.

Indeed, the dialogues of “Unica Zürn” like much of the literature that survives from the artist, is elliptic and abrupt. Not to mention, compounded by visual and auditory enjambments.

A pioneer of automatic writing and drawing, she is known for visualizing shapes of sound from games of wordplay.

In a review of her works, I came across a succinct description of Zürn’s anagrammatic poetry —

“Its images are both rigid and porous, not one develops from another, rather it seems as if every new image is trying to hide the sudden interruption of the previous one…In the search for an end, it cannot end.”

Distortion in art and life

The same is true of Falconer’s film, which works as a formalist video essay on an individual level while setting a new precedent for avant-garde cinema.

The complete arbitrariness of syntactic and semantic content is noticeable in the double (and sometimes multiple) exposures of plates.

We see polarised and negative images, the Brakhagean distortion of voiceovers, the zoom-in vignette frames reminiscent of old films —

Along with the postmodern performativity of Zürn’s private mythology, reproduced in crude alternative animation.

Symbols of suffering

Black, yellow, and red oil pastel art reflecting chimera.
Image coutesy of Eddy Falconer via Film Freeway

Simply stated, all this keeps Zürn’s conceptions of pain, sorrow, mortality, and pestilence alive. It juxtaposes her suffering with reminders of the modern condition: warfare, patriarchy, outer space, hypnosis.

Bellmer in his seminal work “The Anatomy of the Image” once notably wrote —

“The body resembles a sentence, which seems to invite us to dissect it into its letters, so that an endless chain of anagrams may recombine what it in truth contains.”

Falconer’s movie is thus, quite evidently, a visual manifestation of this epigram.

Prarthana Mitra

Prarthana is presently in between odd jobs and obtaining her master’s degree in literature. She loves modern poetry and meditative cinema. Based out of Calcutta, Prarthana observes people, football, films and enjoys writing about all three. Of late, she relates to Frank Ocean’s music. Her writing experience consists of writing for various sites such as Try Cinema, The Indian Economist, Doing The Rondo, Saintbrush and various academic journals.


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