I was totally enthralled by Victor Erice’s Spirit of the beehive. For reasons that are plentiful, while watching Cria cuervos, I imagined that it must be directed by Erice, too. But it is Carlos Saura who made it. Both films share a mysteriousness with which they approach the world of a child – a mysteriousness never even coming close to the cliché about children’s fairy-tale-like perception. Instead, the sense of mystery has to do with a world that, for the child, is barely comprehensible and is, in its lack of intelligibility, traumatic. These films delve in murky waters, attending to insecurity, eeriness and dissonance. And artistically, they have much in common as well, working with an almost painterly sense of composition of the image, where much of what is going on is half-hidden, half-obscured. A third link is the actress who plays the young main character of both movies, a puzzled outsider kid – the great Ana Torrent.
Ana grows up with her two sisters. After both her mom and dad have died, their aunt takes care of them in a gloomy house they also share with a housekeeper and a silent grandmother. The aunt treats the kids with a cold rigidity; she is stern, but somehow well-meaning, and strangely fragile. The sisters tend to each other, listening to music, just being. In several memorable scenes, we see Ana and her sisters listen to a proto-disco tune, a tune that is both catchy and strangely insistent. In another scene, we see them play dead, then coming back to life again, Ana being the person who commands and re-enacts traumatic scenes.
The death of the father is seen in the dramatic beginning of the film, when we see him having sex with some woman (that is not his wife) – and dying. Ana, an enigmatic child, feels guilt about the death of her mother. The film plays out as a dreamy tension between scenes that depict the mother, the sisters’ mundane life and Ana as a grown-up whose past is still present in her life as a menacing shadow (this is emphasized also by the fact that the adult Ana is played by the same actress who plays her mother). The perspective could be called ‘subjective’ – it is Ana’s experiences, her fantasies, her feelings we share. But at the same time the film treats the other characters as persons in their own right. The dynamic between the people in the film is never clarified – it is only shown in suggestive scenes, in which we can only guess at what is going on, and what it means. The same could be said about the sense of fear and guilt. The film is like a question: what was it all about? This question has a glimmer of hope in it, as a bewildered, staggering process of healing and recovery.
The film has often been read as a comment upon the last days on the Franco regime. These hints are obvious, especially with regard to the fact that Ana’s father is a general. There are plenty of ghosts that haunt this movie, and Franco is definitively one of ‘em. The film's paradoxical hopeful sense of foreboding is remarkable.