I’ve never been more conflicted than ever on what to label such an effort but whichever category you would place it in, whether it be Mexican realism or surrealism, Luis Buñuel’s Los Olvidados is still one of the finest films about poverty to have ever been made. The films of Luis Buñuel were always weird in some way or another but nevertheless, they always made for extremely fascinating results and offer a scathing critique of some sort which exposes a sort of cleverness that ranks him among the greatest filmmakers of his own kind. But Luis Buñuel was truly a one of a kind filmmaker if one were to speak in that regard, whether we go from surreal comedies like The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie to dramas like Belle de Jour, or wherever he goes – that touch is always present and even in Los Olvidados.
There was a point in which Luis Buñuel had a script that had focused towards a boy selling lottery tickets – although his producer had something else in mind, one that geared towards children in poverty with more realism. Given what Luis Buñuel is known for, the approach to Los Olvidados is more restrained – with his tendency for surrealism still mixed in to a fit, with a dream sequence of its protagonist Pedro. In English, the title “los olvidados” translates out to “the young and the damned,” giving a clear grasp on the story to which Buñuel intends to tell to his audiences. This is a story of poverty amongst the Mexican youth, and the corruption they face after slum gangs end up moving into the area. El Jaibo leads said gang after he escapes juvenile refuge. Young Pedro presents another case, for Buñuel presents a moral challenge on his own end. What will this lifestyle come to bring to him eventually?
It would be one thing to point out how Buñuel still allows his own surrealist touch to be present where it would least be expected and such a treat allows itself to shine in Los Olvidados – a tale of poverty within the slums of Mexico from his own eyes. Buñuel’s take, however, is never an uninteresting one, but rather instead this surrealism allows this take on poverty to stand apart from many other visions of such a subject. His touch upon social commentary as shown with his later works whether they be surrealist comedies or whatnot, however, has always remained as intriguing as ever and in Los Olvidados such strength is only more evident when placed amongst a background of realism. Los Olvidados never shies away from the grittiest aspects of what poverty has done to such citizens during the time – and as a result the power only finds itself strengthened.
Los Olvidados does not only observe poverty amongst Mexico’s youth but there’s a heightened sense of tension arising from how Buñuel applies his usual surrealism in this piece. Pedro is a youth corrupted by his own ideals, especially after hanging around El Jaibo and his gang, who live a life of crime. Buñuel’s intentions with Pedro’s character arc are certainly most admirable because it feels like a perfect reflection upon what the economy has driven its own people to, a rise above others to their eventual downfall – the perfect routing for a tragedy on the spot. Buñuel’s mix of both neorealism and surrealism works to form what would be one of the most reflective looks upon poverty to have ever been put on film. Buñuel is never afraid to offer his own scathing critique upon what damage have politics done to Mexico during the time but with Los Olvidados, it’s clear a cry for help is present.
In a sense one can argue that it is very neorealist in its approach towards poverty in the slums of Mexico together with how Luis Buñuel had cast inexperienced actors within leading roles, but like such films they move out to their viewers like a call to one’s awareness about the poor economic state. Luis Buñuel’s direction is indeed a superb effort on his part, it allows even the smallest aspects to lunge out at their viewers. He directs every child performance to perfection just as he does with its antagonistic figures, every nook and cranny of the damaged environment still roots itself inside of one’s memory, everything works in his favour in order to provide a feeling of authenticity behind Los Olvidados and its approach for realism, while dabbling into what he is best known for.
Los Olvidados is a calling for one’s help within an economy only set to fall upon itself all the more. Mexican cinema had its face changed through what Buñuel had presented, through its blending of neorealist techniques and a dabbling into surrealism. It never shies away from what sort of damage this sort of lifestyle has done to its own individuals, and under a tragic light, greater effect is left behind. So many years have passed by and Los Olvidados still remains one of the most haunting and unique portraits of poverty to have been put on film, a stunning achievement whose voice has only been made more important as time has passed by. Buñuel was evidently not a man who was happy with where his citizens have been driven to as a result of the political climate around them, now it’s only fitting he has created something more universal as time has passed by.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Koch Lorber Films.
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Screenplay by Luis Alcoriza, Luis Buñuel
Produced by Óscar Dancigers
Starring Alfonso Mejía, Stella Inda, Miguel Inclán, Roberto Cobo
Release Year: 1950
Running Time: 86 minutes