This film was shown as part of the 15th London Spanish Film Festival 25-29 September 2019

Las Hurdes: The Land Without Bread (Las Hurdes: Tierra sin Pan) is a curio in a long list of curios from Luis Buñuel’s filmography. At 30 minutes it’s very short and based on a work by Maurice Legendre. Ostensibly it’s a documentary about the virtually forgotten people of Las Hurdes, Spain. This animation purports to tell the story of how that film was made.

Opening in a Parisian bar the surrealists of the time are deep in conversation tittle-tattle and challenging each other while Buñuel (voiced by Jorge Uson) is basking in the success of Un Chien Andalou and the ensuing controversy of follow up L’Age d’Or in 1930. Looking for another project he is offered an ethnographic study of Las Hurdes in his native Spain. Initially reluctant he agrees and after a stroke of luck for his producer and anarchist friend Ramon Acín (Fernando Ramos) they set off for the barren land of Las Hurdes and the town of La Alberca in the region of Extremadura.

What they find is a town and people out of time barely eking out an existence on the land for themselves let alone generating an income. The main income being the payments the receive for taking in children from the surrounding villages. The destitution is palpable with the children in rags and barefoot in a single room schoolhouse. On top of this years of inbreeding has left many of the townsfolk desperately vulnerable.

This is the meat of the documentary but Buñuel, as a surrealist, has other ideas. These come into play as he’s tormented by the memories of his father and his competition with Dali who is considered the icon of the movement. Thus director and writer Salvador Simó with the animation winds into Buñuel’s head revelling in his dreams and his contradictions.

A man of inherited wealth making a documentary to show the grinding state of the people at the same time unable to control his ego and his entitlement that leads him to manipulate outrage for effect as he dresses and parades as a nun in the deeply religious town, shoots goats that fail to fall off cliffs, and apparently bought a donkey tied it up and smashed the beehives it was carrying infuriating the bees into stinging the beast to death. It all becomes too much for the Acín and the crew who walk out mainly is has to be said because they run out of money.

It’s an intriguing film that I’ll let the experts comment on the veracity of the events depicted in the animation. As like the source documentary there likely to be some embellishment. Suffice to say that emotions become confused for Buñuel as you come to understand his position with his father and Dali.

But equally there’s disquiet about his self-righteous artistic arrogance as he trounces all over the beliefs of people who have virtually nothing else. This is deftly shown through relatively unsophisticated, though effective, animation (which vaguely resembles the drawings in the original graphic novel by Fermin Solís) that’s counterpointed against the harrowing grainy black and white of the original film which is interspersed and is at times very troubling.

The voice actors are all excellent capturing and drawing out the nuances of the characters. The score by Arturo Cardelús is magnificent.

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