Los Olvidados (The Forgotten Ones, 1950) — film review

Los Olvidados (The Forgotten Ones; known in the U.S. as The Young and the Damned) is a 1950 Mexican teen crime film directed by Luis Buñuel. It was filmed at Tepeyac Studios and on location in Mexico City, depicting the children in poverty. The film can be seen in the tradition of social realism, although it also contains elements of surrealism present in much of Buñuel’s work. While widely criticized upon initial release, it received Best Director at the 1951 Cannes Film Festival and is now considered a staple of Latin American cinema.

Magical Realism is inseparable from Latin American literature, and in my opinion, a strong characteristic of this movie. For me, it was quite a unique cinematic experience because it was the few black-and-white movies, and maybe the oldest movie I’ve ever seen. Different from typical films, where storylines are clearly organized, this film had neither a start nor an end. Instead, it depicted every character’s daily actions simultaneously, composing a realistic picture of the bottom of the Mexican society. I wouldn’t say that I genuinely enjoyed this film, but I’m glad to have encountered and gotten to know more about the legendary Luis Buñuel and his characteristic styles.

Undoubtedly, Los Olvidados was dark or even pessimistic, but I think this kind of tone was no surprise for a left-wing movie, from which public awareness is raised through bleak depictions. Since it was essentially a movie of social realism, I don’t consider it too negative. And actually, among all the miseries, I could still see subtle rays of hope that kept this movie from complete hopelessness. For example, the principal of the farm school softened Pedro’s otherwise stubborn heart by his kind education approaches; Pedro’s mom anxiously searched for Pedro after he was killed despite her initial indifference.

By watching this film, I did find some of the typical Buñuel trademarks. Most evidently, socialist ideals — they were strongly conveyed throughout the dark settings and sad plots, and were the main appeal of the whole film. Also, the distinctive surrealism could be observed in the dream scene, where illusions and subconsciousness of the boy were captured through Buñuel’s unique approaches. Last but not least, sexual repression was brought onto the stage when we found out that Meche, the only female youngster, was sexually harassed by both Jaibo and the old blind man. Buñuel introduced gender inequality along with sexual repression, putting another social issue in front of the viewers’ eyes.

There are only two movies inscribed as “Memory of the World” by UNESCO, and Los Olvidados is one of them. I think UNESCO gave it such a distinction for several reasons. First, the cinematic approaches of this movie were unique and definitely avant-garde. Also, the setting was quite special. Unlike other European or North American-centered movies, Los Olvidados was directed and filmed in Mexico, a developing country with large population but little spotlight. Buñuel’s focus on the large, yet forgotten majority was worth recognizing. Finally, the socialist ideals could be one of the reasons. UNESCO as an organization of the UN, might grant this movie such an honor to advocate social equality and justice.

Anyway, due to the wide recognition it received and Luis Buñuel’s international fame, Los Olvidados has become a forever classic in Latin American cinema. Hence, even if you‘re not a fan of socialist ideals or surrealist cinematic approaches, I‘d still argue that Los Olvidados is a must-see, as long as you want to have a glance into Hispanic movies.

(This is an edited version of one of my film reviews from the course “Never Too Many Movies: Spanish & Catalan Society through Cinema” during my exchange at ESADE Business School in Barcelona.)

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金運祺|Ricky Chin

金運祺|Ricky Chin

Photography / Traveling / Movies...and more. Exchange life in Europe through travel notes and film reviews.

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