Filmmakers living under whatever military dictatorship are basically deprived of any open criticism of the regime as all cultural activities, including cinema, are rigorously controlled by censors. In order to share their ideas and produce films they want, they have to resort to the indirect methods of expression such as parables, metaphors, allegories, symbols and allusions and apply them in cinema language. The elements metaphorised during Franco’s years in Spain formed the basic criteria of the censorship “Faith, Fatherland and Family”. Hence, family as a microcosm became a condensed and concealed reference to the state for such directors as Carlos Saura Fernando Palacios, Luis García Berlanga to cite only a few. The questions that this essay raises concern the family category and family relationship in Cría Cuervosâ€¦/Raise Ravens [Carlos Saura, 1975]; code of the figurative language in Spanish national cinema of the Franco’s years, along with the script, filming and editing styles that convey internal impulses and foreign influences of that epoch in terms of single family.
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RR was shot and released during the period marked by the collapsing of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship that lasted for thirty-five years. It is necessary to bear in mind that the last decade of his governing was characterised by economic growth, social modernisation, population mobility, tourist development caused by domestic and external conditions. But the legacy of his flowering regime that is particularly identified with hispanidad and National Catholicism, gender, political and trade oppression, military regime, strict censorship and dominance of patriarchal family values was still in the air (Ibid., 173-183). In order to raise an issue of the burden of such politics Carlos Saura exploits the tragic story of the family where three sisters have lost both parents and become in charge of a strict aunt.
The plot of child-centred RR might be considered as a long flashback of adult Ana recalling her infancy twenty years later in 1995 (D’Lugo 1991, 132). Thereby, reading this film as retrospective suggests mediation on Ana’s morbid childhood, on complex issues of family relations and grieves, their interplay and impact on her personality. But on the metaphorical level, audience is invited to meditate on the state of affairs of actual Spain caused by the loss of Empire (1898), unfruitful Second Spanish Republic (1931-39) resulted with the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) that paved the way for the military regime of Franco (1939-75).
The opening credits sequence of RR proves Saura’s ingenious realistic editing style that results in a non-linear structure and peculiar editing. Indeed it starts with the camera slowly moving across the photographs of child Ana [Ana Torrent] in order to compress the narrative time illustrating moments of her childhood and identifying her as the potential first-person narrative of the film. Further the viewer discovers that the visible limit between fantasy and reality is absent and transition takes place only through camera movement while characters enter the shot directly (07 min 02). From the technical point of view, the flying sequence of child Ana (15 min 35) is remarkable because the transition is realised by means of zooming, changing angle from low to high and subjective camera: in this sequence Ana escapes from her prison-house and it can be interpreted as the rejection of the authority. The passage from present to future is ensured in particular through the dolly shot and the off-screen voice of adult Ana [Geraldine Chaplin] (17 min 55) or solely by means of her voice-over (66 min 35). However the memories from the past are reconstructed from the photographs that are frequently fixed in tight shots (19 min 55, 35 min 06). As a result, the panoply of techniques contributes to the alternative editing and narrative in RR.
The use of natural lightning and contemporary realistic settings enhance the authenticity, though complex, of the Spanish society. The establishing shot introduces the location of the gloomy family house and the further mise-en-scène articulates the film’s space concentrated in this roomy isolated house situated in the centre of Madrid that symbolises the impoverished bourgeoisie by the end of the Spanish Civil War. The mansion is surrounded by overgrown garden and boasts an empty and ruined swimming pool connoting the decay, emptiness and death with an allusion to the dead-end political situation of the regime. The entering of the outside world into the closed space via consumerism is expressed by comics (09 min 36), glossy magazines (29 min 23) and billboards. Even the international influence on economic and cultural transformation of Spanish society is visualised in the national flags of the USA (14 min 46, 28 min 20). The only sequence set outside the city takes place in the house of servicemen Nicolás Garate [Germán Cobos] where children play outdoors and the diegetic birds’ singing (72 min 27) contrasts to the diegetic sound of heavy traffic heard in their garden (14 min 48, 16 min 28, 101 min 58).
The ambiguity of adult Ana and Ana’s mother Maria [both by Geraldine Chaplin] contributes to the time, space and identities shift in the film. While mixing up memories and fantasies of child Ana with the reality of adult Ana and joining time layers of past, present, future and unreal together, Saura creates a concentrated reality where all characters and epochs interact and enter the field. Child Ana, the ambiguous protagonist, becomes a main link between Maria and adult Ana. As means to emphasise the importance of Ana’s viewpoint in the film, Saura applies the close-up on her face (03 min 35, 25 min 21, 46 min 37, 62 min 47, 67 min 17 etc.), and camera is also often placed at the level of her eyes despite the sequences with adults’ participation (07 min 11, 21 min 43, 30 min 35, 57 min 26, 58 min 22 etc.). This can be interpreted as the innocence of child’s viewpoint and an appeal to viewers to adopt it.
The film’s title RR as a part of popular Spanish saying states for “Raise ravens and they will peck out your eyes” could become a allegorical moral that not only the children could return evil for evil to their parents, but the unsatisfied country is able to take revenge on its former ideological leaders. Child Ana remains a powerful metaphor for Spain’s future that is still indefinite and unsure to defeat the regime, but potentially strong as her viewpoint is distinctly lucid, penetrating and analysing (D’Lugo 1991, 134-135). Thus, through the silent shots, she unveils what adults – as censors – try to conceal: adulteries of her father [Héctor Alterio] as an antithesis of canonised marriage (05 min 28, 74 min 20); grieves and pains of her mother standing for agony and frustration with the Franco’s regime (46 min 10, 55 min 22); quarrel of her parents proving the dominating role of husband in the family (58 min 02); affair of her aunt [Mónica Randall] (88 min 19) contrasting with her authoritarian manner (21 min 17). Ana seems to understand that spontaneous stories of housemaid Rosa [Florinda Chico] with her genuine speech (24 min 37, 74 min 33) are more sincere than the orders of her aunt. The kitchen, which is Rosa’s realm, is also accentuated by means of bright lightning and grows into Ana’s safest place in the whole house. All in all, Ana’s character invites the audience to participate in estimation of cause-and-effect relations of the precedent and current epochs, depicted in her parents, as well as their impact on her future.
