Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles review – animated biopic brings film history to surreal life

Animation blends with documentary footage in this striking but underpowered look at the early career of filmmaker Luis Bunuel

As fans of the form will tell you, animation can be used to tell any kind of story you can imagine. But even with this in mind, it’s something of a novelty to see the making of a 1933 short documentary brought to life in a feature length cartoon. This is what Buñue in the Labyrinth of Turtles offers, following legendary surrealist Luis Buñue (voiced by Jorge Uson) as he makes Land Without Bread, his more straight-laced exposé on the living conditions in the mountain villages of Las Hurdas, one of Spain’s most economically-deprived areas.

Mixing animation with real footage from the documentary, Salvador Simo’s film immerses its audience in both the winding streets of Las Hurdas and the mind of Buñue. He conjures images both dreamy and disturbing – the documentary itself contains some shocking animal abuse – and the mingling of gritty reality with the flights of fancy only possible in animation gives us many memorable, moving scenes, especially when Buñue and his crew interact with the local children.

It can feel a bit flat at times. Stylistically, it is reminiscent of last year’s I Lost My Body, but lacks the kineticism and bustling life that made that film so special, and doesn’t give you enough reason to really care about the inner conflicts that power Buñue’s dreams. Barely clocking in at 80 minutes, Buñue simply doesn’t have enough time to get you to invest in the emotions of its story, so its visuals and atmosphere have to do all the work.

As a brief history lesson in surrealist film and art, Buñuel is entertaining and striking, smartly using animation to break free of the stuffy traditions of the biopic genre, but lacks the staying power that makes the best of surrealism so effective.

Buñue in the Labyrinth of Turtles is now available to stream on BFI Player.

Where to watch online

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