“I hope they’ll kill every one of them before they are born.”
‘Los Olvidados’, directed by Luis Buñuel in 1950, is a Mexican drama that draws on the neorealist cinema of Europe but augments it with Buñuel’s characteristic surreal touches. It focuses on a gang of poor children in Mexico City. The leader of the group, El Jaibo, escapes from jail and picks up where he left off. He tracks down the former member of the gang, Julián, now working as a labourer, who El Jaibo believes betrayed him. El Jaibo murders Julián and strips his body of money, giving fellow gang-member and main character in the film Pedro half to both implicate him in the killing and to keep him quiet. The film then focuses on Pedro as he makes attempts to free himself from the grips of the gang and to come to terms with the murder he’s seen. It’s a film which unflinchingly presents the poverty of a city and the effects this has on the children, but also doesn’t romanticise the situation. Pedro’s journey is now a happy one and doesn’t have redemption, but we are allowed to see glimmers of light in his life: a reform school run by a compassionate and progressive teacher; the possibility of a job at a blacksmiths; trust shown by adults. These aren’t enough for Pedro to break free of the clutches of El Jaibo, however. The film contains a number of neorealist characteristics: amateur actors, the use of the city streets and urban wastelands as locations, the grim but socially aware subject matter. Buñuel’s direction strays from this style though, most notably with a dream sequence that is both eerily obscure and laden with metaphor. These moments of abstraction could take us out of the drama, but actually manage to draw us into Pedro’s world and give us insight not only into his physical struggles, but his psychological trauma as well.
Would I recommend it? Yes – a double bill with ‘The 400 Blows’ seems appropriate. It’s more straightforward and direct than Buñuel’s later films but still contains that unique and twisted view of reality that makes his movies so compelling.