I'd been thinking about watching Los Olvidados (The Young and the Damned) again, and seeing Roma made it seem like the perfect time. Buñuel's movie takes place in a similar place to Cuarón's, Mexico City and in particular the same general neighborhood. But whereas Roma is about a working-class maid for a middle-class family, Los Olvidados shows an environment where the middle-class is a pipe dream. The Spanish title translates as "The Forgotten Ones", and those are the people we see, young juveniles left to fend for themselves, virtually abandoned by society. It's not presented as a case study; there is little explanation for why these kids got to this place, nor is there much suggestion of how to fix things. It's a brutal picture about brutal kids in a brutal space. Bosley Crowther in the New York Times faulted the movie for this:
[I]t is obvious that Luis Bunuel, who directed and helped write the script, had no focus or point of reference for the squalid, depressing tale he tells. He simply has assembled an assortment of poverty-stricken folk—paupers, delinquents, lost children and parents of degraded morals—and has mixed them altogether in a vicious and shocking melange of violence, melodrama, coincidence and irony.... The suggestion of madness is plain. But why there should be this wild coincidence of evil and violence is not explained, nor is any social solution even hinted, much less clarified.
Crowther may not see any focus, but it is there ... the squalid, depressing melange is the point of reference. Buñuel avoids moralizing ... the kids' actions fit their living situation, so that there is very little time to find them sympathetic the way you might see in a TV movie. You want to like the kids, but before the film has ended, those kids have fought each other, killed each other, robbed a blind man, beat up a legless man, and more. Buñuel works in something resembling neorealism, but he doesn't trust the method. He wrote, "Neorealist reality is incomplete, official -- reasonable, above all else; but poetry, mystery, that which completes and extends immediate reality, is completely absent from its productions."
While for much of his career, Buñuel specialized not only in the surreal but in the satirical, Los Olvidados has none of the distancing satire allows. (Saul Austerlitz examines this point in his essay on the film for Sense of Cinema.) Kael, who called Los Olvidados "the most horrifying of all films about juvenile crime", said "it's a squalid tragedy that causes the viewer to feel a moral terror." Understandably, the film met with resistance in Mexico, from the authorities and from the people, who felt the Spaniard presented too dark a picture of Mexican society. Buñuel had to shoot an alternative, "happy" ending (which didn't surface for decades). But the movie won awards at Cannes, and was eventually reconsidered by Mexican critics. It is now considered a classic of Mexican cinema.
The surreal does pop up on at least one occasion:
#132 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.
My 5 favorite Luis Buñuel movies:
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
The Exterminating Angel