The Young and the Damned (Los Olvidados) is available on limited platforms worldwide.
Known for his groundbreaking contribution to the avant-garde surrealist movement, Luis Buñuel’s sixth film, Los Olvidados (The Young and the Damned), is rooted in social realism while still incorporating elements of his trademark surrealist style.
Set in a Mexico City slum where a group of destitute young people scrape a living, Buñuel focuses his camera on Pedro (Alfonso Mejía). Pedro is the eyewitness and accomplice to the murder of Julián (Javier Amézcua), who is tracked down by Juvenile jail escapee El Jaibo (Roberto Cobo). Following the vicious murder, Pedro tries to find a way through the maze of crime and disorder surrounding him, but El Jaibo sabotages his efforts, and Pedro is committed to a juvenile rehabilitation program.
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Deeply controversial on its release Buñuel’s film is an uncomfortable and brutally honest exploration of the vicious cycle of poverty and crime. Our main characters are pre-teen kids who live in unimaginable destitution and suffer from a lack of parental guidance or adult support. These young adults find it impossible to distinguish between what is right and wrong as they learn from each other. Here Buñuel explores how extreme poverty strips people of their humanity and degrades their ability to find peace, security and freedom as they grow. However, at no point does Buñuel act as judge or jury. Instead, The Young and the Damned leaves any moral questions and social discussions firmly in the hands of the audience.
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Many aspects of Buñuel’s film resemble Italian Neorealism cinema, especially in conversations on poverty, class construct, and adolescence. Yet The Young and the Damned also carries surrealist undertones wrapped in psychological analysis. For example, when Pedro brutally kills two chickens, the principal of the rehabilitation programme believes he can change Pedro’s behaviour if he is shown love, respect and trust. He believes that Pedro’s behaviour is exclusively rooted in his unloving and miserable home environment. These themes are widely explored in Buñuel’s filmography, namely the question of instinctive behaviour patterns, typically sexual ones, as seen in Viridiana (1962) and Belle De Jour (1967). Meanwhile, Buñuel’s trademark surrealist imagery also appears in Pedro’s nightmares as Buñuel breaks the fourth wall of cinema.
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The result is possibly one of the most depressing and cruel depictions of a futureless youth constrained by social poverty and alienation ever committed to celluloid. Here there is zero hope for the young people we follow as we realise that their problems lie deep within the roots of social inequality. As the movie closes, Buñuel leaves us with a ruthless critique of the issues presented and a shocking dissection of poverty that continues to speak to our modern society.