Written by Michael Frank
Though not always the case, animated movies have a presumption of innocence, providing a movie-going experience for the whole family. Let me say this first: Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is not a family film.
Salvador Simó’s film depicts violence, death, and much heavier topics than usually seen in the animated genre. It’s not even completely animated, as the film follow Luis Buñuel’s journey in making his 1933 documentary Land Without Bread, a depiction of the very poor Las Hurdes region in Spain. This 2019 film combines real footage of that documentary with an animated plotline of Buñuel and his fellow filmmakers traversing throughout Spain.
The actual footage breaks your heart, bringing to light the vast amount of difficulties for a large group of people. It truly is incredible footage to watch smack dab in the middle of an animated feature that makes jokes about rating women out of 10 and dressing up as a nun. The dichotomy strikes you, and Simó creates a film riddled with contrasts.
The animation itself is interesting and odd, breaking into surrealistic territory even 15 minutes or so. Simó and his other writers even fit in quite a few jabs at Salvador Dalí, a known counterpart to Buñuel’s genius. The filmmakers aren’t hiding their love or admiration for Buñuel’s; that much is clear.
The voice acting remains solid, with Jorge Usón leading the way as Luis Buñuel, slipping his way in and out of French, English, and Spanish. He’s charismatic, enigmatic, frustrating, and finally commendable, even if you disagree with some of his tactics. He crosses lines, yet makes new ones in the process. The graphic elements of Buñuel’s documentary, and this subsequent animation, are undeniable in their personal nature, as he is to blame for much of it. He creates violence, disease, and pain in the process of uncovering them. The contrasts are fascinating and alarming at the same time.
The ending of Simó’s film comes with a swift and sudden blackness. The story feels incomplete, and we want to spend more time with these characters that he’s adapted for the screen. The movie compels you to spend hours researching Buñuel, an activity that is hard to resist. His life and the works attributed to him fascinate and complicate your view of him as his animated journey ends.
Like its title character, Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles exists in complications, in powerful storytelling, and in the grey areas of filmmaking. You’ll see a chicken’s head get snapped off, a man struggle with his own demons, and the impact a film can make. What else do you need in an animated feature?
The Blu-ray allows you to watch the film in Spanish, or with English or French subtitles. Some bonus features include the film’s trailers, a fascinating interview with director Salvador Simó, and the documentary Buñuel’s Prisoners by Ramón Gieling. The latter explores Buñuel’s original film Land Without Bread in more detail. It gives voice to the people of the Spanish region, allowing them to give their opinions on how Buñuel portrayed their home. It paints the original 1933 documentary in a different light, and brings its controversy to the forefront. Highly recommend that bonus feature.