Screening: Saturday, March 2nd, 8 p.m., Rich Theatre, 35mm
If you’re anything short of a Luis Buñuel expert, the famous film director might be a point of perennial confusion–could the 1920s surrealist behind Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L’Age d’Or (1930) really be the same guy as the cine d’art post-modernist behind Belle de Jour (1967) and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeousie (1972)? And what’s that? Yhis guy’s not even French, but Spanish? And what’s this now? He also made a full 20 feature films in Mexico between 1946 and 1965?
All this and more makes Buñuel one of cinema’s most important figures, as well as one of its more confusing. For the second film in our Extraordinary Visions series, we’re lucky enough to have one of his most beloved films and the one that marked both his return to the international film stage and a turning point in Mexican film history: Los olvidados (The Forgotten Ones or The Young and the Damned) (1950).
An unflinching look at Mexico City’s street hooligans, Los olvidados departed from the romanticism of its contemporaneous neorealist projects to portray a downtrodden world of innumerable cruelties and few, if any, routes of escape or opportunities for redemption. As Dominique Russell describes, Buñuel “turns Mexico’s sacred national myths inside out” and “anticipates the New Latin American cinema’s turn away from the studio sets towards reality in the streets.” For this, Buñuel took a lot of heat from those who received the film as an offensive attack on Mexican society, but he also won best director prize at the Cannes Film Festival and garnered acclaim far and wide in the international film community. He would, however, never again attempt to stare head on at social injustice’s raw conditions and unmitigated brutality; he would instead carry out his brilliant career from a perch of critical (and at times, snarky) remove, satirizing the bourgeoisie and laying bare the absurdities of capitalist society with hardly a glance edgewise to those trampled by the system. His other films are spectacular and daring in their own ways, but Los olvidados risks bringing things like heart and hopelessness to the table where his later work speaks primarily through calcified cynicism or the strange, defeated cackles of a madman.
As unique as Los olvidados is within Buñuel’s exalted career, the film materializes as a masterpiece only once we consider another all too important variable in its production: renowned cinematographer and subject of our film series, Gabriel Figueroa. For as unprecedented as Los olvidados‘s themes were and as shocking as its course of events was, this film unfolds most stunningly in its visual textures. It is Figueroa’s camera that knows when to lead us straight into this dog eat dog world, taking on a gaze and movement as if it were itself a street urchin navigating the crowds or baring witness to a searing act of violence. And it is Figueroa’s camera that knows just how to sit back and take in the rubble and cacti or plunge us, all of a sudden, into the shadowed corners and other-worldly light of a troubled home. A pigeon, piercing white, glides along a woman’s naked back. Clouds blaze overexposed in the sky. Milk splashes across a girl’s limbs. A boy’s crisp shirt is instantly sullied by his misfortune. A shower of feathers floats down, catching a nightmare’s uncanny light before they rest about the wounds of the deceased. As much as Los olvidados is Buñuel’s masterpiece of social realism, it is Figueroa’s surrealist play of light and darkness, purity and decay.
For tickets to the Saturday, March 2nd screening of Los olvidados, click HERE.