Director Salvador Simo Busom remembers his grandfather telling him bedtime stories as a young boy. His mind was a blank canvas, and the words he heard created images and a universe in his mind. Simo Busom describes animation much like that world, you start with a blank canvas and the words create a universe. It was the perfect form to tell the story of artist Luis Buñuel.
In Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles, Simo Busom spotlights Luis Buñuel, a man in 1933 who was almost penniless after a disagreement and falling out with fellow artist Salvador Dali. Fellow artist Ramon Acin makes a promise to Buñuel that if he were to win the lottery, he’ll fund his next movie. As it happens, Acin wins the lottery and stays true to his word.
The film is a superb and fascinating animation from Simo Busom bringing to light an artist and his purpose, but also a look at the friendship and the good of humanity. I caught up with the director to talk about bringing Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles to the screen.
Where did this idea begin for you?
I’ve known Manuel Cristobal for a long time. We were working together to try to find projects to work on. He called me and told me to read the graphic novel and suggested I could do a film on it. I read the graphic novel and there were things that I didn’t agree with, but that actually made me want to do the film.
In the novel, there’s only one version of the story. You see the character and think, “I don’t like this character.” But, I’ve known Buñuel since I was a child. I thought it was important to show the artist and why he was doing the things he was doing, even if you agree with him or not. You have to understand why he was doing it, and you have to understand who Luis Buñuel was as a person and an artist to appreciate what he was doing. That was the motivation for me to do the film.
Once we got to the idea of Ramon, it became a story of friendship, and that was just magical.
You added so much humanity through the story. You could have done this in any form, what was it about animation that struck you for this?
The thing about animation is I remember when my grandfather would tell me about these stories at bedtime and there was that feeling of waiting for him to start the story, and your mind is ready to create everything.
The animation is the same. When we go to the cinema to see an animated movie, your mind becomes this blank canvas. You can create this world and this universe, and I thought it was the perfect way to tell this story.
Even if it wasn’t a classical story to tell in animation, it was the perfect opportunity to show the audience this person and this character. We had the tools; the colors, the lines, the animation techniques, and even the way of inserting live-action. Everything was working towards this story. I think in some ways; it was the perfect way to tell the story. We’re talking about an artist, and there’s no more artistic way than 2D animation.
Your score is simply beautiful. That was very striking in adding to the human aspect of what we’re seeing.
Working with Arturo Cardelús was incredible. He’s such a nice person, but he’s so talented. The film he did in the film was incredible. We talked every day. There was a six-hour time difference, and we’d spend an hour talking about the motivations of the score.
The score was a different way to tell the story. We had a solid script, and that was great. So, everything that came from that was adding in a different way of telling the story. The colors of the movie are telling a story, adding a dimension to it. With the score, that’s one of the biggest angles. It tells you something the images aren’t telling you. It creates a mood for the story and it helps the audience to be transported to a different place. In the end, movies are about feeling, you want the audience to feel, and you manipulate that to tell the story.
Arturo and I were totally synchronized, and it was an amazing way of working. For me, I wanted the strings and the guitar because it’s so essential to Spain. The orchestra and all the other instruments all just told a story. The way Arturo played with the notes and the melodies. He had different melodies for different characters. It was such an amazing piece of work that he did.
We actually recorded that score in Abbey Road. It was where The Beatles recorded, so that was brilliant. I just have words of thanks to Arturo because he did such amazing work.
I thought the editing move of intercutting the documentary was really great, and what you did there.
It was something we decided early in the movie because there was no better way of showing those images. I think if I had redrawn that, it would have been sacrilegious. People would think I wasn’t real.
It became an amazing way to tell the story. It helped bring the audience to the characters and the story, and it’s just this great contrast between the two worlds.
How did you capture the feeling of the town we see in the film, Las Huerdas?
We went a few times visiting and seeing it just to get the feeling. I remember the first time, I went alone and talked to the people to get a feel for it. When you go to the lower part of Las Huerdas where the poor villages were, they’re in the narrow valleys. The mountains there are very close to each other, so just to look at the sky, you have to look up. It’s like being in a city, and you’re surrounded by tall buildings, and when you want to see the sky, you have to look up. The feeling there is almost the same, and for me, it’s a bit claustrophobic. When you talk to the locals, where I felt claustrophobic, for them, they felt protected and nourished by the mountains. That was something we tried putting into the composition when we were designing the film.
How long was the journey of bringing this to the screen?
It was around three years and four months. We spent a year on the script. Manuel and I were very clear from the beginning that we didn’t want to lift a pencil until we had a solid script. We wrote it with Eligio R. Montero, and he’s amazing. Once we had the script, we knew whoever we added would help make it better. For me, this is a film done by a great team of artists and people who were passionate about it. Our budget was ridiculous, but the people who made this did it out of passion more than anything else.
Did your view of Luis Buñuel change after making this?
I always tell the story. The first time I heard about him; I was nine. My father was always a big fan. He had seen this film where a group of people was inside a room with no doors, and they couldn’t leave. I thought, “What?” Later on, I saw his films and tried to understand things. By doing this film and having the chance to know his life and his characters. I talked to his son and people who knew him, I got to really learn about him as an artist. What struck me the most was his honesty. He was not afraid of people not liking what he did. He knew there would be people who didn’t like what he did, but he wanted people to question the reality and for people to think. We say that at the beginning of the film, it’s a way to change the world. I think that was a great lesson to learn from him.
You restore Ramón Acin. You give him a face after his voice was erased for his political views. What did that mean for you to do that and shine a light on him again?
It was so emotional. Ramón Acin is so special. Discovering him was incredible. I think in the end; it’s a lesson he gives to all of us. When I heard about his story, he had said to Luis, “If I win the lottery I will pay you for the documentary.” Three weeks later, he did, and he kept his word, giving Luis the money. He became a producer of the film. The first time I heard that I thought he was a man of his word. I don’t know how many people are truly people of their word. I corrected myself shortly after because I think actually if I thought about it, how many people actually do keep their words. Nowadays, if you ask this question, most people will say, “No one will keep their word.” It’s not true, you’ll be surprised by how many good people still surround us, and that’s a little bit of what Ramon is telling us. He was a good person. We are surrounded by good people.
It really made me want to go out and learn more about Luis and his work.
That’s exactly the aim. We want to restore both these characters. If someone sees the film and then goes off to research their work, that’s great and a huge success.
Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is released today.