Cinema in quarantine: Los olvidados, by Luis Buñuel

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Julio Cortazar*

Commentary on Buñuel's film made in Mexico in 1950, winner of the best director award at the Cannes festival.

With everything I love about dogs, Buñuel's Andalusian always eluded me. I don't know either the golden age [I]. Buñuel-Dali, Buñuel-Cocteau, Buñuel-joyful surrealist years: I had news of everything in their day and in a fabulous way, as at the end of Anabasis"Mais de mon frere le poète on a eu des nouvelles… Et quelques-uns en eurent connaissance…” [“But of my brother, the poet, we had news… And some of her had knowledge…”[ii]]. Suddenly, on a white rag in a small room in Paris, when I could hardly believe it, Buñuel came face to face. My brother, the poet, there, throwing images at me the way boys throw stones, the boys inside the images of The forgotten, a Mexican film by Luis Buñuel[iii].

Behold, all is well in a suburb of the city, that is, that poverty and promiscuity do not alter the order, and the blind can sing and ask for alms in the squares, while teenagers play bullfight in a parched wasteland, giving them plenty of time. to Gabriel Figueroa so that he can film them to his liking. The forms – those unwritten official guarantees of society, that who's who well delimited – are carried out satisfactorily. The suburb and faction leaders look at each other almost peacefully. Then enter Jaibo.

Jaibo has escaped from the correctional center and is back among his own, with no money and no tobacco. He brings with him the wisdom of prison, the desire for revenge, the will to power. Jaibo lost her childhood shrugging her shoulders. He enters his suburb like dawn in the night, to reveal the picture of things, the true color of the cats, the exact size of the knives, the exact strength of the hands. Jaibo is an angel; before him no one can fail to show himself as he truly is. A stone hits the face of the blind man who was singing in the square, and the thin film of forms breaks into a thousand fragments, pretense and lethargy fall away, the suburbs leap onto the scene and play the great game of their reality. Jaibo is the one who urges the bull on, and if death comes to him too, it doesn't matter; what he tells is the machine put into operation, the infernal beauty of the horns that suddenly rise to their raison d'etre.

Thus, horror is installed in the middle of the street, with a double standard: the horror of what happens, of what, of course, would always be less horrible read in the newspaper or seen in a film for the use of heirs; and the horror of being stuck in the audience under the gaze of Jaibo-Buñuel, of being more than a witness, of being – if you have enough integrity – an accomplice. Jaibo is an angel, and you can see it right on our faces when we look at each other as we leave the cinema.

The overall program The forgotten it doesn't pass and doesn't want to go beyond a dry exposure. Buñuel or antipatheticism: no distressing approaches as in Kuksi (Somewhere in Europe[iv]) or detailed documentation of a case (lost in the storm[v]). Here the boys die with clubs and without wasting time, they are lost in the streets with nothing more than a talisman around their neck and a poncho on their shoulder; they come and go like the people we meet and lose on streetcars; by the way, so that we feel our responsible alienation.

Buñuel doesn't give us time to think, to want to do something with at least a movement of conscience. Jaibo pulls the strings, the thing goes. “Too late,” laughs the fierce angel. “I should have thought of that sooner. See them now die, degrade, wander in the rubbish.” And he takes us gently through the nightmare. First, to a merry-go-round pushed by panting and exhausted children on which other paying children ride the little horses with the hard joy of kings. Then a deserted path, where a gang attacks a blind man, or a street where they assault a man with no legs and leave him on his back on the ground, monstrous with impotence and anguish, while his cart is lost down the street.

One by one, the figures of the drama fall to their basic, lowest level, which the forms concealed. People we had some confidence in degrade at the last moment. There are three total innocents, and that's three children. One, “Olhinhos”, will be lost in the night with her talisman around her neck, aged at ten years old; another, Pedro, is on the verge of saving himself, but Jaibo watches over him and returns him to his destiny, that of dying with clubs in a barn; the third, Metche, the blonde girl, will receive her first great lesson in life, in charge of her grandfather: she must help him stealthily take Pedro's corpse to a garbage dump, where she will walk with us in the last scene of the work.

Meanwhile, the police kill Jaibo, but it is clear that this demand for social forms is much more monstrous than the dramas unleashed by him; the child drowned, Maria covers the well. We preferred Jaibo, who showed us the size of the well to be covered before other children fall.

Here in Paris, Buñuel's evident cruelty and sadism were reproached. Those who do so are right and have good taste, that is, they wield dialectical and aesthetic weapons. Personally, I opt here for the weapons used in the plots of the film; I know not in what a murder suggested by screams and shadows is more meritorious or excusable than the direct view of what takes place. At the "daily"[vi] From Ernst Jünger, which has just been published here, the author and his friends in the German command “hear about” the lethal chambers where Jews are exterminated, something that produces “deep concern” in them, because it could be true…

So too the dissimulations of horror scarcely disturb the public; that's why it's good that from time to time a gentleman can get the roast and the melba pear, and that's what Buñuel is for. I owe you one of the worst nights of my life, and I hope that my insomnia, the mother of this note, will be useful to others for a more direct and fruitful work. I don't believe too much in film teaching, but in the slow maturation of testimonies. A testimony stands for itself, not for its exemplary intention. The forgotten sweeps most mainstream films about childhood troubles; by doing away with them, it situates and delimits its own importance. Like certain men and certain things, it is a beacon as Baudelaire understood it; perhaps its projection on the screens of the world will convert it into a “cry repeated by a thousand sentinels…”[vii].

Tonight I remember Mr. Valdemar[viii]. Like the people from the suburb of Buñuel, like the universal state of things that makes him possible, Mr. Valdemar is already decomposed, but hypnosis (imposition of an alien form, of an order that is not his own) keeps him in a deceitful life, a satisfying appearance. However, Mr. Valdemar is at our side, and we all surround Mr. Valdemar's bed. Then enter Jaibo.

Julio Cortazar (1914-1984), journalist and writer, is the author, among other books, of The awards.

Translation and Notes: Fernando Lima das Neves

Article published in Sur Magazine. Buenos Aires, no. 209-210, março-abril, 1952, p. 170-172. The text was written in December 1951 in Paris, a few months after Buñuel's film won the prize for best director at the Cannes Film Festival.


[I]           Golden age. Director: Luis Buñuel. France, 1930.

[ii]          Perse, Saint-John. Anabasis (trans. José Daniel Ribeiro). Lisbon: Relógio D'Água, 1992 [1924]. P. 75. The complete passage is: “But of my brother, the poet, we had news. Once again he wrote a very sweet thing. And some of her had knowledge…”.

[iii]         The forgotten. Director: Luis Buñuel. Mexico, 1950.

[iv]         Somewhere in Europe. Director: Géza von Radványi. Hungary, 1948.

[v]          The search. Director: Fred Zinnemann. Switzerland/USA, 1948.

[vi]         Jünger, Ernst. Journal I (1941-1943). Paris: René Juliard, 1951 [1949].

[vii]        Baudelaire, Charles. The Flowers of Evil (transl. Júlio Castañon Guimarães). Sao Paulo: Cia. das Letras, 2019 [1857]. P. 81.

[viii]       Poe, Edgar Allan. “The truth about the case of the señor Valdemar.” Tales (trans. Julio Cortázar). Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 2002 [1845]. P. 61-66.

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