Los Olvidados Review

Image for Los Olvidados

Escaped from a reformatory, El Jaibo returns to the Mexico City slums, where his taunting of blind beggar Don Carmelo earns him the fearful respect of street kid Pedro - until he seduces his mother, Marta, and Pedro betrays Jaibo to the cops for killing r


Having spent 15 years in the cinematic wilderness, Luis Buñuel was afforded the opportunity to resume his directorial career by Mexican producer, Oscar Dancigers. Having released the ultra-cheap entertainments, Gran Casino and El Gran Calavera, Buñuel was considering adaptations of Maria Perez Galdos's Doña Perfecta and Nazarin when he agreed to make Los Olvidados (reportedly in response to Dancigers's request for a commercial children's film).

Basing the screenplay on reform school case studies and his own observations during a lengthy sojourn in the Mexico City shanties, Buñuel shot the films in 18 days for a mere 450,000 pesos. Taking neo-realism into unchartered surrealist territory, its study of lust, greed, vengeance and despair owed little to such romanticised visions of poverty as Vittorio De Sica's Shoeshine (1946). Indeed, Buñuel consciously corrupted the neo-realist ideal by casting experienced performers like Miguel Inclán, Estela Inda and Roberto Cobo in principal roles and was only dissuaded by Dancigers from inserting such provocatively anachronistic details as a 100-piece orchestra playing in the background while Jaibo killed Pedro.  

The Mexican critics were appalled by the feature's unflinching depiction of what amounted to a medieval peasant enclave in the midst of their supposedly cosmopolitan city and denounced Buñuel for failing to alleviate the misery with some optimistic fantasy (as opposed to the unnerving slo-mo nightmare, in which Pedro endures the cruelty of both Marta and Jaibo). Dancigers was so intimidated by such negativity that he withdrew the picture after two days and it was only Buñuel's Best Director win at Cannes the following year that secured its reputation and rescued him from the obscurity into which he had lapsed since the release of the equally uncompromising documentary, Las Hurdes.  

 Although Gabriel Figueroa's meticulous imagery occasionally works against the lacerating content, this remains a potent exposé of the depravity into which humanity is lured when it loses hope. Refusing to judge and offering no easy solutions, Buñuel implied that the only way to conquer such base criminality was to start at the top. Consequently, this shattering indictment of social indifference is more relevant than ever.

Bunuel's superb and uncompromising portrait of the the debasement of humanity in certain situations retains all of its original power.