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The Criterion Collection presents
Cría Cuervos (1976)

"I want to die."
- Eight-year-old Ana (Ana Torrent)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: September 12, 2007

Stars: Ana Torrent, Conchita Pérez, Maite Sánchez, Geraldine Chaplin
Other Stars: Mónica Randall, Florinda Chico, Héctor Alterio, Germán Cobos, Josefine Díaz
Director: Carlos Saura

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief nudity, sexuality, mature themes)
Run Time: 01h:50m:04s
Release Date: August 14, 2007
UPC: 715515025225
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-BA- A+

DVD Review

The title of Cría Cuervos comes from a Spanish proverb—raise ravens and they'll peck out your eyes. It seems to suggest the way the past can eat away at you, old memories dredged up years later and still cause the same sting of pain. Eight-year-old Ana (Ana Torrent), a girl living in Francoist Spain in the 1970s, certainly has the makings of plenty. Her mother is dead and, as the film opens, she catches her father's mistress leaving his room and enters it to find hid in bed, dead of a heart attack. Proof, I guess, the films largely about children aren't always suited for them.

Ana's aunt Paulina (Mónica Randall) arrives to raise the girl and her sisters, 5-year-old Maite (Maite Sánchez) and Irene (Conchita Pérez), on the cusp of puberty, as well as care for their grandmother, who is bound to a wheelchair and spends her days doing nothing more than gazing at old photographs. Paulina isn't cruel, but she doesn't really understand the girls, who exist in that strange bubble of a childhood summer, inventing games adults can't bother to understand (when they play dress up, instead of princesses and fairies, they are their late parents, reenacting scenes from a stormy marriage). We see everything through Ana's eyes, witnessing the changes the family goes through in the wake of tragedy, the way children seem to easily adapt to change and the pain and resentment that doesn't always surface in what looks to be a carefree life.

Better than almost any film I can remember, save perhaps Danny Boyle's fantastical Millions, Saura brings us inside the curious and unsettling world of a child's mind. Stephen King posits that all children are insane until around age eight, when they finally tame their inner beasts and become something resembling normal; in less macabre terms, I'd certainly agree that most children I've talked to are downright weird. Little Ana is stranger than most, though, and Saura explores her imagination through frequent, unannounced flights of fantasy—every once in a while, we wander into one of her memories or daydreams. Most often, she's poring over her memories of her mother and father, together and apart, remembering the night she stayed up late to listen to her mom play the piano, then witnessed an argument when her father arrived home late, no doubt after a visit with his mistress. Sometimes she seems party to scenes she should never have witnessed, and we're not quite sure what's real and what's fiction. At others, it's clearly all in her heard, as when she pictures what it would be like to leap from the roof of her home and go soaring across the sky, not quite falling to her death but not really getting anywhere, either. She's fixated on death, and believes she may have played a role in the death of her father. Even her favorite pop song, which she listens to again and again, is a jaunty-sounding but mournful tune about a woman mourning the impending loss of a lover.

Ana Torrent is remarkable in the lead, her doll-like face and arresting eyes ever questioning. She's almost unsettling—it's not the kind of manufactured performance you expect from young actors, not even professional little tykes like a Haley Joel Osment. She seems off in her own world. Saura's muse and sometimes-lover Geraldine Chaplin plays an adult version of the girl, offering some narrative insight, as well as her own mother in the fantasy sequences, perhaps because we're meant to realize that the woman, like Spain in the grip of fascism, is trapped in a never-ending cycle.

That's the impression I get, anyway. In an essay that accompanies the Criterion release, Spanish film scholar Paul Julian Smith suggest that the entire picture operates on a symbolic level, a commentary on the waning days of fascism and the impending death of Franco. Ana's father is the corrupt old regime, and his isolated daughters represent a Spain that has existed in isolation for years out of fear. I'm no expert on Spanish political history, and if these subtle insinuations slip past me, it's no detriment to the film, which operates quite brilliantly even out of context. After all, we're watching everything through the eyes of a child too young to understand much of what she witnesses. Post-film discussions will travel down many paths; the allusions to fascism are but one.

Saura's films were obviously a great influence on contemporary Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar (his Talk to Her even stars Saura's one-time muse Geraldine Chaplin), and modern viewers will likely notice its echoes in fine films like Pan's Labyrinth. Though he's still making movies today, Saura doesn't have the cachet of some of those he inspired, no the legacy of his contemporary Buñuel. That's a shame. Cría Cuervos, at the very least, reveals remarkable skill in tone and character. I look forward to exploring what promises to be a very rewarding body of work.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The image shows its age a bit, but the muted, natural palette still makes for an attractive transfer. There's some grain in spots, a few darker scenes lacking contrast, and some minor examples of print damage, but nothing that should affect your enjoyment of the film.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoSpanishno


Audio Transfer Review: The mono track is excellent considering the inherent limitations of one-speaker sound. Dialogue is always clear and sounds natural, ambient sounds are well represented, and the important musical cues sound fairly full and clean.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Though there's a fine batch of illuminating extras (in typical Criterion Collection fashion), you'll probably be puzzled at the decision to make this a two-disc set; far more than the material included here has been packed onto one disc before with no obvious loss of audio and video quality. Anyway.

Disc 1 includes but the trailer, but the second platter has around 90 minutes of video features to sift through. The longest is Portrait of Carlos Saura (01h:02m:40s), which touches on Cría Cuervos but is mostly offers a wide angle view of the director's entire career. Saura and those he worked with discuss his life and films, the influence of Godard and Buñuel on his work, his romantic relationship with the actress Geraldine Chaplin (who has dual roles in Cría Cuervos), and the role of symbolism in his movies. Chaplin points out that no character Saura wrote comes closer to a self-portrait than the young Ana.

Ana Torrent herself sits for a short interview (7m:50s), sharing her memories of the shoot, while Geraldine Chaplin talks about her career and life with Saura in a separate 22-minute piece.

The discs are packaged in one of the clear keep cases Criterion has fallen in love with, which is nice except they are very flimsy (two out of two that I own arrived broken in the mail). There's also a slickly produced booklet with an essay by film Spanish cinema scholar Paul Julian Smith that places the film in historical context.

Extras Grade: A+

 

Final Comments

Still potent 30 years and a continent removed from its original release, Carlos Saura's Cría Cuervos offers an unsettling glimpse into the mind of a young girl struggling to cope with great loss. Criterion's presentation is typically superior.

 


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