What To Drink While Watching Cría Cuervos

Heen has just about hijacked this section, which allows him to shoot his big mouth off about films he thinks everybody should watch. That’s why I think it’s about time I had a shot, too. This way, I can talk about films that have made an impact on me, and what I drink when I watch them.


Let me say right now that I’m not going to talk about drinks. I mentioned booze when reviewing Pride and Prejudice and you wouldn’t believe the hate mail I got!


I should point out that when Heen watches a film, he rarely drinks anything. He drinks an awful lot of tea, whatever he’s doing, but between you and me, I’ve never noticed him choosing a special drink depending on the film he’s watching. You’ve probably observed that he makes up at least 90% of what he writes.


Anyway. I want to write something here about Cría Cuervos, a film I first watched when I was just a child when it first came out in 1976. It scarred me then (yes, I mean scarred, not scared) because I immediately identified with Ana and what she suffered, I suffered, even though the story of our families was so different.


Cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos, says the rather gruesome Spanish proverb. Bring up ravens and they’ll peck your eyes out. I don’t know if there’s an English equivalent; maybe we should include this in our “Comparative Proverbs” category. Your spoilt child will steal your wallet when he’s a teenager. That puppy you pamper will grow into a fierce dog that will bite you when you’re asleep. Anything you do in all innocence, with the best intentions, will turn against you, and you’ll only have yourself to blame. It’s a bit like “As ye sow so shall ye reap” but more inclusive.


I’ve always thought this isn’t the message of Cría Cuervos, the film directed by Carlos Saura that we’re talking about today. It’s about a young girl who thinks she has some power over life and death – feeling guilty perhaps over the death of her mother, she witnesses the death of her father, encourages the death of her grandmother and plans the death of her aunt. And her guinea pig Roni dies, as well, probably thanks to Ana’s overfeeding it. (The scene where Ana buries Roni in a shoe box in the garden, praying earnestly with her filthy hands clasped together is one of my favourite bits.) But it’s not a macabre film at all and the sadness is always punctuated with moments of humour as we see this little girl stumbling through her summer holidays, trying to make sense of things yet haunted by memories of her mother. Ana is played by Ana Torrent, a Spanish actress who has never really hit the big time as an adult. Apart from her mesmerising performance in Cría Cuervos, she also starred in Spirit of the Beehive. She was 10 when she made the former and 7 when she made the latter.


Ana has two sisters in the film, who come and go and act merely as foils. The only relationships that matter are Ana-her mother (Geraldine Chaplin), Ana-the maid (Florinda Chico) and Ana-her aunt (Mónica Randall). There are secondary relationships between her mother and father, between her father and his friend’s wife and between her aunt and her father’s friend, all of which configure the way Ana relates to the adults around her and are amusingly recreated by Ana and her sisters.


The story takes place in a big house in Madrid which is physically cut off from the rest of the city by high walls. The noise of the traffic breaks into the house but there is always a feeling of isolation – there are no visitors and they never go out. The girls play in the garden or listen to Jeanette singing “Porque te vas”. We learn that their father was an important figure in the military establishment, which adds to the stifling oppression evident in the old-fashioned house. The sisters leave the house only twice in the film, to visit a former colleague of their father and to go back to school at the end of the summer holidays. (And they march to school in practically military style, as Jeanette sings “Porque te vas” for the third time and the camera pans over the bustling city, reminding us that there is a whole world out there that Ana has no conception of, trapped in her morbid thoughts.)


I heard somebody give a talk about this film once and he was obsessed about the political symbology which is (in his opinion) so important. You have to remember this film is set and filmed in 1975, the year Franco died, and Spain was on the verge of a massive transformation. So, Ana stands for democracy, her father stands for Franco and his regime, her mother stands for the oppressed Spain and her aunt stands for the middle classes who refuse to acknowledge change and progress. Neat, huh? But, obviously, as we see the events as they affect a 10-year-old girl, we get no understanding of the political situation that clearly underscored Carlos Saura’s work; life is about my father (his pistol, his mistress), my mother (her piano, her deathbed agony), my sisters (their games, their quarrels), my maid, my aunt, my guinea pig and that little jar of bicarbonate of soda which my mother told me was deadly poisonous and that just one tiny spoonful could kill an elephant.  



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