Little stressed by the liberal message that the producer tacked onto its front end, Luis Buñuel’s The Forgotten Ones (in the U.S., The Young and the Damned) benefits from Thomas Carlyle’s invention of the concept of environment in the nineteenth century. Buñuel draws a causal connection between ghetto poverty and the violent behavior of street youth in 1950 Mexico City. His film is as incisive as a razor blade slid across an open eye.
In the scheme of Social Darwinism that Buñuel unearths, “survival of the fittest” takes the form of kids terrorizing whomever they can—for instance, a legless man, whose board (the man’s wheelchair) they confiscate after robbing him, and a blind beggar. (An overhead shot records three of the boys attacking the latter as he wildly strikes out at them with his walking stick.) Powerless, these juveniles grab at any bit of entitlement just to feel alive. Los olvidados presents a brutal vision of endangered and dangerous young male lives. These roles are filled by actual Mexico City street kids, not actors.
Yet the film, which revived a career that had lain dormant for nearly twenty years, also has its lyrical aspect. Two passages show us dreams. In one, the dreamer, Pedro, promises his overworked mother, a washerwoman, he will get a job, and the bloody corpse of another boy, whose clubbing death in actuality Pedro witnessed, fights him for the piece of raw meat his mother has given him to abate hunger. Pedro is killed by an older boy, Jaibo, an orphan; those who discover Pedro’s bludgeoned body dump it on a garbage heap. Shot by the police, Jaibo dies dreaming of death, his father’s imagined voice guiding him.
Dies dreaming of death: life—unkind, short, without hope. These boys are “the forgotten ones.”
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