on 12 November 2010
It's several decades since I last saw Buñuel's Los Olvidados , a powerful, unsentimental and unflinching look at the lives of a gang of slum children set in Mexico City. After viewing this DVD it's clear that what I had retained in my memory was a general impression of its style and the visceral emotional impact it made on me many years ago, but I had remembered very little of the actual content. Even the stunning image of the last shot that forms the desperately bleak ending I had slightly misremembered.
So, the result of all this is that to all intents and purposes it was like seeing it for the first time. And the film is a revelation. It begins as if we are about to see a documentary including a caption that states that everything we are about to see is fact, but in a Buñuelsque inversion the film thereafter is clearly a constructed narrative drama. It's equally clear he intended that we should interpret what we see as real events, not as fictional invention and that this is what happens to such people and that it isn't very pleasant. The idea of the factual nature of the narrative is underscored by the apparently Italian neorealist inspired cinematography, although this also is subverted by Buñuel's strange obsession with chickens and by the inclusion of the most astonishing and accomplished 'dream sequence' that is a masterpiece in its own right.
Although the film intertwines several story-lines the main action focuses on the brutal gang leader Jaibo and his fatal influence over the younger Pedro. Buñuel is unequivocal, the world that these slum dwellers inhabit is a cesspit and it will remain so as long as they remain poor. For the foreseeable future, poor is just how they will remain, except Pedro, for these are the events on his road to Calvary.
As for this 60th Anniversary Edition don't expect too much. The print quality ranges from reasonably good to some poor fuzzy night-time shots. It's not a restoration just UK release of the Films Sans Frontieres copy from France. The extra is a 15 minute critique by Derek Malcolm.
on 4 October 2013
Los Olvidados ('The Young and the Damned', actually more correctly translated as 'The Forgotten Ones') is the 1950 social realist film that put Luis Bunuel back on the map as a film-maker. Having scandalized middle class sensitivities with the surrealist classics Un chien Andalou (1928) and L'Age d'or (1930) in Paris with Salvator Dali, he made a strange 'documentary' about a dismal Spanish village called Las Hurdes (1932) before vanishing for 15 years. His autobiography 'My Last Breath' (which I highly recommend) has him picking up odd jobs around Hollywood studios and even in MOMA in New York, but we can't really be sure what he did. He eventually fetched up in Mexico in 1946 where he went on to make two inconsequential dramas, Gran Casino (1948) and The Great Madcap (1949) which producer Oscar Dancigers saw. Bunuel already had another script ready, but Dancigers had no doubt seen some of the Italian Neo-realist films of the period like Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948), Roberto Rossellini's Rome Open City (1945) and Paisan (1946) and maybe even Luchino Visconti's Ossessione (1942) and La Terra Trema (1948). He wanted Bunuel to make a film in the same social realist tradition about the slums of Mexico City. It's very interesting then that without Dancigers Bunuel probably would not have made his crunching study of the poor which took the 1951 Cannes audiences so by surprise and which got Bunuel the Best Director award. I say 'crunching' because the film is a tale of truly horrific dimensions. As Derek Malcolm says in the accompanying introduction with this DVD, watching it is akin to being punched in the guts for 80 minutes without let up, so despicable is the human behaviour Bunuel (and screenwriter Luis Alcoriza) put in front of us.
The film is about a group of destitute kids and their daily lives in a slum. Their leader is Jaibo (Roberto Cobo), a truly nasty piece of work who rejoins his gang after leaving juvenile jail. Aided by Pedro (Alfonso Mejia) he tracks down Julian (Javier Amezcula) who he thinks fingered him. In a scene designed to show the sheer propensity for evil kids have, Jaibo hides a rock in a sling, pretending his arm is broken only to beat his prey to death with it. Pedro is relatively innocent up to this point, but now he is an accomplice to murder and has to shut up to protect Jaibo who goes on to use him throughout the film. Bunuel truly rubs our noses in the sheer horror of everyday slum life here. No character is good in this world of survival at any cost. The gang beat up a blind street musician (Miguel Inclan), but when the man's stick is studded with a rusty nail which he uses to assail his attackers, and when he proves in any case to be a paedophile, it's hard to feel sympathy. The group mug a legless cripple, kicking his support trolley down a hill. Another (this time well dressed) paedophile tries to pick up Pedro. Pedro's mother (Stella Inda) makes clear she hates her son by beating and screaming at him at every chance. She even allows herself to be seduced by Jaibo in a truly toe-curling sequence, and eventually gets rid of her son by sending him to a 'farm school'. Here we meet the film's only truly sympathetic character, the school head (Francisco Jambrina) who starts to show Pedro the way out. Here we have a twist of a Dickensian variety. The head trusts Pedro with money to go and buy tobacco for him. The boy is intent on making good, but Bill Sykes (I mean Jaibo) catches him outside and he is once more mired in slum conditions. Dickens magics up a happy ending for his tale, not so with Bunuel. The ending here is as heart rending as any I have ever seen in the cinema. The sheer pitiless inhumanity is deeply shocking, all the more so as one of the characters involved (the beautiful girl, Alma Delia Fuentes) has been Pedro's closest friend throughout the film.
