Reviews of “Land Without Bread” (1933) and related work

“Land Without Bread” (1933Moving picture, 30 minutes)

Some of the 52 hurdes, isolated mountain villages in pre-Franco Spain, where the human population suffers greatly from ecological marginalization, superstition and other horrors.

Las Hurdes is possibly the first mockumentary: partly accurate, politically serious, but partly staged like Nanook of the North (1922) and seemingly designed to ridicule the audience in a straight-faced parody of distancing colonialist anthropological documentaries. Lots of black humour, by surrealist Luis Bunuel. Read all you can about it; deeply fascinating stuff.

References here: Viridiana (1961).

moving picture non-fiction

Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles (2018Moving picture, 80 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A fictionalized drama of the making of “Land Without Bread”. Based on a graphic novel, this production occupies a somewhat barren middle ground between a straight-faced effort to document the documentary and a typical drama about Buñuel’s financial difficulties, hypothetical personal feelings of inadequacy and guilt, and some disagreements within the group of four men making the documentary, which are brought to a peak typical of a conventional drama.

As a result, if you haven’t already seen Buñuel’s early films, “Un chien Andalou” (1929), L’âge d’or (1930) and “Land Without Bread”, there is no real point to watching this one. On the other hand, if you have seen them, this dramatization will seem dubious. It is even less of a documentary than the original.

I was taught at university that the burst of gunsmoke in the scene of the goat “falling” off a cliff was likely intended as a joke or a prank, testing the audience’s attention and critical thinking as they gaze upon the exotic countryside in an increasingly surreal “ethnofiction”. That makes sense to me. It seems less credible, as is shown in this film, that Buñuel shot the goat to deceive the audience without any comic intent, to follow a loose script based on a book that Buñuel knew, at the time of shooting, to be false.

The emphasis of the narrative is on the filmmakers’ social conscience, and its contrast against their interventions and the lack thereof. That’s a good choice. Perhaps the angle on truthfulness is also good and the interpretation of “Land Without Bread” as a mockumentary has been exaggerated. I don’t know, and I can well imagine that Buñuel would have failed to formulate or explain his full intentions on site. A lot of the magic probably happened in the cutting room and voiceover scripting.

The animation is not pretty, but a lot of the backgrounds are very nice. The medium provides an excellent opportunity to cross-cut to the documentary itself, without misleading the audience more actively than Buñuel.

moving picture spin-off animation fiction