Surrealism is a type of art that displays dreamlike images and situations. Surrealist films started appearing in the 1920’s, but Meshes of the Afternoon was produced later in 1943. Meshes of the Afternoon has several elements, such as the repeating scenes, the moving objects, and a few cinematographic tricks which help construct a dreamlike mood for the audience.
Unlike many surrealist films Meshes of the Afternoon actually has a narrative which in a way explains why there’s a dream and what’s going on outside the dream. The film starts out with the woman entering the home, exploring it a bit, and then dozing off in a chair in the living room. The film ends with the man walking in and discovering the woman, dead in her chair. The dream sequence starts with a copy of the woman chasing a hooded figure with a flower, the woman running up and down the stairs and then looking out the window at the hooded figure being chased by another copy of the woman. This sequence repeats itself until there are three copies of the woman in the house, each aware of each other’s presence. The fact that all the women go through the same motions as the original, with slight variations, mimics how people can have the same dream repeatedly, which helps create a surreal effect within the film.
There are also several objects inside the house which move around as the dream sequence progresses. In the first scene, the woman walks in to find the knife in the bread, the phone of the hook, and the record player on repeat. The disarray of the items in her home creates an eerie feeling and foreshadow events to come. The next time the woman runs through the knife is on the stairs, the phone has been moved to the bedroom, and the record player has been moved into the living room. The movement of these objects paired with the unnerving sound effect of the hooded figure definitely makes the audience feel like they are in some sort of nightmare.
The camera work in Meshes of the Afternoon helps create a sense of struggle within the film and can change the rules of reality. The cinematography in the first scene isn’t too crazy, just a few POV shots which allow the audience to get into the mind of the woman character. Once the dream sequence starts the camera work becomes much more bizarre. The stairs in the house are where most of the fancy camera work comes into play. During the first copy’s run up the stairs the footage plays in slow motion as she begins her run and cuts from an extreme low angle of her feet to an extreme high angle looking down on the character. This transition is meant to disorient the audience and the slow motion adds a dreamlike effect. After the woman hangs up the phone in the bedroom the camera begins to cant and continues like this as she heads down the stairs. The canting of the camera makes the audience feel uncomfortable and in this shot the canting makes it seem like gravity has been altered and the women has to climb down the stairs. All of these tricks with the camera help construct the dream sequence.