A great companion to the work of Neo-realists in Italy (Buñuel himself said he was inspired by De Sica's "Sciuscià"), this is the landmark film of concerned cinema in Latin America, and the first of a great lineage of films about troubled childhood and youth: Nelson Pereira dos Santos's masterpiece "Rio 40 Graus" (Brazil, 1955); Hector Babenco's "Pixote" (Brazil, 1980); Sebastián Cordero's must-see, brilliant and sadly little-known "Ratas Ratones Rateros" (Equador, 1999); and Fernando Meirelles's "City of of God" (Brazil, 2002), among others. Each of these movies are great on their own, but they lack that extra touch of wild imagination that only Buñuel could deliver.
Watching "Los Olvidados" more than half a century after it was made, it's very clear to see why Buñuel remains a one-of- a-kind filmmaker in movie history, as he combines social commentary, political concern, artistic invention, wild creativity, ferocious sarcasm, daring eroticism, acid humor and unique visual style, all present here. Buñuel was 50 years old when he directed this film, as his understanding of human nature shows, but it has the vigor, boldness and freshness of a young man's work.
It must be mentioned how anti-cliché Buñuel's films were, and how faithful to his surrealistic beginnings he remained, and maybe that's why his films have survived so well through the years -- they're still so surprising! His characters are never taken for granted, they're never black or white, but always fascinating and disturbing. Think of the "twisted" characters in "Los Olvidados": the blind man, the mother, Ojitos, the girl, the grandfather, and all the kids...
Some unforgettable sequences: the young girl Melche pouring milk over her bare legs to a very sensuous effect; Pedro throwing an egg at the camera (at us, sadistic voyeurs of his misfortunes, wow!); El Jaibo aroused by Pedro's mother washing her feet; Ojitos thinking whether he should kill the old blind man; Pedro having a nervous breakdown when his mother spanks some roosters; the chilling, crude, totally silent sequence of Pedro being harassed by an older man; and, of course, the dream sequence about the piece of meat (Pauline Kael called it "perhaps the greatest fantasy sequence in movie history") and the trunk-man sequence, now so justly famous. Buñuel's recurrent fetishes are here too: the mud-throwing, the animals (pigs, mules, roosters, hens, dogs,etc), the disabled, women's feet...
The two final sequences - the fates of main characters El Jaibo and Pedro - are each more powerful than the other. Any movie director would be very happy to have just one of these great finales but Buñuel got them both !!!
It must be mentioned that the DVD (at least the one distributed in Brazil) brings the alternative "happy ending" which would have partially destroyed the impact of the film. In sticking to the crude and pessimistic ending, Buñuel retained his artistic integrity, which helps explain, in part, why Buñuel had been out of mainstream cinema for 20 years. He wouldn't compromise -- can you think of just one handful of filmmakers today of whom you could say that? And, just for the record, Buñuel's salary as a writer-director for this one was a "staggering" U$ 2,000 and no percentage. Enough said.
INTERESTING FACTS (as told in Buñuel's autobiography "Mon Dernier Soupir" -- a mandatory book for all interested in artistic creativity): "Los Olvidados" only got made because Buñuel had had a financial success the previous year with his second Mexican film, "El Gran Calavera". As a preparation for "Olvidados" and wearing his worst clothes, Buñuel circulated for five months in slums and poor areas around Mexico City to get the right "feel" and language for the characters. When the film was released in Mexico, it was attacked by everyone as an insult to the country and its people -- and remained just 4 days in theaters. Buñuel was threatened and attacked ("an exiled Spaniard showing those filthy lies about Mexico!"). Only after the triumph in Cannes the film became internationally recognized as a masterpiece and went back to theaters in Mexico, winning the respect of critics and intellectuals, an array of awards and allowing Buñuel to continue his career there.
Don't miss this one!! It will impact you on multiple levels and strike you as astonishingly daring and contemporary. My vote: 10 out of 10, a definitive, revolutionary masterpiece that may also be a life-changing experience.