(The Young and the Damned)
Director: Luis Buñuel
Production: Ultramar Films, SA for Tepeyac Studios; black and white, 35mm; running time: 88 minutes; length: 8020 feet. Released 9 November 1950, Mexico. Filmed 6 February-9 March 1950 in Mexico. Cost: budgeted at 450,000 pesos.
Producer: Oscar Dancigers; screenplay: Luis Buñuel, Luis Alcoriza and Oscar Dancigers; photography: Gabriel Figueroa; editor: Carlos Savage; sound engineers: Jesus Gonzalez and Jose B. Carles; art director: Edward Fitzgerald; music: Gustavo Pitaluga; music arranger: Rodolfo Halfter.
Cast : Estela Inda (Marta, Pedro's mother); Miguel Inclán (Don Carmelo, the blind man); Alfonso Mejia (Pedro); Roberto Cobo (Jaibo); Alma Delia Fuentes (Meche); Francisco Jambrina (Farm school director); Mario Ramírez (Big-Eyes); Efrain Arauz (Pockface); Javier Amezcua (Julian); Jesus Garcia Navarro (Julian's father); Jorge Perez ("Pelón"); Sergio Villareal.
Award: Cannes Film Festival, Best Director, 1951.
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* * *
Los olvidados was Luis Buñuel's favorite film, and the one with which he returned to mainstream motion picture directing after a 17-year hiatus. The film shocked many audiences for its pessimistic, unrelentingly realistic depiction of the futility in the lives of the abandoned children of Mexico City's slums. It is the first film of any reputation to present a realistic picture of what life was like in the Third World; its unequivocal soberness and topicality not only make it the prototype of Hector Babenco's Pixote and Yilmaz Guney's Yol, but allows it to stand on its own as a viable and searing indictment of society's ills.
Buñuel ended his exiled inactivity by signing a contract with Mexican producer Oscar Dancigers in 1947. The first film for Dancigers was Gran casino, "a film with songs" which proved unsuccessful; the second was the comedy, El gran calavera. The success of the latter encouraged Danciger to back Buñuel's production of Los olvidados, a film which Buñuel said he had to make. The budget was a meagre 450,000 pesos.
The idea for the film came from Buñuel's exploration of Mexico City where he witnessed the "wretchedness in which many of its inhabitants lived." He researched the project in the files of a local reformatory and explained, "My film is entirely based on real cases. I tried to expose the wretched condition of the poor in real terms, because I loathe films that make the poor romantic and sweet."
Using a combination of professional and non-professional actors, Buñuel focuses his story on the bond of power and duplicity between two young Mexican boys—Jaibo (Roberto Cobo), a hardened murderer, and Pedro (Alfonso Mejia), an innocent drawn into a life of crime by the cruelty of his environment. When Pedro's father abandons him, the boy is befriended by a ruthless, miserly blind beggar. Jaibo, recently escaped from reform school, robs and stones the beggar; soon after, Pedro sees Jaibo kill another youth who had informed on him. This shared experience leads to Jaibo becoming Pedro's mentor/master as the innocent boy falls into petty thievery. Imprisoned for stealing a knife, Pedro is tested by his liberal school director and sent on the outside on an errand. He encounters Jaibo who robs and kills him; Jaibo in turn is shot down by the police. Buñuel ends his film with the devastating scene of Pedro's body thrown into the sewer by Jaibo's grandfather.
Buñuel's semi-documentary approach is mediated somewhat by the picturesque, studio-influenced cinematography of Gabriel Figueroa, but the penetrating, unsentimental surrealism of Buñuel is omnipresent. In the forward to the film, Buñuel states: "The task of finding a solution lies with the force of progress," and Los olvidados offers no romantic answers for the social ills he records. The film is not without Buñuel's sense of symbolism, however, as evidenced by Pedro's Oedipal dream sequence and Jaibo's dying hallucinations.
Los olvidados earned Buñuel the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was greeted with astonishment by critics internationally. André Bazin called it "a film that lashes the mind like a redhot iron and leaves one's conscience no opportunity for rest." Its pessimism and violence was too much for the New York Times's conservative Bosley Crowther. Released in the U.S. under the title, The Young and the Damned, Crowther called the film "brutal and unrelenting" and added, "Although made with meticulous realism and unquestioned fidelity to facts, its qualifications as dramatic entertainment—or even social reportage—are dim." Obviously Crowther missed the point of the film entirely, for while Buñuel wisely chose not to soften his interpretation by providing pat answers, the abiding message here, as in much of his work, is, as his biographer, Francisco Aranda states, "By creating a society which is not criminal, we shall ourselves cease to be criminal."