Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles Movie Poster Image
Animated biopic of surrealist director has edgy content.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 80 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Art can be used to disrupt and provoke. It's important to stay true to your vision, even over the objections of those you care about. Observing the impoverished life of the peasants up close transforms the privileged director, who becomes a better person and better friend in the process. Buñuel is recognized as a great artist, but his methods aren't considered acceptable today.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Buñuel is a Latinx director who made significant impact in cultural, political landscape of his era (he's considered the leading surrealist director and one of the greatest filmmakers of all time), but he doesn't exactly model positive behavior. He created art with intent to upset others, but after his film L'Age d'Or resulted in riots, excommunications, he experienced more adversity than he expected. Documentary he's making in this film, Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan, brings to light harsh living conditions for peasants living in a notably poverty-stricken and remote village in Spain; the filmmakers say repeatedly the film is intended to help the villagers. Buñuel ultimately forges a way to reinvent himself, which he's able to do thanks to the support of his friend, Spanish avant-garde artist Ramón Acín. Acín isn't just a good friend; he's the voice of reason to Buñuel's extreme methods.


Buñuel commits acts of animal cruelty for his film, which are seen in the form of actual footage from the 1936 documentary: A live rooster's head is ripped off, goats are filmed falling off of a rocky clifftop (the camera follows their bodies violently rolling down a mountain), and a beehive is intentionally broken open so the bees will attack and sting a donkey. In a dream, a man chokes his son. In a memory, a father forces his son to watch vultures devouring a mule carcass. A boy falls and cuts his hands repeatedly, then bleeds all over his musical instrument.


In a dream, a man touches a woman's chest intimately while she's wearing a see-through gown; in a close up, he squeezes her breasts -- and we see he is now a child, and she turns into the Virgin Mary, who then takes on the face of the child's mother. Men leer after a woman, rating her on a 1-10 scale. Men laugh and make sexual jokes about a woman they've employed. 


The term "mental masturbation" is used, along with words like "damn" and "hell."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Smoking is constant, including a giant, overflowing ashtray and smoke rings. Also lots of drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is an animated biopic of renowned surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel. It examines the personal growth Buñuel experienced while making his first documentary, Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan. The dialogue is in French and Spanish (subtitled in English) and is adapted from a graphic novel by the same title -- which refers to a maze of roofs that looks like tortoise shells. The film is definitely on the edgier side, and to really understand what's going on, viewers need to have an understanding of Buñuel's work, the avant-garde French political art movement he was involved with, and the influence that Salvador Dali and Sigmund Freud had in pop culture in the 1920s and '30s. To that end, there's quite a bit of mature imagery connected to that era and to surrealism, such as a dream that connects sexual imagery of religious icons with a child. Brief clips of actual footage from Las Hurdes are also intercut into the animation, including several upsetting examples of animal cruelty that would be illegal and immoral today (all of them involve animals dying). Characters smoke incessantly (accurate for the era) and drink wine frequently. 

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What's the story?

In BUÑUEL IN THE LABYRINTH OF THE TURTLES, while experiencing a career crisis in the early 1930s, surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel  (voiced by Jorge Usón) decides to make a documentary to expose the extreme conditions of life in a village in Extremadura, one of Spain's poorest states. While he films in hopes of positively transforming the lives of the peasants, it's Buñuel who is truly changed.

Is it any good?

The behind-the-scenes story of a controversial documentary made by a legendary filmmaker known for his shocking imagery could be a great pick for film and art students, but it's not meant for kids. That said, Buñuel intentionally made provocative films to spur debate, and -- for parents who choose to share this film with their children -- that's precisely how Buñuel and the Labyrinth of the Turtles should be used, too. Like the filmmaker, teens have a reputation for provoking authority as a form of communication, and this film can serve as an excellent springboard into the purpose of art, success, friendship, and personal responsibility.

Buñuel's controversial methodologies don't hold up today. Although the film's animation serves to soften the horrific blow of how he cruelly obtained some of his shots, cutting to the actual Las Habres footage hammers home that it's all true -- and truly revolting. The other filmmakers on the shoot serve as stand-ins for a contemporary perspective on his choices, saying that what he's doing isn't humane or right. This movie doesn't fully do justice to a snippet in the life of one of the most original directors of all time, but as it suggests that the making of Las Habres was a metamorphosis for him, seeing his story might just transform you, too.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about art as both communication and revolution. How did the surrealists try to affect change? Did they succeed? How does film have the potential to influence people?

  • Buñuel commits acts of animal cruelty in the name of art. Las Hadres: Tierra Sin Pan is considered a masterpiece; do the means justify the ends? How has popular opinion about the treatment of animals changed since the film was made?

  • Buñuel's filmmaking methods hit upon a couple of controversial issues in the documentarian community. Do you think a documentarian should "dramatize" or "fake" real-life events if a scene can't be captured organically? Is it right for filmmakers to get involved with their subjects and, therefore, alter their lives?

  • What audience do you think Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is intended for? How can you tell?

Movie details

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