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August 29, 2019

Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles

bunuel in the labyrinth.jpg

Bunuel en el laberinto de las tortugas
Salvador Simo - 2019

Perhaps the only thing more surrealistic than an animated film about Luis Bunuel is that the source is a graphic novel by Fermin Solis. The advantage of the formats allow for greater liberty and ease in alternating between biography and fantasy. That live actors are not used provides a distancing device assists is some of the fictionalized elements of the story, where even some of the facts are as odd as some of the moments found in Bunuel's later films.

Essentially the recounting of the making of the pseudo-documentary, Las Hurdes, known in English as Land without Bread, the narrative bounces between Bunuel following the initial screening of L'Age d'Or in 1930, and his childhood in provincial Spain at about the age of 9. Bunuel is met on the street by photographer Eli Lotar with a proposal to make a documentary on Las Hurdes, a poor and neglected part of Spain. Handed a book from Lotar, Bunuel protests that he does not make documentaries. The scandal from L'Age d'Or has effectively killed any anticipated projects. The artist Ramon Acin jokes with Bunuel that if he wins the lottery, he will use the money to produce Bunuel's next film.

The making of Land without Bread is both hilarious and horrifying. Bunuel's search for truth is undermined by his own manipulations of people. I would advise anyone planning on seeing this film to see Land without Bread first, and then see how Bunuel and company created some of the more dramatic images. Simo includes excerpts from Bunuel's film. The title of Simo's film and the graphic novel come from a line in the narration in Land without Bread, where the rooftops of the virtually identical shacks the poorest of the Las Hurdes residents call home, are described as resembling the shells of turtles.

The film begins with several unidentified people in a Paris cafe discussing the purpose of art before shifting over to Bunuel, still a celebrity among his peers. And while Simo openly brings up the discussion about art having any purpose or meaning, the unstated question brought up in the making of Las Hurdes would be about film as documentation, and having a film film about people living in dire poverty have their stories told by people of privilege. The filmmakers are shown to have some self-awareness of their situation although some of their actions could be interpreted easily as patronizing rather than generous. In retrospect, Land without Bread, even with its banning by the Franco government, did more for Bunuel than the people he filmed.

Also worth mentioning is that the Luis Bunuel presented here isn't as totally anti-clerical he has sometimes declared himself, but is depicted with a more complicated relationship to Catholicism. Two childhood incidents that indicate the future artist are of a young Luis presenting a magic lantern show, scaring his friends with the magnified shadows of insects, and Luis participating in the Easter celebration in his childhood town of Calanda, where the men dress in purple cassocks and drum in unison. Even here, Bunuel literally beats to his own drum.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 29, 2019 07:37 AM