A few months ago, I called Ladri de Bicicletti the “most communist film ever” (and I have also seen the classics like October and Battleship Potemkin). While that might not be strictly true, the Italian film is definitely the most intentionally depressing.
Now it has a bit of competition from Mexico and none other than Luis Buñuel.
Los Olvidados (1950 – translated as both The Forgotten Ones and The Young and the Damned) is what hedging critics like to call “unflinching”. Apparently, that means that it takes people living dreary, hopeless lives and pretends those lives make deep, meaningful cinema, driving society to mend its terrible ways. When translated to English from critic-speak, it means “downer”.
And it’s a pity. The characters are well-drawn and there are a couple you actually end up caring about. If the view were not so remorselessly bleak, it might be a worthwhile film to watch.
Even more of a pity is that Buñuel’s most remembered work after Un Chien Andalou are all the same kind of flick. Las Hurdes is depressing, and so is this, his most important Mexican film. I have not yet viewed any of his later work (I have high expectations for Belle du Jour) which returned to traditional filmmaking, so there’s still hope, I guess.
Essentially, this is a film that uses the sad lives of poor children in Mexico City to try to shock adults. One might argue that it aims at having redeeming social value because it should move people to act, but the truth is that A) films don’t do that and B) you have to consider the source. Buñuel was a provocateur with a history of shock for shock’s sake, and though he professed a strong preference for leftist ideology, his work makes one wonder if that wasn’t just a cover. He was the kind of guy who liked to toss a box of lit firecrackers into a crowd and watch what happened.
The “kids as a shock tactic” strategy is still used. Immediately coming to mind is the 1995 film Kids, which shocked no one but the critics. The formula, apparently, was still dumb forty-five years later.
Another modern link is that the child actor who played the lead character is still alive, so if Alfonso Mejía is reading this, hat off to you. Your acting was wonderful, but betrayed by the director and producer’s inability to let go of their bleakness.
The final indignity is that there was no reason for this one to be this way. As I researched this post, I learned that there was another ending. A happy ending. Of course, Buñuel discarded it. After all, you couldn’t have people leaving the cinema in a good mood, could you. No, much better if they immediately went to the nearest bar and drank themselves to death.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose most realist work lives within the pages of his book Love and Death. He should probably practice what he preaches, as many of the episodes in this one don’t turn out all that well for the characters. He defends himself by saying that an artist must follow his muse, whatever that means. You can check out Love and Death here.