Carlos Saura’s 1975 masterpiece “Cría cuervos” (Raise Ravens) has been enjoying a well deserved revival at the BFI. Set in Madrid at the time of Franco’s death, the film tells the story of a family from the perspective of the eight year old daughter. This is an ambitious film, which examines the themes of love, death and betrayal both convincingly and compellingly. Its title comes from the Spanish proverb: “Raise ravens and they’ll pluck out your eyes.”
Ana Torrent is mesmerising in the lead role. Her enormous dark eyes convey her pain and frustration at being a child in this environment. Saura presents the vivid imagination which is often shed with maturity. We see the world through the orphan’s eyes. She interacts with visions of her parents even after witnessing both of their premature deaths. She thought that she was responsible for killing her father after trying to poison him with a substance she believed “would kill an elephant”. This is a revealing representation of how children rationalise such an unfathomable loss.
In trying to explain this attempted patricide, she says that she blamed her father for her mother’s death, and the suffering she endured as a result of his infidelity. In a scene which is both comic and poignant they dress up as their parents and re-enact what appears to be a familiar argument. They are too young to understand the true implications of such exchanges, but they create their own reality based on what they have seen.
There are moments of levity amidst this haunting portrayal of lost innocence. I particularly enjoyed a scene where the three girls dance with each other spiritedly, much to their stepmother’s annoyance. This was a sweet scene, which reminded me of my own experiences of growing up with two little sisters. The dynamics between the three child actors are perfectly judged. As a first born I related to Irene as she tried to look after her younger sisters whilst living out her own childhood in such difficult circumstances.
Their father had been a high-ranking military official, and his closest friend consistently appears in uniform as a reminder of this. The political background is revealed through veiled references, such as a scene where the children lay claim to their late father’s weaponry. The adults’ fearful responses to this show how uncomfortable a subject the Civil War still was at that time. This reflects the film’s overall theme of repression, and how this can be inflicted both by society and by the family.