Cria Cuervos . . . - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

Spain, 1976

Director: Carlos Saura

Production: Elías Querejeta Production Company (Madrid); Eastmancolor, 35mm; running time: 112 minutes; length: 2740 meters. Released Cannes Film Festival, 1976. Filmed in Madrid.

Producer: Elías Querejeta; screenplay: Carlos Saura; photography: Teodoro Escamilla; editor: Pablo del Amo; sound engineer: Bernardo Menz; production designer: Rafael Palmero; music: Federico Mompou and Valverde Leon Y Quiroga; costume designer: Maiki-Marin.

Cast: Ana Torrent ( Ana ); Conchita Pérez ( Irene ); Mayte Sánchez ( Juana ); Geraldine Chaplin ( Ana, Madre-Mujer ); Mónica Randall ( Paulina ); Florinda Chico ( Rosa ); Héctor Alterio ( Anselmo ); Germán Cobos ( Nicolás ); Mirta Miller ( Amelia ); Josefina Díaz ( Abuela ).

Awards: Cannes Film Festival, Special Jury Prize, 1976.



Saura, Carlos, Cría cuervos , Madrid, 1976.


Brasó, Enrique, Carlos Saura , Madrid, 1974.

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Borin, Fabrizio, Carlos Saura , Firenze, 1990.

D'Lugo, Marvin, The Films of Carlos Saura: The Practice of Seeing , Princeton, New Jersey, 1991.


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Télérama (Paris), no. 2352, 8 Feburary 1995.

* * *

Like Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive , Cria Cuervos stars the remarkable Ana Torrent and can be read, on one level at least, as a none-too-veiled parable about the stifling and oppressive climate of Franco's Spain. Although it is by no means immediately apparent, the film is really one long flashback, which itself contains flashbacks and fantasy sequences, from 1995 when Ana, a young Spanish woman, looks back to her childhood, and especially to the summer of 1975 in Madrid. In particular she remembers the death of her mother, Maria, from cancer; the death of her father, Anselmo, as he is making love to Amelia, the wife of his friend and fellow army officer Nicolás, although at the time Ana believed that she had poisoned him for ill treating her mother; the arrival of Anselmo's sister-in-law Paulina at the house after his death in order to look after Ana and her two sisters; the way in which she imagined that her mother and father re-appeared to her; her crippled and mute grandmother Abuela (to whom Ana offers her "poison" as a means out of her predicament); and Paulina's affair with Nicolás. Ana's discovery of this results in a contretemps with Paulina, as a result of which Ana tries (unsuccessfully of course) to poison her.

The film's title refers to the Spanish saying "raise ravens and they'll peck out your eyes." On the most obvious level this refers to Ana's rebellion against her upbringing, which takes its most potent form in her "poisoning" of her father and substitute mother. Significantly her father was a member of the División Azul, a Spanish volunteer force which fought for the Nazis in World War II, who, in the scenes with his long-suffering wife, comes across as the typical Francoist patriarch ("I am what I am" and so on) while the household in general typifies the traditional middle classes who were the bulwark of Francoism and who were distinguished, as one commentator has put it, by their "Catholicism, an abundance of children, sexual hypocrisies, a rigid ethic, ritualised, conventional boredom." At the end of the film Ana and her sisters leave the claustrophobic, somewhat febrile domestic interiors in which the bulk of the action takes place and set off for school down the noisy street; the effect is decidedly refreshing and liberating, an impression only heightened by Saura's use of a long tracking shot, and puts one in mind of the director's remark when making Cria Cuervos that "Francoism was dead before Franco died."

This being a Saura film, however, the political elements exist side by side with distinctly Freudian ones, and the parallels with Buñuel (one of the director's great heroes) are readily apparent. It is not simply the fact that the film clearly links sexual repression and political oppression, or the way in which fantasy and memory are granted the same representational status as scenes from everyday "reality." But, more specifically, it is the manner in which Cria Cuervos relates to Freud's ideas about the "family romance." In particular it works a whole series of variations on the "substitute parents" syndrome in which, according to Freud, "the child's imagination becomes engaged in the task of getting free from parents of whom he now has a low opinion and of replacing them by others, who, as a rule, are of higher social standing." Beginning with as striking a staging of the "primal scene" as one could wish for (with Ana listening to Amelia and her father making love) the film then continues via Ana's relationships with various substitute mothers (Paulina obviously, but also Abuela and even Rosa the maid, from whom Ana learns something about sexuality), the sisters' games in which they act out their previous family situation (with Ana playing her mother but significantly calling herself, and being called by her sister Irene, Amelia ), and climaxing in Paulina reworking the opening adultery scene by being discovered by Ana passionately kissing Nicolás, Amelia's husband. This process of displacement, by which one character comes to represent or stand in for another, also finds its expression in the fact that both Maria and the adult Ana are played by the same actress, Geraldine Chaplin. As Marsha Kinder has pointed out, this doubling (which has its parallel in Peppermint Frappé , incidentally) leaves one "uncertain a to whether the cherished image of the mother has shaped the development of the daughter, or whether Ana's own image has been superimposed over that of the absentee." Seen in this light Ana's attempts at "poisoning" are not actual deeds directed at real people but, rather, imaginary elements in her family romance, akin to her ability to conjure up her dead parents, or to the symbolic "death" which awaits those who are caught in the hide-and-seek game which the sisters play.

Cria Cuervos has been much admired for its portrayal of the world of childhood, and nowhere is it more successful in this respect than in its evocation of the fluidity of the child's sense of the real and the imaginary, thanks to which death is largely devoid of the terrors which it inspires in adults.

—Sylvia Paskin

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