The dream sequence in Los olvidados as narrative of the film's stochastic interpretation
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Ioannis Tsirkas




   In a film analysis we can examine a film by segregating it in sequences. Dream sequences as narratives which take place beyond the spatiotemporal axis of the main narrative line of the film can be considered as insubstantial structural parts of it since they do not usually contribute to the progress of the occurrences, functioning only as commentary on both the locale and the subjects concerned. While Luis Buñuel through the oneiric atmosphere of his first two films, Un chien andalou (France, 1929) and L’âge d’or (France, 1930), deconstructed the conventional limits between the oneiric and the actual filmic space involving and evolving the one inside the other in an interactive way, the dream sequence in Los olvidados (Mexico, 1950) does not only seem to constitute a discrete part of the film’s narrative, but also to consist a commentary on all it’s intents and purposes. On this paper I will discuss it’s role as an interpolated narrative which precisely calls for a consistent conception of the whole. More specifically, my analysis will focus on the causality between the dream sequence’s substance as an extra, interstitial narrative and it’s function as an intra-filmic gaze of an enforced by the director variant interpretation of the film.

Unestablished signs of motives and associations preceding the dream sequence
   Before I go through my thorough examination of the dream sequence it is worth mentioning that before the motives and the essence of some relationships during the main narrative preceding the dream sequence we will be forced to perceive them as such only after it has been unfolded. Firstly, although Buñuel introduces us early to the treacherous character of Jaibo (Roberto Cobo) it is only after Pedro’s (Alfonso Mejía) dream that his tendetiousness in the film’s texture is being established through the connotation of him as Pedro’s evil equivalent (Polizzotti 2006, p.52). Secondly, in the end of the sequence when Don Carmelo (Miguel Inclán) is being attacked, a hen watching the wounded blind man is the first to appear, while through a match cut in the next shot we see Pedro both fondling and palpating the egg of another one. The rendering of his second act as a ‘poor substitute for the nourishment his mother denies him’ (Polizzotti 1996, p.41) and of these signs as indications of the affinity between the worlds of humans and animals which by extension suggests the ‘primitive nature of human motives’ (Edwards 1983, p.95) is being evinced as a justifiable interpretation only on the score of and after the dream’s interpolation. Thirdly, when in the following sequence his mother Marta (Estela Inda) through her refusal to dress a piece of meat for him and Pedro’s concomitant disaffection that she does not love him anymore, a possible semantic connection between her refusal to feed and love him would be far-fetched on this point of the plot. The significance, in addition, of the parental neglect in Pedro’s psyche and in the film’s plot will emerge in the dream sequence as well. Lastly, the same applies to Pedro’s guiltiness about his involuntary participation in Julian’s (Javier Amézcua) attempted murder and his fear of afterclaps according to Jaibo’s future behavior in relation to the possibility of their involvement’s revelation[1].