As for the Ana’s surroundings, her household is characterised by double absence of parents and feminine composition. Since in Franco’s time the patriarchal family structure prevailed and the man was supposed to be the head of such ménage (Helen Graham 1995, 184), this role is successfully played by Aunt Paulina whose iron discipline substitutes maternal affection. As Ana has already disclosed the illusion of the paternal ‘system’ when she found her father dead in the arms of his mistress [Mirta Miller] at the beginning of the film (05 min 28), she does not obey her aunt’s orders and refuses to kiss her dead father (13 min 27). The symbolic meaning of this act lies in disapproval of established Catholic and militarist models embodied in her aunt and the servicemen present at her father’s funeral. Ana’s further rebel against her aunt’s rigorous education up to attempt to shoot (88 min 41) and to poison her (91 min 09) in the climax could be interpreted as an appeal for emancipation of the new generation, the yearning to burst the bonds of patriarchal family and to uphold women’s rights in the society (Helen Graham 1995, 329). Yet Ana re-plays this rebellion in the scene with a doll blaming her disobedience (66 min 09).
Girl’s dynamism and thirst for action are opposed to her grandmother’s [Josefina Díaz] immobility and passivity. Her paralysed and silent figure stands for the nostalgia for the glorious past of the Spanish Empire and is a true allusion to her powerlessness in Franco’s society. Her life was destroyed by wars and regimes; she remains merely a silent witness of the present epoch finding her comfort in photographs that accompanied by an old-fashioned song “¡Hay, Maricruz!” bring back her sweet memories.
Moreover, Saura attributes an emblematic soundtrack to every women generation in the film. The opening credits start with the melancholic piano piece Canción y Danzas N.6 by Federico Mompou; it is performed later by Ana’s mother with a symbolic reference to her abandoned career of concert pianist and her unfortunate marriage (Helen Graham 1995, 308). Finally, Jeanette’s rhythmic tune “Porque te vas” (Because You are Leaving) is a pop song about the failed relationships but it also has a connotation of Ana’s revolt and vitality. Thus, the self-conscious role of diegetic music makes characters and their ideological values more vivid.
Being an example for masculinities, Ana’s father Anselmo does not have any associated tune: he is a former military officer from the Blue Division devoted to his Fatherland, though unfaithful tyrannical husband and neglecting parent. Overflowed with authoritarianism, Anselmo stands for a purest metaphor for the Franco’s military regime with all its dreads, oppressions and gender inequalities. His dominating position is illustrated in one of the photographs from the opening credits where he rides a horse (01 min 13).The legacy of the Spanish Civil War subsists in the sequence when children put in order their father’s cabinet asking questions about his military role (87 min 00). His gifts (pistol, gun and colours) could signify the transmission of values of the dying regime, e.g. violence, brutal power and nationalism.
Furthermore, Anselmo’s character reveals and completes the image of his passive wife Maria. Being the typical spouse of the Francoist society, she renounced her vocation so as to accept the upbringing of children (Helen Graham, 183-193). Indeed, she was not convinced of her success and this can suggest a hidden parallel to the dictatorship, when none of the artistic activities was beyond censors’ attention. Maria is also a vivid example of a victim recluse in the house dying in agony, as it was the destiny of the Second Spanish Republic that did not lived up to Spaniards’ expectations.
Redefinition of gender roles of the parents takes place in the domestic play staged by the children where Ana and her elder sister Iren [Conchita Pérez] act their parents (37 min 59). Performing the mise-en-abîme of their conflict, Ana metamorphoses her mother’s character according to her rebel head that stands for a shift in the new generation’s mind. This scene appeals to the open-ending (102 min 06) when girls leave their family house for the school accompanied by the soundtrack “Porque te vas” foreshadowing Spain’s optimistic opening to the world.
All in all, these examples do not pretend to be exhaustive but seem sufficient to evaluate Saura’s creative authorial insight and his attempt of dramatising the historical background in terms of family life. So the child’s trauma in the film refers to the disease of the nation under the infamous Franco’s dictatorship. The semiotic of Saura’s film including the non-linear narrative, cinematographic blurring of the events due to the camera movement and its different angles; use of diegetic music and sounds, natural lightning as well as actors’ play, all this might have contributed to censors’ confusion and they allowed its release without any “cut”, moreover it was awarded the Grand Prize of the Jury at Cannes Film Festival. RR can be also compared to the earlier works by Saura: La prima Angélica/Cousin Angelica [Carlos Saura, 1974] and El jardín de las delicias/Garden of Delights [Carlos Saura, 1970] which plots are also built on the family life with inevitable political subtext orientated on the intellectually engaged viewer.
Word count: 2236 words
Title: Cría Cuervosâ€¦ (Raise Ravens)
Director: Carlos Saura
Screenwriter: Carlos Saura
Cinematographer: Teodoro Escamilla
Editor: Pablo González del Amo
Music: Federico Mompou
Year of release: 1976
Production Company: Elías Querejeta Producciones Cinematográficas S.L.
DVD reference: E166377
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