BUÑUEL IN THE LABYRINTH OF THE TURTLES

★★★

AN ANIMATED TRIBUTE TO A UNIQUE ARTIST

REVELATION PERTH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Jake Watt
16th March 2020

In the current ongoing stream of DC and Marvel superhero movies, we tend to forget about the comic book movies that stand alone, away from the superhero sensation. These movies, while much smaller in size, still complete incredible feats in bringing graphic novels and comic books to the big screen for their fans and new viewers. Ranging in style and visual adaptations, these comic book movies take a story that once had visual aid and bring it even further to life.

While some films attempt to recreate a comic book as a feature-length film, it comes as somewhat of an art. There's no simple way of pulling one from another, but there are examples of this impressive transition. Whether it be a complete reproduction of the comic book or a more loose translation, comic books have inspired a number of different filmmakers, and have gained entirely new audiences through their adaptation to film.

Salvador Simó's 'Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles' is an animated adaptation of Fermin Solis's graphic novel 'Buñuel en el laberinto de las tortugas', published by Astiberri Ediciones in 2009. It is the fictionalised story of Spanish film director Luis Buñuel making the 1933 film 'Land Without Bread', and provides some speculation about what drove the director to complete the film.

Paris, 1930. 'The Golden Age', Buñuel and Salvador Dalí's film which poked fun at the hypocrisy of the sexual mores of bourgeois society and the value system of the Catholic Church, has been received with shock by the public. "Be forewarned: I'm armed and I know how to box," the filmmaker takes to warning people who approach him. Even worse, Buñuel fears he is not being taken seriously as a surrealist, given that Dalí's reputation was already well established. When asked which ideas in the film were his and which were those of Dalí, Buñuel's response reflects the anxiety of influence: "That is simple. They are all mine."

'BUÑUEL IN THE LABYRINTH OF TURTLES' TRAILER

An anthropologist named Maurice Legendre hands Buñuel an ethnographic study of the Las Hurdes region of Spain and asks if he would consider making a documentary of the area. Shocked by the destitute, inbred population and anxious to boost his solo reputation, Buñuel feels compelled to make the film and desperately seeks financing, which is problematic given the project's disturbing and politically sensitive subject matter. Buñuel's friend, sculptor Ramón Acin (Fernando Ramos), buys a lottery ticket and promises to use the winnings to fund the film. Indeed, Ramon wins and keeps his promise. So Buñuel, Ramón, writer Pierre Unik, and Buñuel's cinematographer Eli Lotar embark on a strange journey to the town of La Alberca. Together with his small crew and a chaotic script, Buñuel travels to the mountainous area around the town, where the houses are so crammed together that the roofs appear like a "labyrinth of turtles".

Buñuel immediately splashes a quarter of the budget on a flashy yellow sports car that he speeds recklessly along the mountainous passes. To Ramón's frustration, the self-centred provocateur seems far more concerned about restoring his career than he is helping the poor mountain people, who suffer from a lack of food, medicine and hygiene and whom Buñuel doesn't mind exploiting for his own ends. The director tests the patience of his crew when, for the sake of his vision, he begins to infringe on the privacy of the peasants and manipulate the facts.

You will get the most out of 'Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles' if you're familiar with Buñuel's work as a director. If you aren't, you might feel lost at sea - it really is designed primarily for fans.

Simó and R. Montero's captivating story is loosely based on true events, but that seems only fair given the questionable tactics Bunuel used to capture "reality", including shooting a goat to get footage of it falling down a mountain and arranging for a donkey to be stung to death by bees to recreate a local legend.

The animation was mainly handled by The Glow Animation Studio, which is based not far from Las Hurdes; the studio was founded by Simó and the film's producers, Manuel Cristobal and José María Fernández de Vega. The film uses actual footage from 'Land Without Bread', along with animated recreations of the shooting process. Director Salvador Simó's simple animation moves with ease into the surreal, particularly in the form of Buñuel's fevered dreams of stilt-walking elephants and chicken-filled giraffes. One nightmare about his mother and the Virgin Mary compels him to dress in a nun's habit.

The story and images reflect the primary surrealist principles with which Buñuel most identified: a spirit of revolt; the subversive power of passionate love, both romantic and erotic; a belief in the creativity of the unconscious (dreams and fantasies); a pronounced taste for black humour; and, last but never least, an abiding contempt for institutional religion and its representatives.

Legends of cinema including Pedro Almodóvar, Walerian Borowczyk, David Lynch, Věra Chytilová, David Cronenberg, Jan Švankmajer, Sara Driver, Arturo Ripstein, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jean-Claude Brisseau, and Raúl Ruiz have all absorbed different aspects of Buñuel's style and reinterpreted his method in their own fashion. You will get the most out of 'Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles' if you're familiar with Buñuel's work as a director. If you aren't, you might feel lost at sea - it really is designed primarily for fans.

Luis Buñuel constantly pushed the visual boundaries of cinema, and it seems fitting that the story of such a unique and legendary artist would be told through animation, in a strange and multi-layered film that uses the medium to its full potential.

Looking for more Revelation Perth International Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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