The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Cria Cuervos (1976/Spain/dir. Carlos Saura) appeared at #90 on my original list.
What it is • Ten spots down the line (La Vieja Memoria appeared at #100) we have another Spanish film from the seventies, exploring "that old memory" of the Spanish Civil War. But whereas the post-Franco documentary could openly address the conflict and the subsequent forty-year repression, Carlos Saura's simultaneously lucid and dreamlike fiction film is more cryptic, allusive rather than allegorical. Ana (Ana Torrent, in one of the greatest child performances of all time) is an orphan, along with her two sisters - yet she appears more haunted, particularly by the loss of her mother (Geraldine Chaplin), than her siblings perhaps because she witnessed her mother's suffering more closely. Then again, the sensitivity probably stretches further back - at one point, the family maid (Florinda Chico) reveals that Ana clung to her unnamed parent even in the womb, and the doctors had to use forceps to deliver her. The little girl continues to commune with her mother via a mix of fantasy and memory, delivered in the same limpid, straightforward key as the rest of the film. Ana's affection does not extend to her late father, whom she (perhaps mistakenly) believes she has poisoned as revenge for her mother's sadness, illness, and death. Nor does it extend to her aunt Paulina (Monica Randall), whose well-intentioned but grating discipline and attempts at affection she spurns. Just as Spain was preparing to shake off the Franco regime (the dictator himself was dying as the film was shot) and undergo an uncertain transition into a centrist democracy, Ana and her sisters struggle against increasingly desperate discipline, both cherish and fear their increasing freedom and aimlessness, and inquire curiously about their family history. And at film's end they prepare to enter the wider world, less nostalgic and romantic, but also less morbid and melancholy.
Why I like it •
First of all, I'm a sucker for anything having to do with Spain's political history - the ideological struggle of the thirties is deeply fascinating, as is the subsequent regime's strange isolation and idiosyncrasy in modern Europe. But in some ways that's icing on the cake - as the above description makes clear, the connections are loose and ambiguous rather than explicit and Cria Cuervos' primary appeal is psychological rather than political. Its depiction of a family haunted by unspoken loss and painful confusion is powerful, as is the palpable anguish concealed by its placid surface (revealed only in the moments of music, particularly the catchy pop ditty "Porque te vas" which you'll be humming before the film ends). Torrent's performance is wise beyond her years, or perhaps a useful reminder that years aren't necessary for a grasp of the dysphoria adults often forget children can feel (indeed, they often feel it more acutely than the adults around them, who've grown numb with time). In a way, the scenes with the three siblings - the middle being our protagonist - remind me of E.T. with their playfulness, savvy engagement with the adult world, and escape into fantasy. In a sense, both films even end with a resurrection which sets the moral order back on even keel. Here, of course, there is no extra-terrestrial to redeem the broken home; they will have to find their own way in the noisy streets outside their claustrophobic villa.
How you can see it • Cria Cuervos is available streaming on Hulu and on Criterion Collection DVD from Netflix. A clip from the film appears at 6:35 to close "Pray For Us Sinners", a chapter in my "32 Days of Movies" video series.
What do you think? • Do you see the similarities between Cria Cuervos and other films about children - particularly the element of fantasy? What other child performances rank with Torrent's? How does the film relate/compare to Torrent's previous film, The Spirit of the Beehive, which also uses fantasy to relate to Spain's 20th century experience - or to Pan's Labyrinth which did the same recently to worldwide acclaim? Are the scenes with Geraldine Chaplin as a grown-up Ana the girl's childhood imaginings or is the story really to be seen as an adult flashback? Have you see any of Saura's other films; if so, how do they relate/compare to this one? How does the analogy between Ana's family and Spanish society break down in your eyes?
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Previous week: Faust (#91)
Next week: Stop Making Sense (#89)