Drawn to Reality
Spanish director Salvador Simó puts an animated spin on a special chapter in Luis Buñuel’s life and career. By Michael Mallory
Imagine a movie that proposes to explore, through sometimes disturbing imagery, the troubled psyche of a world-famous filmmaker who is seeking to expose the deplorable living conditions of a tiny Spanish hamlet, where the people are undernourished, illiterate, inbred and lacking the knowhow even to make bread.
Now imagine doing it through hand-drawn animation.
That was the task set out for Spanish director Salvador Simó in creating Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles, ostensibly about the making of surrealist Luis Buñuel’s now-legendary, once-banned 1933 documentary Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan ( Land Without Bread). Buñuel (1900-1983) was drawn to the paradox of how a community located only a day’s drive away from Spain’s capital of Madrid could exist in such dire poverty and ignorance. Footage from the original documentary is intercut with the animation to demonstrate how the filmmaker, who became personally torn by the desire to present both the real and the surreal, sometimes heightened reality for dra- matic effect, despite the consequences.
Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is not designed to be a biopic, however; rather, it is a dramatization of a transitional moment in his life. And it is certainly not designed to be a cartoon. “We look at this film not as an animated film, we look at is as a film,” says Simó, whose credits include work in America with Bill Melendez Productions, a stint with Disney’s Paris studio, visual effects work at MPC London, and the Spanish animated movies El Cid: The Legend and Midsummer Dream. “Ani- mation gives a different way to approach a film.” This approach fit perfectly with the film’s world premiere venue, the Animation Is Film festival in Los Angeles last October, where it received the Special Jury Prize.
Using traditional rather than digital animation also allowed Simó — who co-wrote the script with Eligio R. Montero in addition to directing — and producer Manuel Cristóbal to make the absolute most out of a $2.1 million budget. “2D animation now is more economical and easy to do, because 3D involves so much, and it also gives more plasticity,” he says.
Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles (the title, incidentally, is not meant to be surreal; it