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Cria Cuervos ... - The Criterion Collection

The Criterion Collection // Unrated // August 14, 2007
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted August 13, 2007 | E-mail the Author
It's difficult to craft a natural temperament in cinema that's void of overplay amidst familial loss, but Cría Cuervos..., a film from Spanish auteur Carlos Saura, accomplishes such a feat with truthful grace. In fact, it travels dreadfully close to flawlessness. Undoubtedly, it is one of the most potent films I've seen regarding the poise and meddled degradation after a family suffers a fatal blow. Saura's feat of poignancy rises up as a radiant portrait of realistic spirits that loom within the hearts and minds of children. Cría Cuervos... is difficult to behold, yet is an immensely beautiful, important, and starkly true drama that leaves you in awe long after the film stops rolling.

The Film:

Saura's masterwork from the mid-70's, with a title roughly translated to reference "young crows" or "ravens", illustrates the impact on three sisters after they lose both parents within a short time period. Where the mother (Geraldine Chaplin) is a loving, worrisome housewife, the father opposes her innocent desires as a cheating, self-absorbed sycophant. As our key eyes and ears, the middle daughter Ana (Ana Torrent) peers upon the interrelations with her sisters as they learn to live with their aunt, housekeeper, and grandmother. She watches her older, more responsible sister quickly push into pre-teen development, while her younger sister lingers in a static, almost unaware state. Ana, on the other hand, is struggling far worse than either of her siblings.

Along this assimilation to a new life, Ana persistently reflects on past arguments and fonder memories involving her mother. Instead of simple recollections, the young, bright-eyed girl manifests them into nearly tangible re-enactments. She catches glimpses of her father numerous times and embraces her mother with warm kisses and affection, then simultaneously loses such visualizations amidst interruption from her sisters or her aunt. Little things, like obscure memories about the poisonous content within chemicals as taught from her mother and mangled reinventions of childhood games, seep into the girls' stunted view of death and mortality. Ana tries to cope with her failing grasp upon her mother's love, seeing many things that aren't truly there and losing a firm hold on mortal sensibility.

Taking this convoluted view into mind, Cría Cuervos... takes extreme care in crafting a truthful assimilation and recuperation for these children after a devastating loss. These visions and confused ideas are a tangibly realistic blend of fantasy and reality, especially once we mirror our vision with young Ana's. Herein lays a true portrait of a young and woeful girl's fragmented mentality. Reflecting this fragmented mentality, Cría Cuervos... also takes on a segmented and shattered narrative akin to a magnificent stained-glass window reassembled to its final form. It's an early display of successful intrigue within narrative inconsistency and transplantation before such treatment became a commonly widespread method. This segmentation lying underneath an angered, writhing demeanor lends a electric atmosphere to Cría Cuervos..., one thick enough to run your fingers through and feel swelling in your gut.

It's incredible to experience a film so firmly rooted in both familiar tenderness and fervent rage. Though the film revolves around women and a feminine mentality, the nature of the girl's discovery and revelation isn't psychosexual in nature. These girls almost feel asexual to our eyes, enabling us to breach close to forgetting about their gender. Even with this in mind, there's still a typically emotional composure about these girls, primarily within Ana and her older sister. They play dress-up and other sibling games, but it's in a more disruptive and expressive fashion than fun. This plays on our own memories of childhood, and then drains the fondness straight from our perception. Saura's film is neither hurtful nor gleeful, but expansively and aggressively reflective on painful memories.

Such aggressiveness makes Cría Cuervos... hauntingly brutal, and not in the typically brusque nature discussed in more mainstream conventions. It's brutally honest, saddening, and engulfing with natural expression. We're gracefully taken through the crumbling poise of a young sisterly triad trying to meld together with their new situation. To see the ways they, especially Ana, handle their grief retains a strong, chilling nature. Also, there's a sense of shackled manipulation revolving around mortality's constraints. The aching pain within Ana's eyes through all her sweeping shots is insurmountable - twisted, impacted, yet void.

Ana Torrent is exceptional in the lead. She's simple, soft, and ghostly in her own right to scathingly intriguing levels. After the deaths of parents, your typical child probably won't thrash out and destroy as made overwhelmingly popular with many films. Instead, Ana fluently brims with the silent and bothersome integration of disturbance within their demented games. Saura clearly has a firm eye for family and natural human emotion, because with the film hinged and swinging to Ana's rhythm Cría Cuervos... achieves masterful levels of humanity.

Humanity reflects within each and every cast member across the board, save the near monstrous visage of Ana's father. However, they all gravitate towards Ana Torrent's potency. Geraldine Chaplin, in turn, serves as the lure that guides young Ana along her path with the narrative in gentle pursuit. