Directed by Carlos Saura
In Spanish with optional English subtitles
I wish I could find the interview with Carlos Saura that I came across years and years ago in which he talked about narrating Cría cuervos in such a way that it would reflect the admiration he felt for some of the storytelling innovations of the Latin American writers who were coming into vogue in his native Spain in the 1960s. Until that time, I'll just note that one of the many, many things I love about this movie--culturally one of the most Spanish of all Spanish films of the era because of its veiled but ultimately scathing critique of the upper echelons of Franco's Spain in a work shot just a couple of months prior to the dictator's death and the beginning of the eventual transition to democracy for the country--is its blend of an intense, almost claustrophobic interiority with some conceptually showy Boom-like narrative devices that play with the concepts of time, memory, and reality in an unusually sophisticated manner for a motion picture. Ironically, in terms of its plot the film would seem to be a rather simple affair at heart: three young girls at home on vacation from school find themselves suddenly orphaned after their father, a military man, dies of an apparent heart attack while in bed with his best friend's wife. What complicates matters is that the middle of the three daughters, the eight year old Ana (Ana Torrent, in an unbelievably riveting performance), believes that she's responsible for her father's death for reasons that I won't go into here. Fascinatingly, what haunts Ana isn't guilt for the imagined patricide but the painful memory of the loss of her mother to an incurable illness some time previously. I say "fascinatingly" because the angelic-looking creature not only "sees" her mother frequently despite her older sister's reminder that their mother is dead, but she thinks that she can bring her back on demand with just a blinking of her eyes. Saura takes this somber premise and, with the help of a terrific cast, a deliberate pace that allows events to unfold naturally, and a sublime score that never fails to wow me, masterfully turns it into a wrenching meditation on abandonment and loss. While almost all of the action takes place in a grand but inordinately funereal old house in Madrid's embassy district, the story shifts back and forth in time in that it's told from the perspectives of the eight-year old Ana and the adult Ana (a wonderful Geraldine Chaplin, who also plays the deceased mother María in one of many Borgesian mirror image homages evident throughout the work) some twenty years later. At the same time, it also shifts back and forth in space because the troubled Ana, who comes to believe that she holds the keys to life and death over other members of her family just as she thinks she did with her father, increasingly finds it difficult to differentiate between what's real and what's only memory in the eerie inner world where her dead parents walk in and out of her waking hours like something straight out of Pedro Páramo. Superb. (The Criterion Collection)
Cría cuervos, whose title comes from the Spanish proverb "Cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos" ["Raise ravens, and they'll pluck your eyes out"], is being dissected on many blogs this week as part of the Spanish Lit Month activities. I'll link other posts to the movie below as soon as I find out about them, but please feel free to join in on the discussions at the various blogs whether you've reviewed the movie yourself or not.
Other Cría cuervos posts