Carlos Saura, a Spanish film director, has plots in his movies that are not directly political, yet, at the same time, he uses characters and their situations that hint at those current events.
Cria Cuervos (1976) focuses on the theme of motherhood and society’s expectations of that situation to parallel Franco’s dictatorship in Spain.
Cria Cuervos is about a young woman named Ana (Geraldine Chaplin) who recounts the memories she has about her mother who died of cancer at a young age. The audience receives the impression that she is proud of her mother who she says had musical potential while she grew up and gave public concerts after she graduated high school. Ana informs her audience that it was at one of these concerts that her mother met her father. In these first minutes of the opening scenes, as the camera pans across family photographs, the piano playing in the background evokes a nostalgic and melancholy feeling and a vibe that something is not quite right.
Film and Media Studies Professor Steve Rybin said at one point in teaching his International Cinema class that the family avoids discussion of the past in general.
“But eventually it’s going to come to the surface,” Rybin added. “For Ana, it comes through the memory of her mother and dealing with that.”
It is interesting to note that Saura chose Geraldine Chaplin to play both the adult Ana who narrates the film and her mother when the adult Ana is reviewing her life in retrospect. Saura also does not use flashbacks to indicate the different times, which refers to how the past can still influence the present. It creates a surrealist style and an appearance of ghosts without a presence that actually haunts the young Ana (Ana Torrent).
In a journal article titled, “Women in Spanish Cinema: Raiders of the Missing Mother (2003),” writer Maria Jose Gamez Fuentes talks about the mother as a burden.
“The mother is not presented as a clinging monster that one needs to get rid of, but as a dead ghost that, in any case, haunts the new generation,” Gamez observed.
Film and Media Studies major and sophomore Annie Krenik added to the social perspective that children bond with the mothers versus the fathers.
“The mother is trapped in the sense of motherhood and raising her kids and dealing with her cheating husband,” Krenik said. “Historically, in this time, that’s how the customs worked. The women would take care of the children and the men would work and be more detached.”
Krenik also said she noticed how, in her head, Ana turned her mother into a saint.
“The first time when I was watching it, I was trying to decide if they were the same person or not because it obviously wasn’t an easy interpretation,” said Shea Puent, a junior Film and Media Studies student. “So I wanted to know if they were different versions of the same person or if the mother and daughter were so intertwined that they were sharing memories and experiences.”
When Rybin engages his students, he often replays the films the students watched to help trigger their original thoughts.
Puent referred to the screen when she added, “Even now when I’m watching it for the second time, I have a hard time believing that’s Ana alone. It’s so metaphysical to me.”
“Sometimes it feels like the mother is really there,” agreed Joan Gruter, another student in the class. “So you think, ‘how can that be, when she died?’ Is that her ghost or is she really there and that is the present?”
As Cria Cuervos develops the plot, it is easy to see how the young Ana’s background and environment influences her current situations as a child. While the child Ana grew up with the freedom in exploring her parents’ estate and enjoyed the outdoors in an aristocratic type style, she had a pretty dark childhood.
For instance, Ana contemplates how she will murder her father and aunt because she blames them for her mother dying. She also goes as far as to think about suicide after she pushes her grandmother in a wheelchair and leaves to play in a drained pool. Since it is during the summer, the audience expects the pool to have water. The camera gives the impression that Ana is gracefully floating above ground for several seconds then the camera shakes and dizzies to create the motion that she is falling to her death. For a second, the audience believes it has actually happened when the car honks grow louder and the viewers do not see the body.
In addressing the question as to whose point of view it is in Cria Curveos, Krenik agreed with Puent in the aspect that the story is told from a child’s.
“But she’s projecting herself as an adult intermingled with her mother and she imagines herself as her mother,” Krenik said. “I feel like she’s experiencing the past simultaneously at the same time as the present and she can also be projecting the future…I feel like the whole film is happening in her head and it doesn’t need to make sense because she is a child.”
By the end of the film, it is quite clear that the young Ana has established her own identity and has moved on from the past, though there are subtle hints that it still affects her to a point.
Rybin said that there could be two different ways audience members could read Cria Curveos, but also said he wasn’t sure if it really mattered. Depending on the scene one analyzed, Rybin said Ana could project herself 20 years in the future or another person could argue that the entire film could be a recollection in a sense at a later time when the older Ana looks just like her mother.
“The themes still get through either way,” Rybin said, “but I think Saura is asking us to think about that: the way the past and future and present are interconnected.”