Luis Buñuel

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André Bazin

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 622


The theme [of Los Olvidados], on the surface anyway, is the same that, since the appearance of Chemin de la vie, has served as a model for all films dealing with juvenile delinquency: misery makes an evil counselor, and redemption comes through love, trust, and hard work. The fundamental optimism of this theme is, first of all, a moral optimism, on the order of Rousseau's, which proposes an innate goodness in man and a paradise of innocence in childhood, laid waste before it is ripe by an adult world. But it is also a social optimism, which suggests that society can repair the evil it has done through reeducation. (p. 195)

With both children and adults, Buñuel avoids making judgments. If adults are more generally wicked, it is because they are more entrenched in misfortune. No doubt the most shocking aspect of this film is that it dares to show the lame and halt without making them pathetic…. (p. 197)

It is absurd to reproach Buñuel for having a perverse taste for cruelty. True, he does seem to choose situations for their paroxysms of horror. What more awful sight can be imagined than a child stoning a blind man, unless it be a blind man revenging himself upon a child…. But the cruelty is not Buñuel's. He is only revealing the cruelty that exists in the world. If he has chosen the most horrible examples, it is because the real problem is not whether good exists, but how deep into the sphere of misery human life can go. He probes the cruelty of creation itself. (pp. 197-98)

Yet the cruelty in Buñuel's work is entirely objective; it is nothing more than lucidity, nothing less than despair. And though pity is absent from the aesthetics of his films, compassion is a basic ingredient of his work as a whole…. Nothing could be more unlike existential pessimism than Buñuel's cruelty. Because it evades nothing, concedes nothing, because it dares with surgical obscenity to make an incision in the corpus of reality, his cruelty can rediscover humanity in all its grandeur, and compel us, by a kind of Pascalian dialectic, to love and admiration…. [The] most hideous faces in Los Olvidados never fail to be human. The presence of this beauty in horror (and it is not simply the beauty of horror), the sublime endurance of human nobility in the midst of decadence, transform that cruelty into acts of love and compassion. And it is for this reason that Los Olvidados does not affect us adversely, with either sadistic complacency or false indignation.

It is not possible to avoid touching on the surrealism in Buñuel's films. He is, indeed, one of the rare valuable representatives of this mode. But it would be a mistake to accord it too great a place in his work. His surrealism is a part of the rich and fortunate influence of a totally Spanish tradition. His taste for the horrible, his sense of brutality, his tendency to delve into the utmost extremes of humanity—these are all the heritage of Goya, Zurbaran, Ribera. And above all, it reflects a tragic sense of life, which these painters expressed through the ultimate human degradations: war, sickness, misery and decay. But their cruelty, too, served only as a measure of their trust in mankind itself, and in their art. (pp. 198-200)

André Bazin, "'Los Olvidados'" (originally published in Qu'est-ce que le cinema?: Cinema et sociologie, Vol. III, Editions du Cerf, 1963), translated by Sallie Iannotti, in The World of Luis Buñuel: Essays in Criticism, edited by Joan Mellen (copyright © 1978 by Joan Mellen; reprinted by permission of Oxford University Press, Inc.), Oxford University Press, New York, 1978, pp. 194-200.

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