Italian Neo-realism was based on a desire to throw off the cosy artificiality of Hollywood melodrama. Suddenly the stress was on location shooting, semi-documentary methods, improvised dialog, working class themes, real people working in real places and the idea of poor people being victims of the environment that conditions them. Los Olvidados goes along with most of this. It opens with a voice over declaring the general theme of every city having it's slum area. This is similar to the way La Terra Trema begins for example. Certainly Bunuel does show the truth of environmental conditioning, but there's more to it than that. For Bunuel, people are people beyond the remit of their environment. They all have their own desires, material, sexual or otherwise as shown in two surreal dream sequences (the first portraying Pedro's guilt at being involved in murder and the second having Jaibo being sucked into a hole as he dies) and in the behaviour especially of the mother. Nothing 'conditions' her to hate her son or want to have sex with Jaibo - it's her desire pure and simple. Also lacking in Los Olvidados is the use of children as a mirror to show up the horror that surrounds them - the boy at the end of Bicycle Thieves, the boys who watch the priest's death at the end of Rome Open City. Here the kids are evil incarnate. And they grow up (if they survive that is) to be even worse, if that is possible. There is a harsh pitilessness here which though tempered by short scenes of affection (the girl running milk over her legs and responding to Pedro's gifts, the mother eventually showing concern) is deeply shocking nevertheless. Bunuel's Neo-realism is one of assault and disturbance and it gets to the route of reality much more directly and honestly than even the best of the Italian Neo-realist films.
I notice some reviews here see Los Olvidados as being Bunuel's best. Well, it's certainly one of them, but he did go on to make equally devastating attacks on the world as he saw it in El (1952), The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (1955), Nazarin (1958) and especially (the two films I think are really his greatest works) Viridiana (1961) and The Exterminating Angel (1962). Derek Malcolm relates that Bunuel's biggest regret was that he never made a film in Hollywood. I for one am glad he never did. Softening his critical edge for the sake of 'entertainment', such a prospect would have robbed us of some the greatest films cinema has to offer us. This DVD is very good by the way. The picture is clean, if not completely without blur when the camera pans quickly especially across dark scenes. A 'happy' alternative ending was unearthed and digitalized in 2002, but sadly it hasn't been attached to this DVD as an extra. As it is we only have the said Derek Malcolm introduction which I feel could have been deeper - less clips from the film and more critical analysis would have helped. I bought this for less than a fiver which makes it a sure recommendation.
This is a deeply affecting film about the poor in Mexico City, in I believe about 1950. The principal protagonist is a young boy in a large disordered family, whose promiscuous mother oversees alone; he is unloved, but struggling to do the right thing and full of rage. One of his friends is an evil young criminal, whom a gang of kids looks up to as someone who controls his own fate. He is one of those destructive personalities that, if you have the misfortune to encounter intimately, will leave his mark. There are many other characters, all finely drawn and relentless in their brutal realism, including an abandoned peasant boy and his abusive caretaker, a blind musician full of hate.
The young boy is seeking to find what to do with his life and even gets some help from an institution run by a good man, who gets him a job as an apprentice in a silver smith's shop. It is a way ahead for the boy and he takes to it with great energy and hope. Of course, things don't work out the way they should, in what can only be called a catastrophe that no one will ever know about. I don't want to reveal the plot, of course, but Bunuel serves up an awful tragedy with total honesty and an utter lack of sentimentality. I almost wept at the end.
Bunuel adds many subtle twists to the film, such as the criminal's affair with a woman, perhaps a passing on of his bad genes. There is also the blind musician, exulting in death, a laugh that entered my nightmares when I first saw the film 30 years ago. The images are unforgettable, such as the dream of the boy with his mother, when she is offering him meat only to have the criminal emerge from under the bed to take it.
REcommended with enthusiasm. This is a great, even pioneering film that does not end with a happy ending or indulge in any hollywoodian moralizing.
