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With: Jorge Usón, Fernando Ramos, Luis Enrique de Tomás, Cyril Corral (voices)
Written by: Eligio Montero, Salvador Simó, based on the graphic novel by Fermín Solis
Directed by: Salvador Simó
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Spanish and French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 80
Date: 08/22/2019

Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Bread' Trip

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Salvador Simó's Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is a most unusual biopic, for many reasons.

First, biopics are largely financed as an easy way to nab Oscar nominations, but given that this is an animated film — and in Spanish with English subtitles — it won't even be considered.

Secondly, it's about a film director. Weirdly uncommon, film director biopics can be counted on one hand: Chaplin, Hitchcock, Ed Wood, and, this year's Pasolini. Orson Welles has been portrayed in Cradle Will Rock and Me and Orson Welles, but as a director of theater.

Apparently film directors are simply not sexy, though Luis Buñuel (1900-1983) may pass muster.

A cinema rebel if there ever was one, he was born in a small town in Spain and moved to Paris in his twenties, where, in 1929, he made the great 16-minute film Un Chien Andalou with fellow surrealist Salvador Dali. That film is perhaps most infamous today for its "eyeball slicing" image.

Next came 1930's L'Age d'Or, a feature-length surrealist masterpiece that caused a rift between Buñuel and Dali and created a career-ending scandal. It's here that Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles begins.

Disgraced, Buñuel (voiced by Jorge Usón) can't find work. Out drinking one night, an artist friend, Ramón Acín (voiced by Fernando Ramos), promises that if he wins the lottery, he will finance Buñuel's next film.

Weirdly, that comes to pass. And so they set off to make what would become Buñuel's third movie, the 28-minute documentary Las Hurdes, or Land Without Bread (which can be streamed on YouTube).

The production heads to Las Hurdes, an intensely poor village in a mountainous region of Spain. Initially proclaiming his intention to present raw reality, it soon becomes clear that Buñuel is more interested in his old surrealist methods, attempting to shock his audiences awake.

He even stages a few sequences of animal cruelty, including snapping a chicken's head, knocking a goat off a cliff, and allowing a burro to be devoured by angry bees.

Acín vocally disagrees with these methods, while simultaneously pulling out his hair as the film goes aggravatingly over schedule and over budget.

Based on a 2009 Spanish-language graphic novel by Fermín Solís, the animation style feels chunky, not exactly fluid, even if the artwork itself is vividly expressive.

Director and co-writer Simó includes clips of the actual black-and-white documentary as if to illustrate the footage that our animated Buñuel has just shot, and despite the differences in look and style, this conceit works to establish a sense of immediacy.

Simó also wisely digs a little deeper into Buñuel's artist psyche, exploring memories, inner torments, and visualizing his nightmares.

Buñuel finally begins to see his subjects less as subjects and more as human beings; whether or not this actually happened, the realization is timely — and wonderfully touching.

In real life, after the release of Las Hurdes, Buñuel had a two-decade stretch of very few, rather unremarkable films, before making the landmark Los Olvidados, another attempt at social realism with surrealist touches, in 1950.

That led to many late-career masterpieces, including Viridiana, The Exterminating Angel, Belle de Jour, and the Oscar-winning The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

But Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles deals with none of this. The movie ends with a reminder that the 1930s were difficult times, and that art of the sort created by Buñuel and his cohorts could actually be considered a threat.

It's doubtful that Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles itself will push many buttons or cause much outrage, but with a little luck, it may at least introduce more viewers to the deep, subversive pleasures of Buñuel's films.

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