An inquisitive, cherubic girl named Ana (Ana Torrent) overhears a tender exchange between her father, a military officer named Anselmo (Héctor Alterio) and his mistress, Amelia (Mirta Miller), before the intimate moment gives way to tragedy and confusion, as Anselmo suffers a fatal heart attack. Amelia hurriedly dresses, leaving Anselmo’s body alone in the bedroom for the discovery of others, and exchanges a reluctant glance with Ana before running away to avoid a scandal. Young Ana impassively observes Anselmo’s rigid countenance before recovering a water glass from the bedside table, and methodically washes the item in the kitchen sink. Soon, the past, present, and distant past seemingly fuse into a surreal and reassuring incident as Ana’s dead mother (Geraldine Chaplin) passes through the kitchen and affectionately reminds Ana that it is past her bedtime. Later, a haunted and matured Ana (Geraldine Chaplin) recounts her childhood animosity towards her emotional callous and philandering father, blaming him for causing her late mother’s suffering that inevitably manifested in a slow, consuming illness. With the death of their father, Ana and her sisters, Irene (Conchita Pérez) and Maite, spend the rest of their summer vacation in the family home, entrusted to the care of Aunt Paulina (Mónica Randall), a stern, but well intentioned unmarried woman who discourages discussion about their parents in a mistaken belief that she is sparing the children from the grief of their profound loss. However, Paulina’s attention is preoccupied by her own surfacing romantic relationship, and the children are invariably left alone with their affable, obliging maid, Rosa (Florinda Chico) and their silent, detached grandmother (Josefina Díaz) whose own thoughts are consumed by cherished memories evoked from a collage of old family photographs. With little guidance and supervision, the children create an insular world that reflects the conflict, pain, and uncertainty of the enigmatic and impenetrable adult world around them.
Carlos Saura presents an indelible, serenely hypnotic, and deeply affecting portrait of innocence, death, and grief in Cría Cuervos. The title of the film refers to a Spanish proverb, “Raise ravens, and they will pluck out your eyes”, and alludes to the children’s irrational compulsion for vengeance and self-destruction: Ana’s innate wish for her father’s death; her fascination with a mysterious jar discarded by her mother; the children’s resurrection prayer after playing hide-and-seek; Irene’s kidnapping nightmare. By juxtaposing low angle medium shots that represent the children’s perspective with fluid crane shots that reflect a birdseye point view, Saura visually emphasizes the incongruous union of the children’s naïveté with an ominous sense of instinctive cruelty. Inevitably, the fusion of haunted past and indeterminate present, like the coexistence of innocuous wish and intentional malice, becomes the tragic and unresolved legacy of a lost and misguided childhood.
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