Los olvidados (Luis Buñuel, 1950)

Reseña de Taryn Kamita:

Heightened emotion and contradictory resolutions characterize the transgeneric mode of melodrama. During the post World War II era, an adroit auteur attempted to address his nation’s experience of coping with industrialization and urbanization in the middle of the 20th century. Los Olvidados (1950), directed by Luis Buñuel, places the viewer in the slums of Mexico City and follows the exploits of the city’s corrupted youth. Exercising an inimitable amalgam of styles and genres, Buñuel explores the facets of family dynamics amidst demoralizing destitution. Los Olvidados (1950) underscores melodrama’s aspirations of authenticity (Bayman 2) as Buñuel addresses changing gender roles and intergenerational relations by highlighting antagonistic maternal and paternal relationships.

Los Olvidados (1950) enables a female figure to rise to the forefront. Pedro’s mother, although nameless, singlehandedly personifies questions of motherhood in post World War II Mexico. Buñuel simultaneously captures the simple essence of a mother-son relationship while revealing its idiosyncratic complications. Pedro constantly roams the dusty streets of Mexico City’s slums, inciting anxiety and frustration in his overburdened single mother. This magnification of the exasperating yet conventional relationship between mother and son is representative of the classic urban melodrama. However, caustic remarks shatter the seemingly conventional familial bond.

PEDRO: You hit me because I’m hungry?

PEDRO’S MOTHER: I’m going to kill you, you bum

PEDRO: You don’t like me

PEDRO’S MOTHER: Why should I? Because you’re so considerate?

(Los Olvidados)

Opposing the typical male breadwinner depicted in Hollywood cinema, Pedro’s mother emerges as a champion of melodrama’s distortion of commonplace gender roles. This conversation portrays a complex situation in which Pedro’s mother seems to reject her eldest son, scorning him for wasting his time with troublemaking friends while she slaves away at her blue-collar job scrubbing floors. The scene’s mise-en-scene speaks for the impoverished family, telling a tale of post World War II destitution with tattered, makeshift blinds and faded walls. Moreover, the resentment and callousness that tinge Pedro’s mother’s exclamations reveal deeper bitterness, results of the strain of financial hardships the single mother faces too early in her young life.

In contrast, troublemaker Jaibo and Pedro’s mother share a peculiar relationship. Lustful glances juxtaposed with shots of Pedro’s mother washing her legs intimate a more adult connection, underscored by sexual desire. “It must be good to have a mother,” Jaibo wistfully remarks. “Now that I’m looking at you, I feel so envious of Pedro” (Los Olvidados). A fusion of longing for a stable maternal figure and intense physical attraction, suggestive of an Oedipal complex, provides an alternate interpretation of the female role’s function in a family during the 1950s. Whereas Pedro’s mother disdains her irresponsible son, Jaibo’s delinquency is daring and curiously alluring. Later scenes reveal Pedro’s mother’s mutual attraction to Jaibo as she subtly invites him to stay with her at her house. In the article, “Buñuel in Mexico,” Michael Wood asserts, “Children, throughout Buñuel’s work, are associated with interruption and neglect, with failures of concentration and acts of violence” (4). Jaibo’s illicit exploits and seedy disposition provide evidence of his corrupted youth, wrought with instability. His hunger for motherly affection and restoration of lost adolescence is satiated by Pedro’s mother’s reciprocation, exposing her equal desire to return to the carefree days of youth she was robbed of by financial needs and motherhood.

One prominent stylistic element characteristic of melodramatic cinema becomes apparent in Los Olvidados (1950). After Pedro’s mother enters the cramped bedroom-dining room, she walks toward the bed. She then turns to walk to the table and the viewer sees her back. Then, the camera cuts to the other side of the room so the viewer now sees her face with the table in the foreground of the frame. This crossing of the 180º line and violation of “the rules of screen direction” enables the viewer to “participate in a play of space and time” (Bordwell, Thompson 4). As a result, the film challenges classical representation and invite viewers to question different perspectives.

On the other end of the spectrum, Los Olvidados (1950) delves into the representation of the male role model. Youthful and taciturn Ojito epitomizes the film’s English title, “The Forgotten,” as he futilely waits in the marketplace for his father to return. In exchange for basic assistance, the blind old man Don Carmelo offers to provide Ojito with food and board. Perhaps “Buñuel [intends] this child as a symbol of Mexico, searching for its deepest roots” (Barcia 397) as Ojito tacitly accepts this stranger as a makeshift paternal figure, aiding him in gentle compliance. Although seemingly compassionate, Don Carmelo exploits Ojito, merely using him for his physical strength and functional eyesight. This hollow substitute for a parental role (Wood 4) is as close as Ojito comes to receiving a father figure in the film, representative of the deteriorating family structure of post World War II Mexico.

Throughout Los Olvidados (1950), Don Carmelo comments on the discrepancies between past and contemporary social interactions of Mexico City. “It was so different in the old days,” He grumbles. “You didn’t dare raise your voice at an elder.” The cantankerous blind man emerges both as a last resort father figure, available to those desperate for guidance, and a perpetual critic of society’s ill evolution. Separated by a full generation, he is incapable of empathizing with the underprivileged youngsters that loiter in the slum’s filthy avenues, and remains fixated on what he perceives as the degradation of respect and morals in Mexico’s youth. Ultimately, Don Carmelo runs Ojito out of his ramshackle house and later rejoices when Jaibo is shot and killed by the police. “One less, one less,” the blind man smugly murmurs. “They should all have been killed before they were born” (Los Olvidados). Buñuel works to give his film “a sense of live lived, rather than analyzed” with intentions of  “making viewers come to the meaning of a film on their own” (Jones 23). With a simplistic recognition of life’s disappointments, Los Olvidados (1950), true to melodramatic form, lacks neatly constructed solutions and relies on its ability to acknowledge the futility of reality.

Los Olvidados (1950) embodies urban melodrama’s distinguishing struggle with a vanished past and uncertain future. Buñuel addresses the turbulence Mexico endures as it endeavor to recover from World War II’s devastating effects on the moral and overall wellbeing of its citizens. Perhaps the famed auteur presents his commentary on the world’s inevitable industrial advancement as a warning against the damaging ramifications of sacrificing family relationships for the power of urbanization.

Taryn  Kamita, 2013.

Filmography

 

Los Olvidados. Dir. Luis Buñuel. Perf. Estela Inda, Miguel Inclán, Alfonso Mejía and Roberto Cobo. Ultramar Films, 1950. Film.

 

Bibliography

 

Barcia, J. Rubia. “Luis Buñuel’s ‘Los Olvidados.’” The Quarterly of Film Radio and Television 7.4 (1953): 392-401. Print.

Bayman, Louis. “Melodrama as Realism in Italian Neorealism.” 1-9. Web. 01 January 2013.

Bordwell, David and Kristin Thompson. “Narrative Alternatives to Classic Filmmaking.” Film Art: An Introduction. McGraw-Hill: 2004. Print.

Jones, Julie. “Interpreting Reality: Los Olvidados and the Documentary Mode.” Journal of Film and Video 57.4 (2005): 18-31. Print.

Wood, Michael. “Buñuel in Mexico.” Mediating Two Worlds: Cinematic Encounters in the Americas. London: BFI, 1993. Print.

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