DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Cría Cuervos

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Matt Hough, Aug 9, 2007.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer

    Apr 24, 2006
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    Charlotte, NC
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    Matt Hough
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    Cría Cuervos
    Directed by Carlos Saura

    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 1976
    Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 anamorphic
    Running Time: 109 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 Spanish
    Subtitles: English
    MSRP: $39.95

    Release Date: August 14, 2007
    Review Date: August 9, 2007

    The Film


    Carlos Saura’s meditative look at a desperately unhappy summer in the life of an eight-year old child makes Cría Cuervos an absorbing film. Filmed with muted color and in a quiet, reflective mood, the film shoots no sparks, but its story is still an engrossing one despite the quiescent nature of the picture.

    Geraldine Chaplin plays dual roles in this film enacting both mother and the grown-up daughter who’s the centerpiece of the film as a child. Little Ana (Ana Torrent) is a loving but somewhat distant child who over the course of a dispiriting summer loses both her mother (to what looks like cancer) and her philandering father (to what appears to be a heart attack during sex with a married friend’s wife). Her mother’s sister Paulina (Monica Randall) becomes the guardian to Ana and her two sisters (one older, one younger), and she’s a caring person who simply can’t get under Ana’s withdrawn, somewhat haughty shell. The only person in the family whom Ana seems to trust now is the family cook Rosa (Florinda Chico).

    All of Chaplin’s scenes as the mother are in the memory of the child as she conjures the reminiscences in times of great strife. Little Ana has also deluded herself into thinking that she can control life and death with a canister of poison (it’s really baking soda) she keeps hidden. She takes credit for causing her father’s death, and she tries to eliminate her aunt, in both cases by serving them milk laced with her powdery “poison.” This helps explain why she spends much time alone playing mother to her dolls and occasionally joining into games and dancing with her sisters but always in a position of power. In many ways, Ana is already grappling with adult emotions.

    After the film premiered, critics were quick to claim sightings of political nuances within the simple storyline: the child, for instance, representing Spain soon to come out from under the yoke of Fascist dictator Franco (who died several months after the film’s premiere). The director and the adult actors have all gone on record as saying that no such political agenda was woven into the fabric of the movie. I tend to believe that truth; it seems a stretch to attach such political symbolism to the film just because the little girl’s father who dies near the beginning of the movie was a soldier in Franco’s army.

    Saura gets a lovely and haunting performance out of young Ana Torrent. It’s a difficult character, and the child is marvelous in the full range of emotions she must deliver. Geraldine Chaplin, Monica Randall, and Florinda Chico make the most of their moments as the three primary female influences on the little girl. Josefina Diaz as the mute grandmother confined to a wheelchair and obviously the victim of a stroke does quite a bit with her mobile eyes and other facial expressions helping to make this silent character one of the most memorable in the film.

    Saura’s screenplay doesn’t talk down to the audience. It takes awhile for us to understand that Chaplin’s mother character is actually already dead (except in her daughter’s imagination and memories), and that she’s also playing Ana all grown up in some medium shot monologues spoken straight at the camera. Other relationships between various characters on the screen unfold very gradually over the course of the movie’s running time. This is a film that lingers on special moments and one that makes much of out the mundane.

    Video Quality


    The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 is presented here in a fine anamorphic transfer. The color is true but not lustrous, and so the sharpness of the image isn’t accentuated. It’s a good, solid transfer with adequate fine object detail. Contrast again is adequate and blacks acceptable but not especially deep. I noticed no edge ringing or other video artifacts to mar the presentation. The white subtitles were large and easy to read. The film has been divided into 23 chapters.

    Audio Quality


    The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono sound is marked by low level hiss throughout the presentation. Because the film is meditative for long stretches, the hiss is occasionally noticeable. Still, dialog is clear, and there’s no distortion. A pop record that the girls play several times during the course of the film is light on bass.

    Special Features


    The film is on the first disc in the set along with a 3-minute theatrical trailer which is in anamorphic widescreen.

    The second disc contains the bulk of the special features, but there are only three of them.

    First up is a one hour documentary on the life and works of writer-director Carlos Saura – A Portrait of Carlos Saura. Clips from many of his films punctuate the presentation, and while this isn’t a full fledged biography of the filmmaker, it will do until a better one comes along. Several of the clips are interesting and exciting enough to make one seek out the films they’re from. The featurette focuses on his fascination with cameras and photography, his battles with censorship, and his interest in musicals in general and flamenco dancing in particular. The subtitled featurette is presented in nonanamorphic widescreen.

    Geraldine Chaplin speaks in English about her initial meeting and love affair with Saura and her difficult work in this movie. The shoot was made more trying because Ana Torrent, who plays her loving daughter in the picture, didn’t care for her in real life, and there was constant plotting between Chaplin and Saura on how they could get the appropriate affectionate performance from the child when she disliked the actress playing her mother. The 20-minute interview taped in 2007 is presented in full frame.

    The grown up Ana Torrent, however, speaks in a 2007 interview presented in anamorphic widescreen about her few memories of working on the movie. Because she was so young at the time, she can’t really speak in any depth about how the filming was done, so her 7½-minute interview doesn’t really contain much of interest.

    The enclosed 14-page booklet actually offers only one literary item, a lengthy but thorough critique of the film by Professor Paul Julian Smith. There are also a couple of stills from the picture, but in general the booklet is below the standards of other booklets offered in Criterion’s magnificent series of DVD releases.

    In Conclusion

    4/5 (not an average)

    Cría Cuervos won the Special Jury Prize at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival and was a big box-office hit, something that completely surprised the film’s producers who expected the film to die a painful death because of its small, quiet story. It is a film that revels in its solemnity and calm (despite the boiling emotions going on underneath several of the characters), and in that, it’s certainly a special piece of art.

    Matt Hough
    Charlotte, NC
  2. Jim Rankin

    Jim Rankin Stunt Coordinator

    Jan 31, 1999
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    Thanks for the review Matt, I've been sort of sitting on the fence on this one, mainly because I am not familiar with the director's work.

    Sounds like a pretty good film, and I was blown away by Ana Torrent's performance in Spirit of the Beehive - which I saw for the first time last year.

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