Buñuel’s later, better known pictures tend to be peopled with haut bourgeois characters. This one is set in the slums of Mexico City and features mainly boys and young men and their misdemeanours. Amongst the apparent social realism, there is still space for an outstanding dream sequence and there are definitely no trite messages. J. Hoberman, in the Village Voice, called it “a great, great movie … a masterpiece of social surrealism … Strong enough to make a hardened Communist cry or drive a (true) Christian to despair”. (88 mins)
Dir: Luis Buñuel, Mexico 1950

Programme Notes

Mexico, 1950, 80 minutes

Shot in barely 3 weeks in the slums of Mexico City, on a miniscule budget, Buñuel’s caustic portrait of the futile lives
of a gang of street urchins has echoes of his scathing 1933 documentary Land Without Bread (screened here last November) in that the later and more familiar mask of sophisticated detachment from his subject is not yet in place, his fierce emotional and intellectual vision being the driving force that reveals a grimace of horror at the world’s cruelty and injustice. Meaning literally ‘The Forgotten Ones’, the film hit world cinema of the day like a fist through sheet glass, stunning critics, throwing the Mexican Federal District authorities into outraged consternation and winning Bunuel the prize for best director at Cannes the following year, 1951.

Said to be inspired by de Sica’s 1946 release Shoeshine, Los Olvidados was a welcome departure from the then popular genre of liberal social-conscience films (where a few homespun lessons and a wry smile can soften the hardest delinquent) showing that, in the end, there may be no real redemption while poverty and injustice persist. Although in Buñuel’s own words the film was “my attack on the sadness that ruins children before they have a chance”, any hope inspired by the growing optimism and moral conscience of the central character proves fleeting and illusory.

In tracking Buñuel’s many-complexioned oeuvre, this film, from his acknowledged and well-defined second phase, marked a departure from his purist and experimental beginnings (Un Chien Andalou, 1928; L’Age d’Or, 1930) and paved the way for his later re-submergence into surrealism, as well as a return to the coolly jaundiced view of his twin hates – the triviality of the bourgeoisie and the hypocrisy of the church that so dominated the societies in which he lived. The particular importance of the film lies in its unapologetic portrayal of life without hope or trust and shows us, as Buñuel well knew – and wanted us to know, that the world doesn’t work the way Hollywood told us it does. It was the moment he cried out in anger at cruelty and injustice – bitterly, powerfully, unforgettably.

Acknowledgements: DBC Pierre, The Guardian, Saul Austerlitz, Cineaste

“[Los Olvidados] lashes the mind like red-hot iron and leaves one’s conscience no opportunity for rest”, Andre Bazin, Cannes Film Festival Jury

Pedro – Alfonso Mejia
Pedro’s mother – Estela Inda
El Jaibo – Roberto Cobo
The Blind Man – Miguel Inclan
Cacarizo – Efrain Arauz
Meche – Alma Delia Fuentes
Director – Luis Buñuel
Producers – Oscar Dansigers, Sergio Kogan, Jaime Menasce
Writers – Luis Buñuel, Luis Alcoriza, Max Aub
Cinematography – Miguel Figueroa
Original Music – Rodolfo Halffter, Gustavo Pittaluga


“Searing, hideous, unbearable, wonderful.”

“Very impressive and moving account of urban poverty and crime and its effect on so many people.”

“This certainly leaves (one with) no illusions of the tragedy of poverty and violence – made in righteous indignation.”

“Very powerful. One or two sparks of humanity in it but a bleak vision of society.”

“I thought it was a brilliant film but found the music a bit melodramatic and difficult to listen to. I loved the dream sequence.”

“Brilliant but very sad. Reminded me of Bicycle Thieves but much harsher in tone. I hated the dream sequences – they never work for me.”

“A heavy (but) convincing dose of reality. Not Dixon of Dock Green!”

“Probably true to the seamier side of life. Since year 2000, the bodies of many of (the) 400 women (murdered in Mexico City since then) have been disposed of like Pedro’s.”

“Impossible to mark – not an enjoyable film but unremittingly realistic and pessimistic.”

“Shades of Dickens’ plots but more authentic. The dream bits were not true to the story!”

“If only they’d had ASBOs in 1950!”


“Terribly depressing”

“Not much changes”

“Black, black, black”

“It’s a wonder Bunuel got to make many films – hardly box office!”

“As plodding as it was dismal”


A:17, B:16, C:9, D:2, E:0 to give 77%