the goya award to bravery: buñuel in the labyrinth of the turtles

By Carol Arán

2020 kicked off to a promising start for the Spanish animation industry. “Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles” (Sygnatia, The Glow Animation Studio, Hampa Studio, Telemadrid and Aragón TV), is both a surprising and interesting animation piece that premiered in 2019 and was nominated in four categories for the Goya Awards. Best New Director, best screenplay, best original soundtrack and best animation film. This unusual situation announced quite clearly that this isn’t just another animation piece. Finally, Salvador Simó’s debut movie as Director won the Best Film prize in hot dispute with two other fantastic reels: “Elcano and Magallanes. The first trip around the world” and “Klaus”.

If there were a category for brave projects, Simo’s film would have undoubtedly been on the podium for that one too. Embarking upon the production of a feature length animation in Spain that is not only miles away from the classical “family film” but also an auteur piece is an act brushing on recklessness.

“Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles” is based on the graphic novel by the same name which was published ten years before the movie was made. When Solís came up with the concept, he wasn’t thinking about your average comic reader, similarly, Solís wasn’t thinking of making a film for your typical animated movie watcher. This peculiar story narrates the filming of the documentary “Land Without Bread” in 1932, which marked the transition between the Aragon filmmakers’ initial surrealist work and his later more social work. Eligio Montero and Salvador Simó’s script skilfully captures the crazy adventures on that production. The animation style is sober and contained with an almost rough, frugal beauty (perhaps lacking fluidity in places) that adapts perfectly to the dryness of this story and it’s characters.

“Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles” uses animation as a cinematic language, not as a genre. It’s commitment isn’t to sweeten life for an all-age audience but rather to cause an impact and thrill us. It’s aim is to share the history of Spanish cinema and to deepen our knowledge of one of the 20th Century’s most relevant creators. Although Buñuel is an indispensable figure in universal film, he is still a largely unknown personality in all his complexity for the majority of people. Solís’ movie shows us a young Buñuel sick of Dalí and full of traumas and contradictions, who is passionate about his ideas and film. It unceremoniously shows the iron will of a filmmaker bent on turning the middle class upside down by being brutal and transgressive, by using any means no matter how immoral to achieve his revolutionary objective. His aim is to shake the audience with the same violence as the rumbling in a poor person’s belly. The reel also unveils the unknown figure of Ramón Acín who finances “Land without Bread” and plays a transcendental role in the script as Buñuel’s closest friend as well as the moral counterpoint in the story. Both characters, along with the only two members of the technical team embark on an adventure around an isolated and underdeveloped Spain that is so surprisingly tough that it would be hard to believe. The movie includes fragments of the of the original documentary which are interspersed throughout the animation, so we have proof that what is depicted in the animation isn’t pure fiction. A crude and realistic costumbrismo inhabits each and every one of the 80 minutes of “Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles”.

Thanks to work like this, healthful, hopeful and honest, the Spanish animation industry is modestly beginning to spout from its seed (as opposed to the leafy trees of the North American industry).
Spain is the fifth animation producer in the world and has managed to get some attention from the rest of the industry despite it’s limitations. Simo’s next project is also an animation called “Dragonkeeper”, the first co production between China and Spain. It premieres in 2021 so we can be sure that next year will also be a good one for the Spanish animation industry.