The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928)
The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928)

Genre: Drama and Short Running Time: 28 min.

Release Date: February 9th, 1928 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Germaine Dulac Actors: Alex Allin, Genica Athanasiou, Lucien Bataille




iscarded baubles of chemicals fuel a hallucinogenic voyage into the mind, as a general (Lucien Bataille) appears to stalk a clergyman (Alex Allin) in his secluded laboratory. Interestingly, this short film predates “Un Chien Andalou” (though it’s not nearly as popular), featuring some of the same themes, such as an abstract representation of sexuality and death, as well as sharing a Parisian setting. It poses just a hint of a more recognizable narrative, but it’s still awash with exceptional strangeness (including the titular seashell, which seems to hold a poisonous substance). Famously, the British Board of Film Censors reported that, “If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable.”

Originally silent (though dissonant sounds mixed with jarring clangs, bells, jumbles of xylophone-like strikes, and even obscured voices generate an appropriately haunting quality in many modern, scored versions), allowing actions alone to dictate tone, the film follows the protagonist as he obsesses over strangling the general and pursuing a beautiful young woman (Genica Athanasiou). The clergyman’s visions escalate into more and more indefinable assemblages of camera tricks, slow-motion, distortion, repetition, stop-motion animation, fades, overlapping images, and even nudity, proving to be quite the exercise in orchestrated absurdity. It’s impossible to fully understand such an abstruse, experimental work, but the happenings on display are never dull. Also of note is its direction by Germaine Dulac, who presents a rare female perspective on a patriarchal crisis of faith as she merges German Expressionism with French Surrealism.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10