The dream sequence as intercalary narrative which broadens the main one
   Before Pedro’s apparition getting up from the bed the chickens have already started cackling. Ιn this instance, the in question clues indicate that what comes about makes up a dream. However, their sound might pass for a give-away of the real space-time continuum of the film. So, Buñuel is giving us the first indication of his conation to combine the dream with the reality of the main narrative through the synonymity of their laws of causation. By giving forth a tinge of irony, he uses their sounds as indicant for his awakening into the dream. Then a white hen brakes in under his bed. But what Pedro sees down there is the bloodstained Julian who seems to enjoy his horrifying sight. The symbolic metamorphosis of the chicken to the gory Julian leads us to perceive the hen’s presence from now on as a metastasis of the inner phobias they arouse. Now we have to consider the appearance of chickens all over the place as ‘projections of repressed unconscious desires and anxieties’ (Evans 1995, p.88) and as ‘portens of ridicule or disaster’ (Polizzotti 2006, p.50) in general[2]. While we are watching this particular sequence feathers that Pedro does not notice begin falling between the camera and the proceedings. Τheir presence there does not only emphasize the atmosphere of the dread (Evans 1995, p.88), but also functions as an exhortation expressly intended for the spectators in order to feel in their turn just as Pedro feels, the same dreadfulness, in order to identify themselves not with him necessarily, but with the way Buñuel seems to perceive his hero’s pathos.
   The grinning corpse of Julian under Pedro’s bed is not merely a sign of guilty conscience, but also a signification that his tragic fate will come from the loss of his innocence[3]. These two contrary feelings are engaged in a countervailing way and the unendurable feeling of dreadfulness makes way for that of innocence which is offset by the pacifying visage of his mother in her white dress, soothing him, ‘Listen, you’re not that bad. I’d like to be with you all the time’ and enquiring the reasons of his action, linking thus his obsession with their relationship (Edwards 1983, p.97), justifiably exalted with that of Madonna (Bazin 1978, p.196; Evans 1995, p.88; Babington and Evans 1985, p.10). A Madonna who will soon become a Medusa (Polizzotti 2006, p.10) that instead of snakes will proffer her hands to Pedro (and us) freezing not his shape, but the oneiric time. We can see this moment as an intersection between the two space-time continuums of the two narratives. It’s an instant when you realize that if this is a nightmare you want to wake up. The overlap or, rather, the ambiguity of this proffering where the hands on the side reveal her ‘sheer physical exhaustion’ (Babington and Evans 1985, p.10) is a linking point between the indefiniteness and the dimness (just like the one of her out of focus face for the time being) of the dream against the tangible reality of a flimsy surface structure, a reality that you can touch, but not necessarily feel.
   When he later asks about the piece of meat she did not offer him the other night he turns holding the putrefied flesh perhaps of a fatling and smiling accompanied by the clap and the flash of a thunder. The ‘sexual implications’ (Edwards 1983, p.97) are obvious since the piece of meat has been perceived by scholars as a symbol of her simultaneously awe and desirable ‘torn vagina’ (Evans 1995, p.86) or even of an ‘aborted foetus’ or a ‘meteonymic isplacement’ (Gutiérrez-Albilla 2008, p.31) of her body. Thereby, love is something you must be given, her purport is vital (once again a connection between an empathy and a sexual urge). In place of that flesh there could be a firm one, so we face again the symbolic metamorphosis of a flesh to a rotten carcass. The desirable maternal love is replaced from something rebarbative and bestial which, yet into the reality of the dream, Pedro would have wanted to accept.
   When Haibo pops up from under the bed and tries to pick up the piece of meat his sexual figurativeness is being confirmed forasmuch as what Pedro will lose is both her care and the awakening sexual drive he feels about his ‘devoid of emotions’ (Rubia Barcia 1957, p.398) mother. He is getting frustrated thinking of Haibo who will take her[4]. His mother does not react since she will voluntarily accede to his wishes. However, Haibo’s returning under the bed in lieu of the dead Julian is as well indicative of his own impending death. As regards her betrayal against Pedro, Octavio Paz and others have associated her with the figure of La Malinche (Pollizoti, p.58), the archetypical female maternal traitor of Mexico. I can also suppose that her joint liability for his death and fate is what set up Bruce Babinghton’s and Peter William Evans’ (1985, p.10) claim of her as an ambiguous Medea. In my opinion, the initial common letter “M” of the names Marta, Madre, Malinche, Madona, Medousa and Medea is something that can hardly be considered as an adventitious find.

The dream sequence as an inner reality’s reflection to the external one
   Τhe film starts with a sequence which presents it as documentary and can also be seen as an extra-narrative of the main one and by extension in an adversative way of the dream sequence. It’s aim is to prompt us to a realistic perception of the film, not necessarily to identify ourselves with the heroes and their catastrophe, but to take it as a detached realistic depiction of the into the frame of society problems a community faces beyond us, having nothing common with us in relation to the subconscious passionateness. As the main narrative unreels the influence of Italian Neorealism running through the film tends to become more and more obvious. We wouldn’t exaggerate if we asserted that Buñuel through the dream sequence willed to expand the in question neorealist ‘tangible reality’ (Buñuel 2002, p.140) of the film’s narrative for to express the main character’s emotions and instincts by exploding their subconscious. Most importantly, the presence of the sequence round about the middle of the film can be considered as an evidence of transition from the alleged until then realistic logic of it to the dramatic logic it seemingly suggests[5]. Demonstrating the ‘interchangeability of the conscious and the unconscious life’ (Mellen 1978, p.24) and that morality is inextricably linked with the ‘inner world of desires and feelings’ (Durgnat 1978, p.118) he proves the semblance with the external reality (Edwards 1983, p.109). All these callings are common among people without regard to each one’s degree. Accordingly, the film deals with us all and avers our resemblance with it’s characters. What Pedro needs at last and by extension all the characters is love, as we all, this is what they lack instead of amenity[6]. On the first locale we can see poor children playing insouciant in the midst of a slum’s bumpy road, with Pedro among them. What leads to his being desolated is not merely his penury and the poor relief, but also the lack of love.

The dream sequence as intervention of Buñuel’s subconscious
   As I demonstrated Buñuel’s attempt to bring out the subconscious life of his main hero in order through it’s reflection onto the realistic surface of the film to suggest an additional interpretation was precise and successful. However, I would like to close my paper by bringing forward the fact that Buñuel attempted, in addition, to imbue his own subconscious obsession in the dream sequence achieving thus what Francisco Aranda (1975, p.143) successfully mentions as the ‘compromise between his personal world and the social content of the film’. In 1968 Luis Buñuel during a conversation with Max Aub[7] recounted twenty dreams he was repeatedly dreaming for almost twenty years. I noticed that all the main motives of the dream sequence may draw their inspiration from his personal experience as he is calling up his dreams. Frustration (I miss the train; I lose my suitcases[8]), deprivation (And the train always leaves without me, no one gives me anything, It’s the anguish of not having money), incompetence (I can’t do anything), the dreadful mother, the blessed Virgin[9], animals, the arms of a dead man, the storm and the rain and lighting are some of them. He says that almost all his dreams are painful and words like despair and anguish are regularly recurred in his descriptions. He concludes confessing ‘Yes, that’s everything: religion, eroticism, death’ (Aub and Buñuel 1996, p.15).
   The role of the dream continued to count as an essential factor for the majority of his films after Los olvidados until the later ones. Even so, nowhere else can we find all these constituent elements epitomized. Having already deliberately directed two clearly commercial films and with the little artistic freedom that after so many years of verve once again was cramping his style, Buñuel gives the impression that by assimilating all these elements in the dream sequence, he did not only attempt to illustrate the subconscious factuality of his characters for to attach importance to the social aspect of the film, but for to indirectly revert to his surrealistic origins and piece together his own subconscious with the one of his characters as well, so creating Los οlvidados, a deeply idiosyncratic, sorely made film that gave vent to the ulterior motives of it’s creator.


