Buñuel In The Labyrinth Of The Turtles

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Buñuel In The Labyrinth Of The Turtles
"Simó works hard to capture the same oddness of perspective and association that marks out Buñuel's own films, succeeding more often than not." | Photo: Courtesy of EIFF

In 1932, Luis Buñuel made an important contribution to the development of documentary cinema by visiting Las Hurdes, a remote mountain region in Spain which had only been in consistent contact with wider civilisation for ten years, since the building of its first road. Before that time, little interest had been taken in the lives of European peasants who had no political role to play. Buñuel struggled to find finance because nobody could see how the film would attract an audience. What he created, however, was a highly distinctive portrait of human experience, and the story of how he did so is captured here in animated form by Salvador Simó.

Simó is best known for making children's adventure films, so this is a step sideways and clearly a labour of love. It demonstrates a passionate interest in Buñuel's principles and methods, yet it is anything but hagiographic. For all that it celebrates the surrealist master's genius, it paints him as a difficult man to like, capable of all sorts of cruelties in his pursuit of authenticity. The film is framed around his relationship with the painter Ramon Acin, whom we frequently see hesitating to go along with his demands; yet the friendship between them is of that sort that can only really exist when individuals are inconsiderately themselves.

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Uncomfortable though Acin often is (and the audience likewise), Buñuel's purity of vision is compelling and he's prone to spontaneous acts of kindness which show us he's not simply amoral. There's a suggestion that his troubled relationship with his father has contributed to his difference. Perhaps there's also a communication difficulty created by his intelligence. Simó works hard to capture the same oddness of perspective and association that marks out Buñuel's own films, succeeding more often than not.

Essentially an imaginary making-of which draws directly on accounts and photographs recording the venture, this film supplements its documentary aspects with speculation about its subjects' emotional lives and the direct impact made on them by their encounter with the primitive Las Hurdes way of living. Simó's spare animation, sometimes intercut with clips from Buñuel's film, makes a bigger impression precisely because it doesn't embellish or sensationalise the poverty on display. We get to see this from two perspectives, simultaneously taking in how shocking it is to the visitors and how ordinary it is to the villagers, who struggle to understand why anyone is interested in them.

The film contains several scenes of animal cruelty (not just in animated form) which viewers may find distressing. They're presented with a dry wit which hints at the dark mood created by exposure to all that unquestioned suffering - and Buñuel's alertness to suffering in the world more generally. What Las Hurdes did was to persuade cinemagoers that experiences like this were worth paying attention to in their own right - that they reflected part of what it means to be human. Buñuel In The Labyrinth Of The Turtles is also worth watching in its own right and one hopes that it will draw more attention to this important piece of cinematic history.

Reviewed on: 04 Dec 2019
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Animated feature about the master of Spanish surrealist cinema.

Director: Salvador Simó

Writer: Eligio R Montero, Salvador Simó

Starring: Voices of, Jorge Usón, Fernando Ramos, Luis Enrique de Tomás, Cyril Corral, Pepa Gracia, Rachel Lascar, Gabriel Latorre, Philipp Nowicki, Fermín Núñez, Jorge Usón, Fernando Ramos, Luis Enrique de Tomás, Cyril Corral, Pepa Gracia, Rachel Lascar

Year: 2018

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: Spain, Netherlands, Germany

Festivals:

EIFF 2019

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