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Enter a dreamy French surrealist poem, where love and reality never quite touch

I have dreamed of you so much that my arms, grown used to being crossed on my
chest as I hugged your shadow, would perhaps not bend to the shape of your body.
For faced with the real form of what has haunted me and governed me for so many
days and years, I would surely become a shadow.

On its surface, the poem ‘I Have Dreamed of You So Much’ (‘J’ai tant rêvé de toi’) by the French writer Robert Desnos (1900-45) reads as a somewhat straightforward meditation on love – or perhaps limerence – and longing. Addressing a ‘you’ who is somehow out of reach, a narrator yearns for their presence and seems to be losing touch with reality. But in the context of the surrealist movement, of which Desnos was a part, the narrator’s perspective shatters, refracts and blurs in disorienting and fascinating ways. Is the speaker awake, dreaming or on a different plane of being than their beloved? The truth is unclear.

The Bulgarian-born French director Emma Vakarelova’s animated adaptation of the poem brilliantly draws out these themes of yearning on the foundation of an ambiguous reality. As a male voice reads in French, two figures seemingly inspired by the perspective-bending art of Pablo Picasso and the uncanny dreamscapes of Salvador Dalí, among others, move through a colourful universe that only they seem to inhabit. Still, the two never truly connect. A male figure representing the narrator constantly morphs in size and shape, as a woman moves through water on a boat, seemingly unaware of his existence. A score of percussion and piano adds a wistful, pensive layer to the atmosphere. The result is a rare instance of an audiovisual poem that’s so thoughtfully rendered, it seems to enhance – rather than sit beside or flatten – the author’s words.

Director: Emma Vakarelova

Producer: Delphine Maury