Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles (2018)
Las Hurdes is a notoriously difficult film to categorise. After directing the surrealist films Un chien andalou and L'Age d'Or Buñuel’s third film, on the face of it, is a documentary about an impoverished region in Spain. Yet many sequences are manufactured for the camera and contain surrealist images. No such clarification is required for Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles. Though it is the only animated film you will find on this website, the inspired way in which it tells its story places it amongst the very best of biopics.
Unable to find funding for his next project after the uproar caused by L'Age d'Or Buñuel calls upon his friend Ramón Acín, only to learn that he has little money to spare. Nevertheless, Ramon jokingly offers to finance Buñuel’s film if he wins the lottery. Surprisingly this is exactly what happens, placing Ramón in the unenviable position of producer. After meeting up with cameraman Eli Lotar and writer Pierre Unik, Buñuel and Ramón head off to Las Hurdes with the aim of improving the region’s circumstances by shining a light on them. Yet Buñuel and Ramón soon clash over their alternate views of capturing reality.
Surrealism has always been fascinated with dreams, which Buñuel regularly incorporated into his films. So it is that Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles uses dreams to provide insight into the famed director. Haunted by visions of Dali’s elephants, Buñuel is relived that his dreams have stopped after Ramón's offer of financial assistance. But once filming begins, Buñuel’s sleep is disturbed by dreams of a disapproving father and an Oedipal interaction with his mother (reminiscent of a scene from Un chien andalou). Even the much-maligned flashback is put to good use by further illuminating Buñuel’s relationships with his parents and through that, Buñuel himself.
Yet it is Buñuel’s friendship with Ramón that propels the film. Whereas Ramón would rather faithfully document events, Buñuel has no qualms in staging scenes to illustrate the harsh life of the villagers. Ramón’s role as producer further complicates matters. The final straw comes when Buñuel cruelly tethers a mule so he can film it being stung to death by a swarm of bees. The final shot of the mule’s eye is the stuff of nightmares.
Though the animation itself is unexceptional, it is ameliorated by enchanting graphic design that complements the insertion of actual footage from Las Hurdes. The result is a unique cinema experience.
Like many of the vignettes “captured by the cameras” in Las Hurdes, it is believed the death of the girl by the roadside was also manufactured.
No recreation in this biopic, as the actual scenes from Las Hurdes are intercut into the animation.