In the twilight of Francisco Franco's dictatorship, an eight-year-old orphan and her two sisters find shelter in the house of their stern aunt, trying their best to acclimatise to a new reality. Will they summon up the courage to grow up?
In Madrid, the orphan sisters Irene, Ana and Maite are raised by their austere aunt Paulina together with their mute and crippled grandmother after the death of their mother and their military father Anselmo. Ana is a melancholic girl, fascinated by death, after seeing her mother having a painful death and her father dead in bed.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
A perfect sister film to one of my absolute favorites, Spirit of the Beehive. It also stars Ana Torrent and has similar themes. And I like it probably as much. Torrent, three years older but looking pretty much the same, plays the middle child of three girls. At the beginning of the film, their father has just died. Their mother (played by Geraldine Chaplin) died a while back. The film is told through the mind of Ana, who is still mourning her mother, and she often sees her. It can be confusing at the beginning. Chaplin also appears as the adult Ana, who narrates some of her thoughts, or possibly as what Ana believes she will become. This is very ambiguous. The girls' aunt Paulina is now taking care of them. The duty was kind of forced upon her and, while she's trying her hardest, it's taking its toll. She's stern and not well liked by the girls, especially Ana. There isn't much plot, per se, and what little there is shouldn't be ruined. We often see Ana's imagination and memories come to life. We see her witness fights between her parents. Later on, she reenacts them with her sisters. The film is about what children observe, how they interpret it and how they act on those interpretations. The film also has political ramifications, subtle ones that are pretty difficult to grasp. The title is the beginning of a Spanish proverb that goes: "Raise ravens, and they'll tear out your eyes." Like Spirit of the Beehive, the film depicts a child experimenting with her own cruelty and violence. Supposedly this is all a criticism of the Fascist government (Franco had just died by this point, so his regime was just on its way out). It's a very dense and fascinating movie. You'd probably still be swimming through its mysteries on a hundredth viewing. If you thought possibly that Ana Torrent was not acting in Spirit of the Beehive, this will set you straight. Her blank, soulful expression is here in full force, of course, but here you see the slightest smile creep across her face, and you can just tell exactly what she's thinking. I'm afraid I've done an awful job reviewing Cría Cuervos. I haven't expressed how touching it is when dealing with Ana's loneliness (there's a scene where she dreams that her mother pops into her bedroom to tell her a story that's just heartbreaking), or how it often straddles dark comedy, like the scenes between Ana and the maid. I think that difficulty in reviewing it shows just how layered and confounding the film is. It shoots right up my favorites list. It's easily the best film I've seen all year. Bravo to Criterion for bringing this one to DVD. Hope they also get to Saura's La Caza sometime in the future.
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