The presidency of Porfirio Diaz in Mexico was beset by a slew of problems, ranging from political stagnation to civil repression. Mexico was in chaos during his presidency, and his weak economic policies helped his close associates and international investors. In the end, the country’s economy was built on the backs of a few wealthy landowners and millions of poor people struggling to make ends meet. President Porfirio ensured that all attempts to restore stability in the country were thwarted. As a result, he proclaimed himself the winner of the eighth term in office, but only for a short time before he was forced to resign after suffering military defeats by Francisco I. Madero. Notably, when Venustiano Carranza became the 37th president of Mexico after Porfirio Diaz, there were no significant changes in the politics and economy of the country. He was not able to make important decisions that would have impacted the economy of the country positively. Remarkably, he did not implement most of the radical elements in the current constitution of Mexico which had already been drafted and adopted. Labour empowerment, expropriation of foreign investments, and suppression of the Roman Catholic Church remained a challenge during his tenure. After the revolution that enabled him to clinch to power, Mexicans who were eager to witness the so much awaited liberal Mexico were disappointed and the country was in desperate stress. Notably, Venustiano’s reign was faced by some armed political enemies, giving him less time to concentrate on developing the nation. However, when Miguel Aleman became the president of the country, there were significant changes in the industrial development in the country. Despite the many positive changes in the Mexican economy, there were high levels of personal enrichment and that of close associates during his tenure. Nevertheless, the president was termed as the Mexican miracle due to the tremendous growth in economic development. Early in the days, Mexican politics and leadership were full of political corruption and crony capitalism that adversely affected the young people and the minority industrial groups in the country.
In the Mexican movie produced in 1950, the director Luis Buñuel highlights the shortcomings of the Porfirio Díaz, particularly, in failing to cater for the needs of the lower-class population comprising the indigenous groups and peasant farmers. Intent on taming the imminent revolution through economically disabling its active lower-class population, ‘economic growth under Díaz had a cost, aristocracy attempted to copy Europe while the majority of its population was impoverished due to the surplus of labor, wages were low,’ in response to the marginalization, ‘disgruntled dissidents, frequently young, became angry enough to attack the system,’ fight and commit petty crimes like theft (Skidmore et al., 227-232). Luis Buñuel, through Los Olvidados, tells a story of some children (Pedro (Alfonso Mejia), Ojitos (Mario Herrera), Jaibo (Roberto Cobo) and Julian (Javier Amezcua)) in one of the marginal neighborhoods of Mexico during this era. Through the use of imaging, sounds, purposeful framing, and camerawork in the scene when Jaibo steals Pedro’s money (1:03:18-1:06:18), Buñuel vividly illustrates the crimes like violence and theft that characterized the penury and economic challenges that faced the marginalized farmers and indigenous groups in Mexico during the first era (1884-1911) of Porfirio Díaz’s administration despite claims of economic stability.
The beginning of the scene features El Jaibo and Pedro tussling over money. El Jaibo first tries to entice Pedro to give him the money, but Pedro refuses, citing that it was his money “given by the Principal” El Jaibo finally overpowers Pedro and escapes into a moving School Bus. Pedro’s statement during the altercation serves to highlight the fact that the people, though marginalized by the government, were well aware of their entitlement to their land and the country. Amidst the heated wrangle, the sound of an approaching school bus freezes the fight for a moment after when El Jaibo finally manages to take the coin away from Pedro whom he leaves on the ground struggling to get up. At that moment, the camera rapidly shifts to the oncoming school bus in a medium close-up shot to illustrate that the focus is about to shift from the economic struggles to a revolution. Ideally, the oncoming bus signifies the impending revolution against the government by the lower-class population who felt neglected and abandoned by the government they elected to cater for their needs. The unusually loud sound of the bus implies the intensity and supposed magnitude of the revolution. The momentary freeze in the fight between El Jaibo and Pedro marks the transition period when the focus among the neglected group is expected to shift from silence and inactivity to active participation in the inevitable political upheaval.
Moments later, El Jaibo is at a field playing with fellow peers when Pedro storms the playfield demanding for his coin. Condescendingly, El Jaibo asks ‘which coin’ as though he is unaware of the coin he just stole from Pedro moments ago. At this point, sounds of laughter emanate from the background, and the camera focuses on the two rivals- Pedro and El Jaibo- who are on the verge of another physical exchange. Starting from an aerial vantage point, the camera slowly moves towards the playfield and rests with a close-up shot of El Jaibo and Pedro facing each other having a verbal exchange. The framing strategically moves with respect to what is being filmed to demonstrate the tense atmosphere and the tension created among the neglected groups, which underlies the revolution (Gilly, 7). As Pedro continues to champion for his right to the coin, the other children together with the adults slowly converge to witness the now full-blown fight. The passive bystanders cheer as El Jaibo knocks the helpless and young Pedro to a near unconscious state. The camera shifts from the laughing and cheering crowd to the bloody Pedro lying on the ground, and struggling to stand up. The camera movement juxtaposes the mood of the Caudillo and that of the revolting citizens. Brading (13) notes that the caudillos (local military recruits) were meant to facilitate the taming of the revolution, but later encountered a fierce environment as the peasants rebelled against the administration. The actions of El Jaibo in this instance indicates the attempt by the caudillos to thwart the efforts of the farmers to champion for their economic rights. The laughter and the cheers are typical of a jovial mood within Diaz’s government as his foot-soldiers oppressed certain citizens while the administration forwarded the flawed narrative of rapid and extensive economic prosperity (Eakin, 24). In addition to the sounds, camerawork, and purposeful framing, Buñuel uses monochrome as an imaging technique to historically situate the film. The period between 1880 and 1970 was characterized by the use of monochrome (black and white) in movies (Ronalds, 73). Coincidentally, the first reign of President Diaz was from 1884 to 1911. The entire scene is in black and white.
The use of different cinematography techniques by Buñuel in this scene illustrates the relationship between President Diaz’s administration and the lower-class citizens. Although the government constantly claimed equal economic opportunities for all the citizens, the claim seems flawed from the standpoint of Luis Buñuel who shows how the government neglected a part of the population and tried to suppress their voices when they sought to be heard. Buñuel exemplifies the chaos and confusion the ensued in the lead-up to the revolution which pitched the caudillos against the neglected citizens.
Brading, David. Caudillo and Peasant in the Mexican Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980. Print.
Eakin, Marshall. The History of Latin America. New York, NY: Palgrave, 2007. Print.
Gilly, Adolfo. The Mexican Revolution. Thetford: The Thetford Press, 1983. Print.
Ronalds, Francis. “The Beginnings of Continuous Scientific Recording using Photography: Sir Francis Ronalds’ Contribution,” European Society for the History of Photography. 2016. Web 20 February 2016.
Skidmore et al. Modern Latin America. 8th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Print.