Director: Carlos Saura
Screenplay: Carlos Saura
Starring: Ana Torrent, Geraldine Chaplin, Mónica Randall, Florinda Chico
Producer: Elías Querejeta
Running Time: 110 min
BBFC Certificate: 12
One thing I love about writing about films and getting sent screeners to review, is discovering great films I’ve never heard of. I still have to request the titles and don’t have time to ask for all that get offered, so I tend to do a little research beforehand to pick and choose. This entails looking up a few reviews from trusted sources, so for films I don’t know much about I do develop a certain level of expectation based on the critical response to them. However this can be a help and a hindrance. Living up to hype is always difficult and some classic films may be admirable or groundbreaking but not necessarily have the same impact they once had within a film landscape that perhaps they helped shape. Once in a while I get a film like Cria Cuervos sent over though. I must admit I hadn’t heard of the film, but on looking up a couple of reviews and noticing it had been added to the Criterion Collection I figured it would be worth a watch. And it certainly was.
Cria Cuervos (translated ‘Raise Ravens’), directed by Carlos Saura, is set in Madrid in a mansion seemingly cut off from the rest of the city, despite being set in the heart of it. As the film opens we see eight-year-old Ana (Ana Torrent) creep downstairs in the middle of the night to hear her army general father die during a sexual liaison with his friend’s wife. Later we learn that Ana believes she killed him using ‘poison’ (actually baking soda) that she had promised her (also dead) mother to throw away long ago. As an orphan, Ana has to grow up with her two sisters under the care of their aunt Paulina (Mónica Randall). Ana doesn’t get on with her aunt, who is more strict and cold than her mother was, and she develops a desire to ‘kill’ her too. The only solace she gets is in her visions of her mother she conjures up in her imagination and memory.
It’s a peculiar film which is hard to pin down. A number of critics describe it as an allegorical piece hitting out against the Franco regime, of which Saura was an outspoken opponent. To me however, having little knowledge of Spanish politics and history, the film worked in other ways. In particular, as a look at life and death through the eyes of a child the film is incredibly powerful.