MADRID — Almost 33 years after his death, Spanish film legend Luis Buñuel is back again, this time as the leading character of an animated feature project, “Buñuel en el laberinto de las tortugas” (Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles), based on his filming the celebrated – and at its time controversial – 1932 documentary “Land Without Bread,” now reckoned one of his greatest films.
Shot in the Extremaduran mountains of Las Hurdes, “Land Without Bread” was a film which satisfied Buñuel’s left-wing convictions while he also found the ethos in one of the poorest parts of Europe, of surrealism, a credo which informed his whole career.
The toon film project, which also aims to portray Buñuel’s evolution as an artist, is produced by Manuel Cristobal at Sygnatia in partnership with Jose Fernandez de Vega’s animation studio Glow, and has been pre-bought by Spanish pubcaster RTVE.
Helmed by Salvador Simo and written by Eligio Montero (“Desaparecida,” “Grand Hotel”), “Labyrinth” adapts Fermin Solis’ eponymous comic book, a finalist at Spain’s National Comic Award in 2010. Manuel Galiana, whose credits include “Chico & Rita,” is attached as animation director.
“Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles” continues the path of singular animated features began by Manuel Cristobal in “Wrinkles,” which showed how animated films could deliver telling story of highly disparate realities compared to the norm of animation production.
A comedy set at a senior citizen’s home, where one of the protaginists suffers Alzheimer’s disease, and directed by Ignacio Ferreras, “Wrinkles” was shortlisted for 2012’s Academy Awards, nabbed two Spanish Academy Goyas and Cartoon Movie’s Best European Production of the Year.
“This is an arthouse film animation project in line with ‘Wrinkles’ line, which includes drama and comedy -Buñuel had a hugely playful sense of humor,” Manuel Cristobal said.
Production starts in September; the film will be ready by spring 2018.
“Labyrinth’s” script kicks-off in Dec. 1930, when Buñuel has just premiered in Paris “The Golden Age” after having surprised the world with his debut, and surrealist masterpiece, “Un Chien Andalou” one year before.
Six days later his fortune changes: “The Golden Age” was banned, sparking the loss of patronage from France’s Vicomte of Nouailles. Buñuel attempts to launch a film career in Hollywood as the advent of sound requires multilple sound versions of movies, but fails miserably.
Back in Europe, he receives an offer to direct a documentary on Las Hurdes, financed by friend Ramon Acin, after winning the lottery.
Arriving at Las Hurdes, the Spanish filmmaker encounters scenes of harrowing poverty — hunger, cholera, dysentery – but feels he needs to force home his vision. In one celebrated sequence, meant to illustrate that the local mountains were so precipitous that even goats lost their footing, Buñuel’s shadow, rifle in hand, can be seen nudging into frame. Seconds later the goat tumbles to its death in a chasm below.
“One of the most surprising things is that Luis Buñuel was a very funny guy: a film about him has to be fun and very entertaining, so life was at his side,” said writer Eligio Montero.
Buñuel’s experience in Las Hurdes proved his making as an artist. After 18 years of penury and exile, working as a producer in Spain then fleeing his homeland to escape near certain death at the hands of Franco’s Nationalist troops,
Buñuel, installed in Mexico, once more returned to the theme of extreme poverty in “Los Olvidados,” which re-established his reputation at a filmmaker of note at the age of 50.
Moving forward after consultation with Buñuel specialists, such as Ian Gibson, the “Labyrinth” project also pays off the collaboration of Calanda’s Buñuel Center and Las Hurdes Documentation Center.
John Hopewell contributed to this article