Derek Vargas

What Is Cinema Noir?

Cinema noir is a cinematographic genre of great relevance in the industry. Like any genre, it has a characteristic aesthetic and narrative. Despite being born in a marked historical context, this genre is still relevant and is present in today’s cinema.

Also known as “black cinema” in Spanish-speaking countries, it was born in the 1940s, a decade marked by the great depression, prohibition, and the Second World War. These themes are generally addressed in these films, so it is quite possible to read the United States’ reality at the time from the cinematographic narrative of this genre.

Cinema noir became a very important artistic influence, impacting even literature, and being a later inspiration in contemporary films such as Sin City (which takes its aesthetic from a graphic novel).

What is cinema noir? These are its characteristics.

Cinema noir has its own aesthetic and narrative characteristics. In the narrative field, these stories tend to have the police and mysterious character lacking happy endings, with unsuccessful love relationships, loaded with doom, fear, betrayal, and lacking of naivety and optimism.

As for aesthetics, the very name indicates it: noir or black cinema has a close relationship with the night. For this reason, most of the action in these movies take place at night time.

To complete the nocturnal aesthetic, cinema noir borrows the traditional technique of chiaroscuro and gloom, with a very narrow influence of German expressionism born at the beginning of the 20th century in arts such as photography, cinema, painting, sculpture, and the architecture. The influence of figures such as Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, and Michael Curtiz in the cinema of the 30s allowed directors of noir cinema to capture through lighting techniques the psychological state and the scenographic environment, typical of expressionism.

Other characteristics of cinema noir include the scenery such as alleys, luxury places, apartment buildings, residential hotels, places with fog; characters such as taxi drivers, waiters, the figure of the femme fatale (low necklines, lipstick, dressing rooms, dressers, high heels, gloves), the insightful hero (femme hats, suit, tie) and mysterious characters.

Reference films of cinema noir

To understand what cinema noir is, you have to see it, and this is a list of references that date back to the 40s-50s:

  • Stranger on the third floor
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • This gun for hire
  • Scarlett street
  • The Killers
  • Death of kiss
  • They Live By Night
  • Kiss me deadly
  • Simple blood
  • Lify of the scaffold
  • The third man
  • Out of the past
  • Double Indemnity
  • Touch of Evil
  • Chinatown
  • The Big Sleep

In contemporary cinema, there is also cinema noir, or at least inspired by the genre of the 40s and 50s. Here are some:

  • Pulp fiction
  • Exotic
  • Seven
  • Sin City

An Andalusian Dog and Surreal Cinema

Surrealism is an aesthetic movement that was born in the 1920s. Surrealist philosophy manifests itself in the different arts, including audiovisual media. The present investigation traces the evolution of surrealism in the cinema to explain how it is captured in the film Un PerroAndaluz by Luis Buñuel and how it is reflected in later works.

The research has a theoretical value that will help us better understand the relationship between cinema and surrealism and discern how an artistic movement can be translated into cinema.

It will also allow the reader to clearly distinguish strictly surrealist cinema from cinema influenced by surrealism.

The analysis will be carried out considering the following axes:

  • context, concept, and characteristics of surrealism.
  • Historical context, concept, and cinematographic resources of surrealist cinema.
  • Origin and description of the surreal elements of Un PerroAndaluz • Analysis of the film and its significance.
  • Brief evaluation of the persistence of surrealism in films after Un PerroAndaluz.

The sources consulted are mainly primary. We turned to books and articles online to flesh out the report. We also turn to secondary sources for dissertations and articles to obtain information about surrealist cinema on a more subjective level. On the other hand, we interviewed two professors from the faculty to obtain diversity and richness in research. These are educators who are familiar with the history of cinema and handle technical concepts of audiovisual direction. Their opinions have support and coherence.

This report’s main objective is to test the hypothesis that gave rise to the investigation: An Andalusian Dog is the most representative film of surrealism. We intend that after reading the report, the reader can:

  • Determine what surrealism is and what its characteristics are.
  • Identify the main cinematographic resources of surrealist cinema.
  • Recognize the surreal elements of the film Un PerroAndaluz by Luis Buñuel.
  • Distinguish a surrealist film from a film with surrealist overtones.


Surrealism is based on theories about the irrational and unconscious embodied in art. It is the aesthetic movement that succeeded Dada and is closely linked to it.

Dadaism arises as a manifestation against traditional art that rejects the conventional forms of its production in its most extreme expression.

Surrealism was officially born in Paris, France in 1924 with the publication of the Surrealist Manifesto of André Breton, who was a poet and critic who, at the end of the First World War, began to look for new ways of knowing the man as a whole; proposing an approach that moved away from realism and reason, the forces that governed society at that time.

Breton wanted to understand the human mind at its deepest level. To do so, he studied Freud’s theories, and they formulated his hypotheses. He found that only through unconscious reactions, the mind is capable of releasing its irrational truths. Humans can better understand the mind’s machinations while decreasing its level of complexity, that is, the less rational control it exercises over thought. From these premises, Breton theorized that psychoanalysis could be approached as a method of artistic creation.

The human mind is constantly trying to link thoughts together and make sense of them. When thoughts escape rational control, the mind builds fragments of objects and experiences that we once lived or wish to live. They are manifested through dreams and fantasies that couple incompatible variables in reality.…