Luis Buñuel’s black-and-white masterpiece from his Mexican period ensured the director’s triumphant return to international prominence 18 years after Las Hurdes (1933), and won him the Best Director and International Critics’ awards at Cannes Film Festival.
Las Hurdes, this film’s closest relation in Buñuel’s oeuvre, is a documentary about poverty in Spain that still sparks controversy due to the extensive use of re-enactments and stylistic interventions, while Los olvidados, a feature film, has been universally praised for its realistic portrayal of deprived youth in the slums of Mexico City. The opening text reads: “This movie is based entirely on facts of real life and all of its characters are authentic.”
Italian realist cinema (especially Vittorio De Sica’s Sciuscià, 1946) was an unmistakable influence on this film, with its outdoor scenes, focus on an underclass, and largely non-professional cast. But Buñuel added surrealistic twists, for example, in a now-famous dream scene. All the while, he shows how poverty systematically crushes everyone, including—and maybe especially—those who try to do good.