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[1] The momentary passing of some chickens near to Pedro after Jaibo’s accusation and threatening is by no means as accidental.
[2] Buñuel had conceded that ‘the irrational element, in the form of a chicken, circulates freely in the film’ (Duncan and Krohn 2006, p.71).
[3] Peter Harcourt (1967, p.10) has claimed that innocence and vulnerability consist leading moral factors of the film.
[4] It is worthy of remark the prompt note that Buñuel has asseverated that frustration is the theme of almost all his films (Pérez Turrent 1995, p.205).
[5] As Raymond Durgnat (1978, p.123) mooted: ‘[d]ramatic logic is suggestive rather than exclusive, divergent rather than convergent’.
[6] As André Bazin (1978, p.198) propounded: ‘Los Olvidados […] is a film of love, and it demands love’. Freddy Buache (1973, p.50) in a perhaps exaggerative way classifies the film as a ‘love poem about those deprived of love’.
[7] See, Aub and Buñuel 1996. Max Aub was also an uncredited co-scriptwriter of Los olvidados (Polizzotti 2006, p.31).
[8] The phases I array in italics occur identical in the text.
[9] I have to mention hereat that Luis Buñuel (2003, p.95) in his autobiography My Last Breath described yet one more recurrent dream instinct with erotic overtones in which a Virgin outstretches her hands to him.



References
  • Aranda, Francisco (1975) Luis Buñuel: A Critical Biography. Translated from Spanish by David Robinson. London: Secker & Warburg.
  • Aub, Max and Buñuel, Luis (1996) ‘Religion, Eroticism, Death’. Translated from Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden. Grand Street, 56, pp. 8-15.
  • Babington, Bruce and Evans, Peter William (1985) ‘The Life of the Interior: Dreams in the Films of Luis Buñuel’, Critical Quarterly, 27(4), pp. 5-20.
  • Bazin, André (1978) ‘Los Olvidados’, in Mellen, Joan (ed.) The World of Luis Buñuel: Essays in Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 194-200.
  • Buache, Freddy (1973) The Cinema of Luis Buñuel. Translated from French by Peter Graham. London: The Tantivy Press.
  • Buñuel, Luis (2002) An Unspeakable Betrayal: Selected Writings of Luis Buñuel. Translated from Spanish and French by Garrett White. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.
  • ¯¯¯¯¯¯ (2003) My Last Breath. Translated from Spanish by Abigail Israel. London: Vintage.
  • Duncan, Paul and Krohn, Bill (2006) Luis Buñuel: The Complete Films. New York and London: Taschen.
  • Durgnat, Raymond (1978) ‘Style and Anti-Style’, in Mellen, Joan (ed.) The World of Luis Buñuel: Essays in Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 116-124.
  • Edwards, Gwynne (1983) The Discreet Art of Luis Buñuel: A Reading of his Films. London: Marion Boyars Publishers.
  • Evans, Peter William (1995) The Films of Luis Buñuel: Subjectivity of Desire. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Gutiérrez-Albilla, Julián Daniel (2008) Queering Buñuel: Sexual Dissidence and Psychoanalysis in his Mexican and Spanish Cinema. London: Tauris Academic Studies.
  • Harcourt, Peter (1967) ‘Luis Buñuel: Spaniard and Surrealist’, Film Quarterly, 20(3), pp. 2-19.
  • Mellen, Joan (1978) ‘An Overview of Buñuel’s Career’, in Mellen, Joan (ed.) The World of Luis Buñuel: Essays in Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 3-27.
  • Pérez Turrent, Tomás (1995) ‘Luis Buñuel in Mexico’, in Paranaguá, Paolo Antonio (ed.) Mexican Cinema. Translated from Spanish by Ana M. López. London: British Film Institute, pp. 202-208.
  • Polizzotti, Mark (2006) Los Olvidados. London: British Film Institute.
  • Rubia Barcia, J. (1957) ‘Luis Buñuel’s “Los Olvidados”’, The Quarterly of Film Radio and Television, 7(4), pp. 392-401.



Acknowledgment
   Ι would like to express my sincere thanks to Christos Aggelakopoulos for his dilgent philological support and his felicitous comments on the paper’s content.

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