August 21, 2007
Throughout most of his career, Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura faced off against state censors over the political content in his films, forcing him to implicitly critique Francisco Franco’s dictatorship and the Spanish Civil War. However, by the time he made Cria Cuervos in 1976, Franco was on his deathbed and as a result Saura had more creative control.
Ana (Torrent) awakens late one night and discovers her father dead from an apparent heart attack. She subsequently enters the kitchen and sees her dead mother (Chaplin). The eight-year-old girl deals with the loss of her parents by conjuring up memories of her mother of whom she was particularly close. With her two sisters, Ana goes to live with her mother’s sister (Randall) in a house located in the heart of Madrid. It is a place that becomes their whole world while they are on summer vacation.
Saura really effectively captures the dynamic between sisters at that young age in the way that they pass the time entertaining each other, dancing to music (the oft-repeated song, “Porque te vas” by Jeanette), dressing up in their aunt’s clothes and make-up, and playing the kind of games that kids play at that age. The film explores Ana’s relationship with her mother and what a profound effect her death had on the little girl’s life. The little girl saw things, like her mother suffering through an extremely painful illness and her father’s infidelity, which forced her to confront some very serious issues at a very young age. What kind of effect does witnessing these things have on a child?
As she demonstrated in The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), Ana Torrent was capable of delivering a sensitive, complex performance at a very young age. She had the tough job of playing a traumatized little girl trying to make sense out of the loss of both of her parents. Ana is quite an empathetic child and we see her spending time with her wheelchair-bound grandmother while the rest of the family seemingly ignores the elder. The scenes between Torrent and Geraldine Chaplin are quite touching as we see the bond between mother and child. Torrent conveys so much by doing so little, delivering, at times, a heartbreaking performance. For example, there is a scene where the little girl wakes up from a dream about her mother, crying and wishing she were dead. Torrent has a wise-beyond-her-years look that is perfect for this role.
Cria Cuervos is told from Ana’s point-of-view and we see how she perceives adult relationships, not fully understanding them. This is not to say that the film is always serious. There is a scene where Ana asks the housekeeper (Chico) about breast-feeding that is quite funny and these moments, peppered occasionally through the film, provide much needed levity at just the right moments.
The first disc features a theatrical trailer.
The second DVD starts off with an hour-long retrospective documentary on Saura entitled, “Portrait of Carlos Saura” with friends, family and contemporaries talking about his career.
Also included is an insightful interview with one of the film’s stars, Geraldine Chaplin, done specifically for this DVD. She talks about her start as a ballerina and her subsequent move into acting. Early on, she moved to Spain and fell in love with Madrid. Once there, she met Saura and began working for him, appearing in many of his movies and also falling in love with him. She speaks passionately about working on their movies together.
Finally, there is an interview with actress Ana Torrent. Saura wrote the role for her but she says that her parents didn’t want her to do any more films. Fortunately, the director convinced them to allow her to appear in Cria Cuervos. Torrent recounts her impressions of making the film and what it was means to her now.