Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles

Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles

Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles – Surrealism, Spain and the early days of filmmaking. The animated movie by the Spanish director Salvador Simó is a touching work about goals, friendship, the inner and outer struggles of the famous director Luis Buñuel and about a fascinating episode of film history.

In a fictional plot, the film tells the story behind Buñuel’s project to shoot a documentary in the early 20th century in the very poor Spanish region of Extremadura, more precisely in the mountains of Las Hurdes. To a certain extent a late making-of, realized with the means of animated film. The director Simó subtly presents an impressive and humanistic portrait of an artist chasing his own goals, who is repeatedly pursued by hallucinatory dreams, with drawn scenes as well as excerpts from the documentary Las Hurdes – Land without bread.

Banned in Paris

Paris around 1930. After the scandalous publication of the film L’Âge d’Or, which was acclaimed as a blasphemous surrealist, the Spanish filmmaker remains destitute for the time being. His good friend, Ramón Acín – artist, poet and anarchist – buys a lottery ticket one evening on a whim and promises, should he win, to finance Buñuel’s next film.

Paris - where Luis Bunuel lived for a while and worked with the surrealists.
Bunuel's surrealistic dreams

Salvador Simó is a director and screenwriter. He has worked on major animated film projects in Los Angeles and Europe since the 1990s. In 2016 he returned to Spain to devote himself to his work on the project Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles. During the months when Simó researched and wrote for the film, he focused particularly on the personality of the famous director, on his statements and on interviews with him. Buñuel was full of humor, chased by weird dreams, merciless when it came to filming. “On my bedside table I had a book from the Academy of Cinema with interviews of people who had worked with him, my favorite book for my research. I was so engrossed in the story that one night I even dreamt that I was having a coffee at a terrace bar with none other than Buñuel himself and spoke to him about the film,” says Salvador Simó.

The film project also gave the director the opportunity to introduce the viewer to another artist who was Buñuel’s friend and plays a key role in the film: “Ramón Acín. A person with a really big heart, as big as his native land, Huesca. A producer by accident, as well as a painter, a sculptor, a poet and a man extremely devoted to others.”

Fortune and Idealism

Completely surreal: Ramón wins and so the two old friends started off to the remote mountains of their homeland to shoot the documentary Las Hurdes – Land without bread.

Las Hurdes, Spanien - Bunuel shoots his film.
Shooting preparations for Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles.

Simó’s work is much more than a posthumous making-of, because it also tells the moving interpersonal tones. The friendship of the two main protagonists is hardly put to the test. Different views in dealing with the financing of the film, in treating animals and the people in the Spanish mountains. There is disagreement about the goals and the way the film is realized. The surrealistic director undoubtedly preferred the provocative way of realizing his own ideas.

Luis Buñuel was a controversially discussed Spanish-Mexican filmmaker who was one of the most important directors of the 20th century. He worked with Salvador Dalí and the Paris surrealist group around André Breton and Meret Oppenheim. The most famous work from this period is the 1929 film Un Chien Andalou, which founded cinematic surrealism; the second, L’Âge d’Or, was banned by the French state. In the course of his artistic career, Luis Buñuel was repeatedly confronted with state and church censorship. His films were directed against concepts of bourgeois society, the church and the family.

The documentary was not really shot in the Hurdes, but nearby in the vicinity of the town of La Alberca. It traces the exceptionally hard and arduous lives of the people in this remote mountainous region of Spain, although some scenes were deliberately taken to extremes with a shocking effect.

Las Hurdes – Land without bread

Las Hurdes is an approximately 500 km² Spanish low mountain range landscape in the Extremadura. The highly jagged landscape of the Hurdes is located in the Iberian Mountains in the extreme north of the province of Cáceres on the border to the neighbouring region of Castile-León. Windowless one-storey or two-storey stone houses on hillsides. In the past, the people slept there simply on straw. In the winter people almost froze to death, in the summer malaria epidemics spread. Infant mortality had been increased.

Another Day Of Life

Drawn in the style of a graphic novel: Another Day of Life is a documentary film about the world-famous journalist Ryszard Kapuściński and his time in Angola. In the African country, the reporter from Poland, during the mid-1970s, experiences the brutal reality of war.

The conflicts during the shooting and after-effect controversies of the documentary film from the 1930s are shown in the Spanish production with modern cartoon film techniques. The added footage of the original documentary effectively complements the fictional scenes with the historical film material. The film won a European Film Award in the category Best Animated Feature Film in the year 2019.

Buñuel in the Labyrinth of Turtles is a cinematic work of art with a subtle but emphatic expression.

Director: Salvador Simó
Spain / Netherlands 2018
Running time: 80 min
Release Germany: 26.12.2019
Release Netherlands: 18.04.2019
Release Spain: 24.04.2019
Release USA: 16.08.2019

Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles – imdb

Images: (c) Buñuel in the Labyrinth of Turtles / Arsenal Film

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23. November 2019 Off