This is a true classic, made by visionary film maker, Luis Buñuel, who started in 1929 and sadly passed in 1983. During that time he made arguably, some of the best cinema in the world including a Mexican set version of `Wuthering Heights' in 1954. This film was made in 1950 and is set in the slums of Mexico and tells the story of some of the juvenile delinquents. Ostensibly telling the story of Pedro, who gets pulled by his compatriots into wrong doing.
They are utterly ruthless getting involved with robbing a blind man and a paraplegic man simply for his cigarettes. There is the crushing poverty that is shown by the desperation of Pedro's mother who can not show him any love as he is just another nuisance mouth to feed who won't get a job. There is also the story of the little country boy, who has been abandoned by his father but finds some solace with those who take pity on him, he is nick named `Small Eyes' and he is so sweet it is hard to comprehend who would abandon such a child.
The whole film has a vitality that shines off the screen even after all these years. The actors are all superb and the cinematography a true joy. There were for me reminiscences of `Oliver Twist' at one point or more accurately David Leans film of the book. This was one of the first two films preserved by UNESCO as being of major social importance, the other one was Fritz Lang's `Metropolis', so it is amazing that it is still relatively unknown.
It was received, in its day, very badly being criticised by all corners of society as being unrepresentative of Mexico and just too brutal causing it to be pulled from cinemas after only three days in some instances. Suffice to say it is now recognised as being a brilliant study of poverty and crime and very much a true representation of that time. The fact that it still has the power to shock is a testament to the talent of Bunuel. This was originally thought to be an eight reel film, but recently a ninth reel was discovered that contains the alternative happy ending, which I have not seen. This is for true fans of cinema, artistic, realistic, entertaining and shocking for all the right reasons - an absolute classic.
on 1 March 2008
Luis Bunuel classic from 1950. It is a tale of savage acts committed by impoverished youths inMexico City. It is a film that has been kept fresh by its spirit and its style. Far from being puppets in a sermon on poverty, the characters are vivid creatures whose fierce desires are the focus of Bunuel's attention.
In his unique storytelling, he not only finds forceful images in the dramas reality, but adds a masterful dream sequence.
on 5 March 2012
Boy, what a film !!! From the opening scenes to the horrific and very hurriedly concluded last scene of the father who dumps his completely innocent and certainly non violent boy onto a rubbish tip , whose only crime was that of being unloved and ousted because there were too many mouths to feed in the family was an ordeal from start to finish. Enough to stir nightmares of where lack of love and home can lead to. Increasing the impact was the visual ordeal of watching the starkly contrasted imagery black and white and hardly any greys in between, for over an hour which of course was only to be expected in a film of 1951 of Luis Bunuel. This made the film perfectly set in it's time and wouldn't gain by remaking or remastering. You felt that then filmaking was about messages of immense importance and hamstrung by low budgets rather than
as now encumbered by indulgent production methods and specialised sectors of the industry to endorse with special effects what should be expressed without this resource. I heartily felt glad when the film ended so strong was it's impact but I'm glad I bought it just the same. The scene where the boy-gangster Jaibo organised his gang of nice but poor kids to rob the mutilated beggar who was left stranded on the pavement with no way of uprighting himself being amputated of both legs, and the scenes where the blind man was robbed were harrowing even today in spite of the raw news items we are fed with daily.
This is a classic of early cinema and leaves one with a bitter taste in the guts!!
Having recently seen The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie again and found it a bit disappointing, I was half-expecting to have the same reaction here, but in fact I think Los Olvidados has dated far less. By being essentially realistic it shows us how dreadful poverty was (and is) and is neither sentimental nor moralising. As such it is better, for me, than a film like Bicycle Thieves, in that you don't feel anything is being laid on thick to get an effect. The boys' behaviour in the film is often abject and hard to watch, but even a fairly nasty character is given a poetic fantasy sequence as he lies dying, which seems to tie in with the idea of mercy being infinite. It is strangely moving. The main character (Pedro) evokes the profoundest sympathy without anything being forced - there is an incredible moment where he is scuppered with the best intentions, revealing what a trap poverty really is. The handling of the plot is solid and yet subtle in that it is easy to follow while being very revealing of character in so many details. It also works very well visually, with two startling dream sequences. This is one of the things that is particularly impressive, as it blends this into an almost documentary feel at times to create a highly vivid style of cinema, presenting the harshness of the lives it shows and offering some poetic transcendence without betraying it.
on 30 June 2013
The story is set in poverty stricken parts of Mexico focusing mainly on the children in story and what they get up to. I have to say visually is this film is a joy to watch. If you appreciate good cinematography and Bunuel stop reading the review and buy it. Its really interesting to watch some of the more surreal scenes in the film. The black and white is incredible powerful in these moments like in the dream sequence.
