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Interpreting Film Masterpieces: Los Olvidados (Luis Buñuel 1950)

  • WHITNEY HUMANITIES CENTER 53 Wall Street New Haven, CT, 06511 United States (map)
Los Olvidados is the odd bird of Luis Buñuel’s long, many-complexioned filmography, the film where Buñuel’s favored protective defenses, surrealism and satire, come crashing down, exposing a heart sharply attuned to the injustice of poverty. One of the reasons Buñuel is so difficult to categorize is that over the course of his career as a filmmaker, he went through three easily differentiated major phases – the surrealist, the low-budget Mexican filmmaker, and the elegantly satirical, continental European sage. Buñuel’s films are all characterized by a horror at the world’s cruelty, but for the greater part of his career, he submerged it under a veneer of sophisticated distanciation.
Los Olvidados, released in 1951, is the only film in which Buñuel takes off his mask of sophisticated removal to reveal the true grimace underneath. Over an opening montage of the delights of the global metropolis – the Manhattan skyline, Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower – the narrator sets the stage for the narrative to come, solemnly providing the film’s motto: “behind every beautiful city are poor children.” In one of the film’s early scenes, setting the plot in motion, Jaibo, the sly, intelligent gang leader, beats his rival Julian to death in the shadow of a half-built high-rise building. The city may be in the process of progressing toward some unimaginable future, but one constant is that the downtrodden will be left behind by any such progress. senses of cinema

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