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Los Olvidados (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on March 17, 2012

Bunuel tackles the problems of impoverished Latin American street youths, many years before Pixote or City of God.  Although somewhat removed from his surrealist works and more in the style of neo-realism (De Sica’s Shoeshine especially comes to mind), he still brings his own sensibilities to it.  There are surrealist flourishes and flashes of symbolism, most notably in the dream sequence but also peppered throughout (chickens!).  Bunuel’s anger puts mankind on the level of animals, where people are discarded in trash heaps and dogs wear fancy clothes.  The system is one where the predator feeds on the prey, and the one who wins is the one willing to sink the lowest.  The parents of the street children are no better — hypocritical, drunk, bitter, neglectful… or in some cases they simply abandon their young.

The leader of the gang is Jaibo, a stellar menacing performance by Roberto Cobo.  Jaibo is top dog on the food chain, and his targets are always those he towers over: the blind, the crippled, the small.  We see Bunuel’s foot fetishism theme recur in him, as his leering over shapely legs drives his passions.  He doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of a young girl whose gams tempt him… but then again, neither does the blind man who she looks after.  Few are exempt from Bunuel’s harsh criticism, a bleak worldview that sees no easy answers, no simple boogeymen to pin the problem of poverty on.  All attempts to do right are ultimately corrupted.

The film’s noir-ish photography by Gabriel Figueroa (also cinematographer on El and Nazarin, among others) is strong, emphasizing the harsh sun beating down during the day and the dark shadows of the night.  Although I’ve singled out Cobo’s performance, there isn’t a bad one in the cast.  Though the film certainly evokes many elements of neo-realism, Bunuel breaks from the tradition of casting non-professionals.  Except for Alfonso Mejia as Pedro (essentially the lead role, but Cobo’s role is just as significant) these are all actors with experience.  The characters are well-drawn and authentic, and their plights are sympathetic.

Although I do generally prefer Bunuel in a more playful mood, this is an undeniably powerful film which packs a lot into a short time.  Almost every moment of it is compelling in its artistry and condemnation of a system gone very, very wrong.  Rating: Great


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