Childhood Through a Child's Eyes

Carlos Saura, 1976

Most adults, especially the depressed ones, describe childhood as the happiest stage of their life. It is a time when innocence is in full bloom. A time when almost everything is a mystery to our then-innocent eyes. A time when stupid vanity does not exist. And a time when every day is an adventure.

I don't mean to sound cynical, but childhood is not always stress-free. For some it is perhaps the most uncertain period of their life. As children, we don't have enough capacity to decide for ourselves. Somebody else decides for us. Acclaimed Spanish director Carlos Saura described childhood as "a time of terrible indecision."

Cría cuervos introduces us to Ana (played by Ana Torrent), an eight year-old girl who is going through a despondent period in her life: both of her parents died. Ana has short black hair that highlights her sad, big dark brown eyes. Torrent's melancholic beauty is perfect for the film's tone. The film got its title from the Spanish proverb, "Cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos." ("Raise ravens, and they'll peck out your eyes.")

Ana has two sisters: the elder Irene and the younger Maite (Conchi Perez and Maite Sanchez). But their parents' death had more impact on Ana because she witnessed the painful last days of her mother (Geraldine Chaplin). She also saw her playboy soldier father (Hector Alterio) dead on his bed. Ana believes that she has killed her dad. Her mom died before the film started, but she appears in the film every time Ana imagines her as a ghost.

Ana with her mom

After their dad's death, Ana and her sisters are taken care by their mom's sister, Paulina (Monica Randall). Aunt Paulina is an attractive woman who is in her mid-30s. She is kind but seems frigid and authoritative most of the times, that's why she'll never match the gentleness of the children's mom. Despite her age, Aunt Paulina still has to savor the joys of life after depriving herself of such things for quite a long time. With the children and Aunt Paulina is Rosa (Florinda Chico) and the children's mute grandmother (Josefina Diaz). Rosa is an affable plump woman who has been working for the family long before the children were born. She is also a good friend to the family, especially to the children and their mom. Then there's the unnamed grandma whom Ana sees as a fascinating enigma.

From a bird's eye view, the film looks somber. It's probably because of the usually dark lighting and the story's dominant atmosphere. One of the heartbreaking moments in the film is the scene wherein Ana imagines her mom telling her a bedtime story, then she realized that it's just a product of her imagination, so she yelled "Mama!" many times. I felt tears falling down my face as I watch that scene. Ana crying out "Mama!" is the epitome of the child's longing for her mom. It's an emotionally painful scene to watch.

Despite of its gloominess, Cría cuervos also has its share of cheerful moments: Ana teasing Rosa because of her big bosom. Or the scene wherein the adult Ana (also played by Chaplin) recalls a happy vacation during her childhood. Or every time Jeanette's Porque te vas is played. Or even the candid reaction of Maite when Aunt Paulina puts her in a bathtub filled with very hot water.

Cría cuervos also has dream-like sequences because Ana often drifts into her imagination. For me, the most surreal scene is the flying scene. (Spanish cinema and surrealism seem like two peas in a pod.)

Carlos Saura uses symbolism to represent a character or a situation. I think the chicken feet in the refrigerator symbolizes Ana's inability to accept her parents' death. Ana has been frozen (refrigerator) in the denial stage that's why she can't move on (we use our feet to walk and move forward).

I came across Cría cuervos and The Spirit of the Beehive in Criterion's Explore Themes page. The two films are categorized under the Growing Pains section. Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive, which also stars Ana Torrent, is a beautifully photographed film. But Cría cuervos takes a deeper look into a character's thoughts. Compared to The Spirit of the Beehive, Saura's film is a more intensive study of one's young soul. Cría cuervos also has a Bergmanesque quality in it. Saura's character treatment and the use of the camera as a mirror is definitely Bergmanesque.

Top: A scene from Ingmar Bergman's Persona.
Bottom: Saura's Cría Cuervos.

It's amazing how Saura captured childhood through a child's eyes, very few directors are able to do that. Ana Torrent's performance is as captivating as the ghost of Ana's mother. I'm also a fan of multilayered actresses and delicate beauties like Geraldine Chaplin, that's why watching Cría cuervos has been a pleasure for me.

The main theme of Cría cuervos is death: death of a loved one, emotional death, and even the death of a (hamster) guinea pig. We need films like this to remind us that death is inevitable. We're all going there, that's why we need to treasure each moment of our lives.

Trailer for Cría cuervos:


Anonymous said...

it was guinea pig, not a hamster

That Film Enthusiast said...

Aren't they cousins or something? Lol. Thanks for the correction though.

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