Los Olvidados Review
Mexico City. A group of street kids await the release of Jaibo (Roberto Cobo) from juvenile prison. One of the kids is Pedro (Alfonso Mejia) who is soon adopted by Jaibo as a protegé...
After the strong, indeed scandalous, beginning to his career (his two collaborations with Salvador Dali, Le chien andalou and L’âge d’or, and the 1933 short documentary Las Hurdes (Land Without Bread)) by 1950 Luis Buñuel may have seemed to some a spent force. After Las hurdes he did not direct for fourteen years, and he broke the drought with two films, made in Mexico, both then and now thought unremarkable. But they served their purpose: it was the success of 1949's El Gran Calavera which enabled him to make Los Olvidados.
Los Olvidados (sometimes known in English as The Young and the Damned but just as often known by its original Spanish title, which literally means “The Forgotten Ones”) begins with a short prologue, in which a narrator talks of juvenile delinquency being a problem worldwide – cue stock footage of New York, Paris and London before we arrive in Mexico City. This puts the film squarely into the social-problem genre, and may have been intended as a sop to contemporary censorship. In any case, it’s at odds with the rest of the film, which is utterly devoid of sentimentality in its depiction of how one soul can be corrupted by another.
Even calling the film a work of realism is misleading. Buñuel began as a surrealist, after all, and while (with one notable exception) nothing in Los Olvidados is overtly surreal, the film has more of a heightened realism, imagery that is at times bizarre but still explicable: a cockerel squaring off with a mugging victim, an attack on a legless man, a boy suckling a goat. In one key scene Buñuel goes into his characters’ heads and the result is one of the cinema’s great dream sequences.
Behind the camera is another great, Gabriel Figueroa, whose black and white images suit the material perfectly. Buñuel and Fugueroa come up with shots that are never pretty for the sake of it, though the camera is unfailingly in the right place.
Los Olvidados made a big impression at the 1951 Cannes Film Festival, winning Buñuel the Best Director Prize. It proved to be a turning point of his career. His reputation secure, he directed regularly for the next twenty-seven years and several of the films he went on to make are masterpieces.
Fremantle’s DVD is single-layered and encoded for all regions. A note on the running time: many reference books give the running time for Los Olvidados as 88 minutes, but this DVD runs 76:56. Allowing for PAL speed-up, that gives a running time at 24fps of around 80 minutes. I am not aware of a reason for this discrepancy, unless the extra time is due to play-out music that has been removed. For the record, the BFI's film reissue of 2007 ran 80:49, so this does raise doubts as to the accuracy of that 88-minute running time.
The film was shot in Academy Ratio, so is presented on DVD in a ratio of 1.33:1, with anamorphic enhancement neither necessary nor desirable. The DVD transfer is grainy, which is probably as it should be. The contrast is up a little, which intensifies the whites and reduces shadow detail in the blacks, though as I haven't seen this film in 35mm I can't say to what extent this is intentional. There are small instances of surface damage such as scratches and what looks like hair caught in a gate around the 48-minute mark. Needless to say this isn't anything like a digital restoration, which if the original materials permit and given the film's stature, you would hope would be on the cards.
The soundtrack is the original Spanish-language mono, which is clear enough though given the film's age of less dynamic range than mono tracks of a decade or two or three later. Subtitles are available in French as well as English. The English subs are a little franker than they would be on an original release print: I doubt the BBFC would have allowed “shit” in 1952. (For the record, they passed the film uncut for a X certificate, though this appears to have been a shortened version, running 75:36. The film now carries a 12 certificate.)
The only extra is a short appreciation of Los Olvidados by film critic Derek Malcolm. This runs 13:23, though about half of that is made up of clips from the film. This item is presented in non-anamorphic 16:9, and unfortunately the film clips are cropped to fit this ratio.