Theres also a talk from a critic in the bonus content. I've seen him in a skysarts doc on bunuel and its quite good to have his insight.
I had not seen this 1950 Luis Bunuel masterpiece for the best part of 30 years (since the Scala in London's Tottenham Street was still going, in fact) and watching again I wondered whether I had mis-remembered how good it was, with its relatively low-key, 'unspectacular' beginning. But, as Bunuel (and co-writer Luis Alcoritza) allows the story of Roberto Cobo's 'juvenile delinquent', Jaibo, recently released from prison, and his 'protégé', Alfonso Mejia's Pedro, to develop and the (brutal) power of their impoverished circumstances in Mexico City's urban slums to take hold, the film eventually assumes the mantle of a social-realist classic. This is, of course, all the more remarkable given that Bunuel made his name as a surrealist film-maker (Un Chien Andalou, L'Age d'Or) - but here he has produced something totally uncompromising and visceral (albeit with one outstanding dream sequence).
Gabriel Figueroa's gritty and evocative black-and-white cinematography and Rodolfo Halffter's alternately sweeping and moody soundtrack set up Bunuel's depiction of inner city poverty and entrapment brilliantly. This is a city of rubble-strewn slums and wandering stray dogs, where families struggle to survive, teenage gangs mug cripples in the street, promiscuous single mothers can't remember who has fathered their children and young boys 'truant' from home for days on end. Bunuel's central story of a boy taken under the wing of an older, corrupting ('ex-con') teen is hardly original (maybe more so in 1950, than now), but he has imbued his film with great pathos and humanity. Given the youthfulness and relative inexperience of much of Bunuel's cast, the performances are particularly notable. Both Cobo and Mejia are totally convincing as the two main protagonists, the former a cocksure, malevolent opportunist (but whose outlook on life can probably to traced back to his troubled family background), the latter a gullible, but ultimately, well-meaning victim of circumstance. Similarly, Estela Inda is excellent as Pedro's pressured mother, tempted (against her better instinct) by the lecherous Jaibo, and resentful of her lot in life (and her errant son), as is Alma Delia Fuentes's feisty Meche, also the subject of Jaibo's lustful intentions.
Throughout, Bunuel makes it clear to us that, although this urban underclass are uncouth and vulgar, these are not innate characteristics but the result of their social circumstances (as the manager of the 'farm-school' to which Pedro has been 'exiled' states, 'If we could lock poverty up instead of children'). Also, being the great social observer that he was, Bunuel's film is not all urban drudgery, but also takes time to explore other themes. Superstitions are prevalent in this desperate community - from cobwebs preventing bleeding to the 'spiritual' powers of white pigeons and a dead man's tooth. Bunuel (as was his wont) also pushes the acceptable boundary of sexual content, as Jaibo blatantly stares as Meche douses her legs in donkey milk and then seduces Pedro's mother (eventually, with her consent), and (in order to earn much-needed money) Pedro is also tempted into selling his body.
For anyone wanting a degree of 'let-up' in Bunuel's bleak depiction of the lives of these downtrodden souls, I'm afraid there is little good news (he even dispensed with an alternative, more positive, ending that he had been pressurised - by Mexico's censors - to shoot and use). What remains, for me at least, is a brilliant, uncompromising piece of film-making, whose influence can be felt in a whole series of subsequent films by directors such as Ken Loach (in particular, Sweet Sixteen), Shane Meadows (This Is England), the Dardennes Brothers (The Kid With A Bike) and even in TV's The Wire.
on 1 November 2015
Where this fits into the history of cinema I have no idea. I get the feeling it is considered a worthy milestone. It is a colourful depiction of both Mexican background and characters, and watchable. Some of the scenes and screenplay may have influenced Huston's last film "Under the Volcano" with Albert Finney, and Peckinpah's seedy raw Mexico seems to be an extension of this. But it isn't as good as everybody says while probably being influential.
On the other hand...when will see a film about - from - on Mexico that offers us beauty, human dignity, cultural richness to compare and contrast with its undoubted problems of endemic poverty and disturbing violence? And a certain presumption on the part of Western media (let's face it film is not an art form but a media and is consequently more propaganda and entertainment than anything else) of loose morality which I find repugnant and culturally racist. Surely, Eisenstein's "Que Viva Mexico!" coming from a socialist point of view is a far greater film. But THEY wouldn't tell us that now...would they?
Watch poor people acting and aspiring to the highest level human beings are capable and not this western continuous focus on the gutter when filming social deprivation and economic injustice.