As General Franco lay dying during the summer of 1975, Carlos Saura was mirroring Spain’s monumental era of transition through the story of a young girl struggling with issues of mortality. Saura’s Cria Cuervos (Raise Ravens, 1976) is a poignant portrait of the final whimpers of the Franco regime in, masquerading as a deeply personal rites of passage tale. It’s still very much Franco’s Spain when we intrude upon the Madrid household of the recently widowed Anselmo (Héctor Alterio). He dies suddenly amidst the throes of passion with Amelia (Mirta Miller), the wife of fellow army officer Nicolás (Germán Cobos).
However, it appears this was no natural death – he was poisoned. The apparent culprit of this calculated murder? None other than one of his three daughters, Ana (the magnificent Ana Torrent), a wise beyond her years girl who blames her father for the death of her mother (Geraldine Chaplin). Cría Cuervos literally translates as ‘Raise ravens’, a Spanish proverb that reads, “Raise ravens and they’ll take your eyes”, a fitting allegory for a generation’s uprising against a fascist dictatorship. Much like Pan’s Labyrinth’s darkly poetic depiction of child fantasy in Civil War Spain, Cría Cuervos presents us with a monumental historic period through the innocent, untainted perspective of an impressionable child.
The most captivating element of Cría Cuervos has to be its seamless story, which impressively blurs together fantasy and memory, whilst maintaining a strong foothold in the realms of harsh reality. Built around a series of hauntingly vibrant depictions of Ana’s numerous flights of fancy, Saura paints a vividly authentic portrait of childhood with the constraints, monotony and rigmarole of adulthood nothing but a distant enigma. However, it’s the phenomenal performance of the stunning Torrent that truly enchants the audience, with her mysterious sincerity and frighteningly serious demeanour so heartfelt that you can’t help believe that she’s more than capable of the most malevolent of acts.
Saura visibly stresses the disparity between Ana’s fantasy world and the political reality of fascism though numerous symbolic techniques. The discrepancy between the girls’ incredibly catchy pop music and the classical music – which seemingly once filled the house – coupled with their reluctance to adhere to the formal attire of their elders also marks a shift away from archaic traditions relating to gender.
Saura’s Cría Cuervos, with its cultivated meditation on history, memory and childhood, combined with an intriguing political undertone, is a film that can be enjoyed on numerous levels. Whether you choose to view it as a reflective parable documenting the fall of fascism, a subtle allegory about the repressed roles of women, or just as a joyous journey into the fantasy world of an imaginative young girl, it rightfully deserves to be heralded as a true classic.