“My mother died before I was born.”
‘Cría Cuervos’, directed by Carlos Saura in 1976, is a Spanish domestic drama with touches of abstract fantasy. Ana, an eight year old played by Ana Torrent (previously seen in Víctor Erice’s ‘The Spirit of the Beehive’ and later to be seen as an adult in Alejandro Amenábar’s ‘Tesis’), discovers her father dead and slips into half-real and half-dreamlike state, occasionally talking with her mother (who has also died), dealing with her remote aunt, reliving her mother’s painful death from cancer and offering her grandmother poison to end her mute and incapacitated life. It’s a dark movie in terms of themes, but a strangely nostalgic and oneiric movie in terms of tone and style. Ana moves around her house and grounds slipping in-and-out of reality, her actions, even those involving the ‘poison’ she keeps in the basement, are all infused with the innocence of her childhood. As with ‘The Spirit of the Beehive’, this is a movie that tells its story from a child’s perspective and, as such, the darker elements are muted. Highlights of the film include the opaque beginning with the discovery of the father and the conversation with the mother setting the template for the movie. Ana Torrent is extraordinary, holding the film together with her performance, but Geraldine Chaplin in the dual role as Ana’s mother and her older self also stands-out particularly in the flashback scenes showing the pain of her illness. It’s got the same dusty, smoke infused cinematography and cavernous feeling interiors as ‘The Spirit of the Beehive’, but where it really succeeds is in Saura’s insistence on not leaving the point of view of his main protagonist. It’s one of the more consistently focused movies about childhood joining both ‘The Spirit of the Beehive’ and, strangely, Elem Klimov’s Russian grim-fest ‘Come and See’.
Would I recommend it? Yes – the number of connections both in terms of actors, themes and tone between this movie and ‘The Spirit of the Beehive’ make it a natural double-bill contender.