”La Joven” or ”The Young One” (or “White Trash”) was a difficult film to find. As this is a Luis Bunuel movie, produced in Mexico, I was not surprised to find it only available is Spanish, but it was soon clear to me that this is a movie with American actors speaking English and the Spanish on my version was dubbed, poorly. With the help of a subtitle file I did makes sense of it, but it was definitely an example of crossing the river to get water.
Bunuel was a surrealist / anarchist / socialist why developed in that direction through his career. I do not mind any of that had his movies in general been as good as the List editors seem to think. With “La Joven” his is definitely in his social consciousness phase and more lucid than usual. His “case” is racism and bigotry from white trash and as such it is hitting a nerve that I suppose is still valid. White trash as a population segment has become quite important.
Miller (Zachary Scott) is a game warden on a small island, presumably in the American South. His elderly partner has died leaving his young granddaughter, Evvie (Key Meersman) as his only company. Miller is a confident brute who sees himself as supreme leader of his little kingdom. Evvie is hardly more than a nuisance that he can boss around, that is until he realizes she is becoming sexually attractive. That gives her an entirely new value to him, something that baffles and scares the girl who is frankly little more than a child.
Into this child abuse story steps Traver (Bernie Hamilton). He is a musician on the run from a false charge of rape who has run out of gas near the island. Traver has one trait against him for a fellow in this part of the world: He is black. As such he is in the eyes of white trash like Miller a condemned man already.
Miller knows nothing about the rape charge against Traver. For him it is enough that he is black and has entered his kingdom. He is vermin that needs to be hunted down. Evvie has no racial bias and is fascinated by the civil and cordial treatment from Traver. This is obviously very different from the dominance and sexual advances of Miller. She is baffled by the hatred Miller is having towards the black man and tries hard to understand.
These are the two themes of the story: child abuse and racism, and for most of the movie that is basically what is on display. The movie draws a connection between the two, saying that both are founded in the character type that is Miller and as such the movie is one, long exposé of Miller’s flaws.
This could have become awfully boring if it had not been for the lethal tension between Miller and Traver and the constant danger hoovering over Evvie. But the story also takes some twists to reveal that racism is not a constant. When Miller learns that both men served in the army in Italy, Traver becomes more than just a black intruder and later on self-preservation relegates animosities to the backseat.
I was okay with this movie. It was not the greatest movie I ever saw and often it is rather ham-fisted, but it grew on me as I watched it. I needed to see Evvie getting off this island, out of the clutches of Miller and his kind and that tension, more than the almost fatalistic racism, was what drove the story forward for me.
Probably the best I have seen from Bunuel so far, but that is not really praise I suppose.