Luis Buñuel’s Surreal Animated Life

Fresh from Spain comes a sensitive animated curio that should intrigue fans of classic film history. It revolves around a pivotal episode in celebrated Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel’s early career.

Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles depicts the father of cinematic Surrealism’s struggles making his pseudo-documentary Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan. Told with dream-like direction and an affection for Buñuel, it is the portrait of an artist coming of age against the backdrop of Spanish politics.

Known in English as Land Without Bread, Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan told the plight of the incredibly poor Las Hurdes region in Western Spain. Released in 1933, Buñuel was still finding his voice as an artist and filmmaker. His first film, the highly controversial L’Age d’Or, had left him broke and a pariah in the art community of Paris.

Director Salvador Simó crafts an expressive animated movie around Buñuel finding a higher purpose for his provocative art. It’s a humanistic portrayal of the filmmaker’s early life and career. The movie is told from the perspective of a creative genius looking for inspiration, as he learns to trust his instincts and hone his voice.

… explains how Buñuel elevated his filmmaking and found his own creative voice

Struggling after the disastrous reception to his first movie, Buñuel’s luck turns around when his good friend Ramón Acín hits the lottery and agrees to fund his next movie. Dragging his friend along, Buñuel and a small crew travel to the Las Hurdes region. The citizens of Las Hurdes are so poor they reputedly have no bread and live a miserable existence. Buñuel characterized it as “Hell on Earth” and his shocking portrayal of their poverty was unforgettable.

Surrealistic touches infect the narrative, an easy choice in the animated medium, a nod to Buñuel’s film career. Director Salvador Simó stylishly inter-cuts clips from a surviving print of Land Without Bread into his animated movie. The jarring juxtaposition with the plain 2D animation is shocking and effective. It helps explain how Buñuel elevated his filmmaking and found his own creative voice.

Probably not for everyone, Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles takes creative liberties when necessary and shouldn’t be taken as literal truth. The movie is an entertaining journey of a struggling young artist coming into his own power. Capturing a moment in Buñuel’s life that profoundly affected his art as a filmmaker, the animated movie provides satisfying answers even for those unaware of Spanish political life in the 1930s.

Video

Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles provides a fairly crisp presentation of flat 2-D animation, far removed from the fluidity and artwork of classic Disney or Studio Ghibli. Stiff, limited movement and unconventional character designs mark the 2018 animated film as unique, but rather ordinary, in the global animation market. Distributed by Shout Factory for GKIDS, the 2.35:1 video arrives as a fine transfer of adequate picture quality.

The main feature runs 80 minutes on a BD-50, encoded in stout AVC without artifacts. The 1080P video has a flat, washed-out color palette. Black levels are strong but the contrast is often lacking. The few clips taken from the black-and-white Land Without Bread documentary were originally filmed in the 1930s. As expected, the elements are in variable condition with normal wear issues from unrestored film.

Audio

A 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack has a forward-heavy mix that gets out of the way for the animation. The spacious sound design has select moments of activity and smoothly integrates Arturo Cardelius’s instrumental score across the soundfield.

The Spanish dialogue is cleanly intelligible, never getting lost in the limited dynamic range. A few moments of French dialogue can be heard. The indie production doesn’t really offer an immersive audio experience. Ambience and reverb can be heard in the surround channels.

Optional English, French and Spanish subtitles display inside the scope framing at all times in a white font.

Extras

Produced by GKIDS, the Blu-ray and DVD combo package arrives with a glossy slipcover.

The Prisoners of Buñuel (73:00 in SD; Spanish audio w/ English subtitles) – A feature-length documentary about how the people of Las Hurdes view Buñuel’s portrait of their home and lifestyle, nearly 60 years after the fact. It is a fascinating documentary that would work well as a companion to Land Without Bread.

Interview with director Salvador Simó (10:23 in HD) – The director explains how this film came about and his views on Buñuel.

Trailers (05:32 in HD) – Three trailers for the movie.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles
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An expressive, surreal animated movie on Luis Buñuel and what made him as a man and filmmaker. A unique portrait of the Spanish filmmaker, capturing an interesting episode in his life.

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