Following the end of World War II, the surrealist founder André Breton organized the exhibition Le Surréalisme en 1947. In conjunction with it, he announced a “change in direction” for surrealism, towards the search for a new myth, replete with magic. This dissertation examines post-war surrealist cinema in the light of these changing priorities. Earlier scholarship on surrealist cinema has predominantly focused on a few canonized films from the interwar period. This dissertation draws on recent tendencies in interdisciplinary surrealism scholarship, in order to expand the perspectives on both surrealist cinema and the wider meaning and implications of the movement’s turn to myth and magic. It takes a broadly comparative, interdisciplinary, and intermedial approach, and situates surrealist cinema in the context of surrealist art, exhibitions, literature, and theoretical writings.
The dissertation is organized into four case studies. The first two of these treat films from the immediate post-war era, and comprise the Danish artist Wilhelm Freddie’s forays into filmmaking, and the French poet Benjamin Péret’s contribution to the 1953 documentary film L’Invention du monde. The remaining two case studies cover films from the late 1960s and onwards, and treat the Argentinean-born director Nelly Kaplan’s feature films, and the Czech artist and animator Jan Švankmajer’s short and feature films. These films are all analysed as being interventions in and contributions to the surrealist search for a new myth. The nature of this search, the dissertation shows, varies depending on the historical and cultural contexts that the respective filmmakers have worked in. While Breton never managed to locate the new myth that he was searching, this dissertation shows that these examples of post-war surrealist cinema are bound up with some of the central pursuits the new myth gravitated around, including initiation, esotericism, and an appeal to “primitive” cultures.