Most of the time biopics are done with an actor portraying the famous artist. They walk around in period costumes with the artist’s iconic haircut and relive that big moments that led to a masterpiece or two. And most of the time that is good enough for an audience to understand the biographical details. You can see the reality of their lives. But when it comes to certain artists, the reality doesn’t truly cover what made them special. When the surrealist movement was gaining notoriety, Luis Buñuel rose up as a filmmaker who pushed the bound of cinema. He teamed up with artist Salvador Dali to produce “Un Chien Andalou.” The short movie was a massive hit with imagery that had never been approached on film. However he hit a sophomore slump with L’Age d’Or. Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is about what happened to Buñuel afterward that kept him from being merely a one masterpiece wonder.
The failure of L’Age d’Or hits Buñuel very hard. He gets frustrated since so many people think that Dali was the real creative genius of his first film. Unlike his other artist pals who paint or write, Buñuel can’t make a movie without a lot of start up cash. Film and lab costs aren’t cheap like typewriter ribbon, paper, canvas and paints. He doesn’t have the funds for his next project which will be a documentary on the impoverished Las Hurdes region of Spain. His pal sculptor Ramon Acin jokes at the bar that if his Christmas lottery ticket wins, he shall fund the project. The joke turns real and Ramon lives up to his promise even though his wife is not happy. Buñuel, Ramon and his small crew pack up a camera and hit the road for Las Hurdes. Instead of a straight forward travelogue by Buñuel, the director takes liberties with what’s happening in front of the camera. He brings his surrealist touch to make the people of Las Hurdes look even more worse off. This causes a bit of a riff between the director and the crew.
The animated element of the film allows Buñuel’s story to flow between his childhood to his adult flights of fancy without being too jarring. The animation allows us to feel a touch of the driving force for what Buñuel saw when he set up shots. There are edits to the actual films of Buñuel to see the finished version of what the crew were filming. The movie also shows an artist under the worst career crisis possible: to be no longer viewed as artistic. Was his reputation completely because he worked with Dali? Not being able to make another film would only make him be written off as a minor character in a major art movement. The pressure is felt in the animated character that’s roaming the hills of Spain.
This is definitely not a film for younger viewers since there’s quite a few disturbing scenes animated and captured in Buñuel’s real footage. He did not care about getting the “no animals were harmed in the making of this film” seal of approval. There’s really upsetting scene involving a donkey. The worst part of the scene is that this wasn’t capturing reality. Buñuel staged the ugliness for the camera. Which ultimately makes Buñuel the father of today’s phony reality shows when he finished Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan (Land Without Bread). Buñuel In the Labyrinth of the Turtles is a hypnotic portrait of an artist in a creative crisis.
The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The transfer brings out the landscapes of the rough Spanish countryside. The audio is DTS-HD MA 5.1 in Spanish. The movie is subtitled in English and French.
DVD with the movie and bonus features.
Buñuel’s Prisoners (73:00) is a documentary about how the people of Las Hurdes region felt about the movie in 2000. Most of the people were not happy at what the filmmaker did to portray them on the screen. There’s plenty of clips from the 27 minute short film to show the now and then of the area. The documentary centers on a screening of the film and a bust of Buñuel.
Interview with the Director (10:23) has Salvador Simó talk about how they decided to approach this project through animation. He speaks of his journey to Las Hurdes for research.
Trailers (5:32) set up the documentary.
GKIDS and Shout! Factory presents Buñuel In the Labyrinth of the Turtles. Directed by: Salvador Simó. Screenplay by: Eligio R. Montero & Salvador Simó. Starring: Jorge Usón, Fernando Ramos, Luis Enrique de Tomás, Cyril Corral & Rachel Lascar. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 80 minutes. Released: November 12, 2019.
Tags: animation, GKIDS, Luis Bunuel, Shout! Factory