Cría cuervos [DVD]
Director : Carlos Saura
Screenplay : Carlos Saura
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1976
Stars : Geraldine Chaplin (Ana / The Mother), Mónica Randall (Paulina), Florinda Chico (Rosa), Ana Torrent (Ana), Héctor Alterio (Anselmo), Germán Cobos (Nicolás Garontes), Mirta Miller (Amelia Garontes)
Set during the Franco regime and shot while the fascist general was on his deathbed, Carlos Saura's Cría cuervos is a dream-like evocation of the shifting lines between fantasy and reality, living and dying, past and present. It has many similarities to Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers (1973), which was similarly confined to a large house and explored a family's conflicted response to the presence of death in their midst. Cría cuervos begins with death--a dreamlike scene in which a little girl discovers the body of her father in his bedroom--and it haunts the rest of the film both literally and figuratively.
The film's central character is Ana (Ana Torrent, the dark-eyed tyke from Spirit of the Beehive), one of three orphaned siblings who are being cared for by their Aunt Paulina (Mónica Randall). Ana's mother (Geraldine Chaplin) was a loving soul (or at least that is how Ana remembers her) who died of a long and painful illness. Even in death she maintains an almost physical presence in Ana's experience, gliding through the house and interacting with her daughter as if she were still alive. Ana's father, on the other hand, was a cruel member of the fascist party whose politics poisoned his role as father and husband (in one scene, which was widely interpreted as an allegory for Spain under the Franco regime, the father berates the mother for feeling pain in her stomach). However, we never see either parent except in the dreams and memories inside Ana's head, so their reliability is somewhat suspect.
There is little that actually transpires in Cría cuervos, even though the story skips seamlessly between the past, the present, and the future, which is narrated by an adult Ana who is also played by Geraldine Chaplin, albeit with a dubbed voice. The film is primarily a mood piece--it evokes, rather than tells. The manner in which Saura plays the reality/fantasy divide gives the film its own special dream logic, urging the viewer to sink into the mood of each scene, rather than trying to piece together how it fits into a coherent narrative. The cinematography by Teodoro Escamilla is dark and sullen, which reflects visually the mood of the characters and the burdens under which they live.
The film's focus is on relationships and the way in which our past inflects how those relationships are forged. Thus, while Paulina attempts to be a loving mother figure, she never quite connects with her sister's daughters, especially Ana, who is increasingly cut off from others as she sinks deeper into herself. We feel sorry for Paulina, as we sense her struggles while witnessing her shortcomings. There is something slightly distant about her, which makes all her efforts toward affection feel like precisely that: efforts, rather than natural emotion.
Not surprisingly, Cría cuervos has a disturbing undertone, even in lighthearted moments like when Ana and her sisters dance to a pop song or their earthy maid, Rosa (Florinda Chico), gives the little girl a surprise view of what her body will someday become. This is best reflected in the family home, which is an enormous, imposing mansion that is inexplicably isolated from the rest of the world, which Saura emphasizes with shots that position the house behind an enormous wall that separates it from a busy street. Everything in the house, which has a deserted feel to it, seems slightly off--detached or somehow tainted by the father's fascist legacy.
For Saura, the father's political sins infect the rest of his life, so it is of little surprise that he was a philanderer who died in the arms of his best friend's wife. Saura had already made several films under the Franco regime that were allegorically antifascist, so it's not surprising that many viewed Cría cuervos in a similar light. But, even if you don't see the film as explicitly political (which it was not necessarily meant to be), it is hard not to see the familial sickness at its core as an inherent result of the kind of political and social repression that Spain was then on the verge of finally escaping.
|Cría cuervos Criterion Collection DVD|
|Audio||Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||August 14, 2007|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The beautiful new anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1) transfer was made from the original 35mm camera negative and restored with the MTI Digital Restoration System, which has reduced virtually every sign of age and dirt. The color scheme is fairly muted throughout, with an emphasis on shadows and darkness. There are several scenes that are brightly lit, however, and the transfer manages the balance between light and dark extremely well, bringing out all the nuances of detail in even the dimmest corners of the frame. The monaural soundtrack was transferred at 24-bit from the 35mm original soundtrack negative and also digitally restored, resulting in a pristine soundscape.|
|Portrait of Carlos Saura is a one-hour documentary made in 2004 by José-Luis López-Linares (his 2000 documentary on Luis Buñuel, A propósito de Buñuel, is available on Criterion's DVD of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie). The documentary covers the entirety of Saura's life, from his childhood in Civil War-ravaged Spain, to his career as a filmmaker during the Franco era and beyond. It includes interviews with Saura and many of his collaborators, as well as clips from many of his films, most of which are used to show how explicitly autobiographical so much of his work is. There are also two new video interviews with actresses Geraldine Chaplin (20 min.) and Ana Torrent (8 min.). In her interview, Chaplin talks about how she came to be an actress, her working relationship with Saura, and her views of the film's political nature (she stresses it was not meant to be an allegory for Spain under the Franco regime). In Torrent's much shorter interview, the actress talks about her memories making the film, including an amusing story about how Saura had to literally beg her parents to let her take the role.|
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © The Criterion Collection