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CRIA CUERVOS (aka: BREED) (aka: RAISE RAVENS) (director/writer: Carlos Saura; screenwriter: story by Carlos Saura; cinematographer: Teodoro Escamilla; editor: Pablo González del Amo; music: Frederic Mompou; cast: Cast: Geraldine Chaplin (Ana,adult, mother), Ana Torrent (Ana, child), Conchi Perez (Irene), Maite Sanchez (Maite), Héctor Alterio (Anselmo), Germán Cobos (Nicolás Garontes), Monica Randall (Paulina), Mirta Miller (Amelia Garontes), Josefina Díaz (Abuela, grandmother), Florinda Chico (Rosa); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Elias Querejeta; The Criterion Collection; 1976-Spain-in Spanish with English subtitles)
“An hypnotic arthouse psychological drama that complexly mixes reality and fantasy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is Spanish auteur Carlos Saura’s (“Tango”/”Goya in Bordeaux”/”Salomé”) greatest film, a flawless psychological and political film about observing in a Proustian sense the loss of time and memory and in dealing with repression by characters who are not able to communicate with each other and children who are no longer that innocent. The enigmatic title derives from a Spanish proverb “Raise ravens and they’ll peck out your eyes,” as the ravens are the children who seek vengeance.

It’s an hypnotic arthouse psychological drama that complexly mixes reality and fantasy, as it hauntingly paints a portrait on the unresolved legacy of Franco’s fascism and its effects on a middle-class family—especially its trapped women. It was shot in 1975 while Spanish dictator Franco lay dying and was released in 1976, forty years after the civil war began and thirty seven years after the war ended in 1939 with the fascist’s victory. 1976 was a turning point in Spanish history, a time when the country was coming out of the shadow of fascism to soon successfully become a democracy. Saura gives us his personal voice about the Franco times through the Madrid family that supported the dictator and also uses the female psyche of the family to stand in for the country, sounding off in a subtle way about the trepidation of looking back to the past and the uncertainty of the future. Cría cuervos won the Jury’s Grand Prize at Cannes.

The womanizing patriarch, Anselmo (Héctor Alterio), of the bourgeois family suffers a fatal heart attack while in bed with his mistress, Amelia Garontes (Mirta Miller), the pretty wife of his good friend Nicolás (Germán Cobos). Anselmo’s middle daughter, the sad-eyed eight year old Ana (Ana Torrent, her second film after Spirit of the Beehive), creeps around in the dark in their large crumbling, claustrophobic mansion, isolated from all the traffic noise in the middle of Madrid, and observes the mistress hurriedly leaving the bedroom with her blouse unbuttoned after hearing her dad whisper sweet words of love to her. The child has no love for her father, ever since she watched her mother die a painful death from cancer and blames her philandering father for treating her mom badly. The neurotic and vulnerable mother (Geraldine Chaplin) gave up a career as a concert pianist to instead get locked into this loveless marriage with her fascist soldier husband, and now the disturbed Ana conjures up visions of her mother as a ghost. We learn through these conversations that Ana came across a can of baking powder that mom says has enough poison “to kill an elephant,” and didn’t throw it out as ordered. She put some of the powder in a glass of water standing at her father’s bedside table, and after his death washes the glass in the kitchen sink thinking she’s responsible for his demise (symbolically meaning the children of the fascists gave them a dose of their own medicine).

In a dreamlike surreal way, that is not unlike Buñuel, Saura makes the past, present, and foreseeable future fuse together as a strange reality that’s both hopeful and grim. Geraldine Chaplin, the director’s muse, also plays Ana as an adult in 1995, so we get an idea of how she managed to emerge from her unhappy childhood (much like the country). The three daughters, the eldest Irene (Conchita Perez) and youngest Maite (Maite Sanchez), become the wards of their mother’s sister, the frosty and rigid but sometimes kind-hearted spinster Aunt Paulina (Mónica Randall), who raises them in their own home with her mute wheelchair-bound helplessly invalid mother (Josefina Díaz). The girls’ granny has a permanent smile on her face, but her memory is fading and her only happiness is to look back through photos at her marriage. Completing the all-female household is the earthy housekeeper Rosa (Florinda Chico), the only adult with some warmth and some pep, who tells Ana about the mysteries of sex and hints of the affair she had with her father.

For Saura, who shoots the film from the POV of the little girls, the legacy handed down to the children of the middle-class supporters of Franco is one of violence, guilt and denial (in the form of memory loss). The only warmth in the communication between the children and the family, is when Ana has a dialogue with her dead mother (indicating that those who died for the cause still are there in spirit for the living).

It’s an ambitious and elusive work (i.e., that Ana may or may not have poisoned her father and guardian), that evokes both the fears of childhood and the struggles for a nation to free itself from its tarnished past.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”