Thursday, 20 June 2013

Guest post: Fiona Noble on Cría cuervos / Raise Ravens (Carlos Saura, 1976)

As indicated previously, I've paused my Carlos Saura Challenge for a few weeks while I deal with a situation at work. Fiona Noble kindly offered to write something for Nobody Knows Anybody about Cría cuervos as it is a film that features in her doctoral research. I hope to be back up and running in July, but in the meantime I leave you with Fiona's take on one of Saura's key films.

   Like La prima Angélica (already discussed on this blog), Cría cuervos revolves around the intersection of memory and childhood.  These themes are channelled primarily through the film’s central character, Ana, played by Ana Torrent.  Torrent has been read by Marsha Kinder as emblematic of the generation raised during the dictatorship, the self-proclaimed ‘children of Franco’ (1983: 57).  For Kinder, the figure of the child in films produced by this generation of directors (including, as well as Saura, José Luis Borau, Jaime de Armiñan, Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón) symbolises their infantilisation by the Francoist regime.
   Regarding Torrent’s earlier appearance in Víctor Erice’s El espíritu de la colmena (1973), Kinder underscores the fundamental ambivalence of the child: while her ‘luminous dark eyes confront us with a bold knowing gaze, conveying a precocious intelligence, passion and intensity that seem almost ominous’, at the same time ‘her pale oval face and slender birdlike frame create a fragility that also marks her as a victim – a delicate instrument for the registering of pain’ (1983: 59-60).  This ambivalence underscores the dualism of this generation, at once victims, who have suffered at the hands of the regime, as well as potential future aggressors, who have learned from, and are at risk of perpetuating, their traumatic experiences through the repetition of violent acts.
   These concerns surface too in Cría, insofar as protagonist Ana actively seeks to kill her father, and then her aunt by poisoning them.  While the poison is revealed to be a harmless substance (bicarbonate of soda), and thus ‘meaningful action is still only imaginable, not performed’ (Kinder 1983: 66), Ana’s desire to provoke the death of these individuals is anything but imagined.  The figure of the child thus functions as a metaphor for those who have grown up under the Franco regime, replicating their sentiments of frustration and helplessness, but also encapsulating their impulse towards violence.
   That the child is representative of a now adult generation impacts upon Cría’s temporality and chronology.  Produced in 1975, shortly before Franco’s death, the film prophetically and symbolically addresses this event through the death of the father in the opening scenes. Furthermore, the narrative moves between past and present, or rather between present and future.  The action takes place on two distinct temporal planes – the first during protagonist Ana’s childhood in 1975, and the second, twenty years later, in 1995, when an adult Ana attempts to explain her actions in the past.  The child in addition demonstrates the ability to conjure up the image of her dead mother, evidencing a fluid approach to chronology and to history.  This is further underscored by the film’s casting, given that Chaplin plays both the adult Ana and her mother María.  On the one hand, this fluid chronology, that evidences the influence of the past on the present, is tied specifically to the film’s politico-historical context.  Specifically, it highlights the extent to which the country’s forgotten traumatic past was bound to return in the aftermath of the dictator’s death.  On the other, and in more general terms, this evidences the child’s status as, in the words of Judith Halberstam, ‘always already anarchic and rebellious, out of order and out of time’ (2011: 27).
   In spite of this fluid approach to chronology, the film’s spatiality is characterised conversely by claustrophobia and restriction.  The majority of Cría’s narrative unfolds during the girls’ school holidays, creating a stifling atmosphere in which the children have little access to the world outside the walls of their home.  In support of this, the action takes place almost exclusively within the family home.  The only exception to this is the episode in which Aunt Paulina takes the children to their father’s friend’s farm.
   Furthermore, the family home is marked as a site of trauma, given that the film begins with the death of the girls’ father in his own bed.  Having previously lost their mother, Ana and her sisters are now orphans, under the tutelage of their Aunt Paulina, their mother’s sister.  Their mute grandmother, and maid Rosa, also live in the house with the three girls.  The fractured family unit, in conjunction with the claustrophobic family home, symbolise the political and cultural climate in Spain during and after the dictatorship.  Cría’s spatial restraint thus contrasts dramatically with its temporal freedom, underscoring both the limitations and possibilities of the child’s imagination.
   The film ends with the girls’ re-emergence into the outside world, the camera positioned in a high angle shot, tracking the children as they make their way along the bustling streets of Madrid to attend their first day back at school after the holidays.  The camera lingers at the city skyline, leaving the spectator wondering about the fates of these young girls, and the generation that they represent.  The unfinishedness of this conclusion echoes the liminality of the climate – in the months preceding Franco’s death – in which the film was produced.

Halberstam, J. (2011) – The Queer Art of Failure, Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Kinder, M. (1983) – ‘The Children of Franco in the New Spanish Cinema,’ Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 8.2, pp.57-76.

Fiona Noble is currently working towards the completion of her PhD in Hispanic Studies and Film & Visual Culture at the University of Aberdeen, where she also completed her MLitt (in Visual Culture with Distinction) and MA (with Joint Honours in French and Hispanic Studies).  Her research centres on notions of transitory subjectivities in contemporary Spain, an issue she explores through three key figures of post-Franco Spanish cinema: the child, the performer, and the immigrant. She writes the blog spanishcinephilia.