A black jazz musician on the run from a lynch mob stumbles across the
game warder of a private island and the young, innocent girl the warder
guards over. Sweet and precocious Evy is almost completely unaware of
the world outside her isolated island and unable to defend against the
advances of her guardian, while also not comprehending the nature of
the problem with the musician's arrival.
Bunuel's more well-known films are very impressive, but some of his
lesser-known films aren't given enough attention for what they are. "La
Joven" is a parable of innocence brought suddenly up against racism,
exploitation, and sex, and as a whole is a very morally ambiguous film.
Ultimately, the question must be asked: is one man's life being paid
for by the freedom of a young girl, or will she choose a different,
completely unfamiliar life full of its own trials? Those are the
questions left with the audience by the movie's conclusion.
Bunuel's mastery is reinforced by how well he is able to get into the regional dialect, settings, and character of this film. Here is a director who has shot movies from all over the world and managed to give a rather distinctive feel for each of the locations they've been made in.
Two things: 1) I am not the audience for this movie: I don't like musicals in general, I don't recognize the popular songs featured, and I honestly prefer Bunuel's darker movies; 2) however, this movie was still very spectacular (in the truest definition of the word) and is a real testament to Bunuel's gift of visual storytelling.
Basically, the idea here is that a couple of prison escapees (what they did is unclear, but I'm pretty sure they were just taken in for vagrancy) get a job at a oil speculation site just before a series of murders begins to unveil a conspiracy set against the owner. The owner's sister appears, capturing the heart of one of the leads, and now it's a process of figuring out whodunnit, comment on the political motivation (with oil there's always a political commentary, even back when), get the girl despite the usual misunderstandings, and, yes, sing.
Many people don't recognize that Bunuel also had the ability to be a popular entertainer. "A Woman without Love" is a testament to that fact, as well as this movie. For what it's worth, this movie really wouldn't feel all that out of place as a studio musical classic, only it just happened to be Spanish. What I liked best is that all of the music is diegetic: the sound and singing originate within the narrative and the story doesn't necessarily stop just to have people sing. The songs fit in as realistically as possible in the world, covering up for the sound of prison escape, setting a moment of hopeful joy, performances in the background... some of the songs are interrupted by the audience, some of them are stopped because they're practice, and a lot of them feature some dazzling uses of realism in environment and choreography. So for what it's worth, Bunuel scored big time on that.
A comment on the DVD set:
The copy I had mixed up the disc art so that the movies were reversed based on what the disc said it contained. It wasn't that big of an issue as both movies were ultimately included, it's just a curiosity I thought I should mention. Also, the transfer of Gran Casino isn't all that great, featuring missing frames and some jumps in sound, not to mention a lack of subtitles for the song routines. La Joven looked and sounded great, though.
Overall, an interesting set, but not the greatest pairing.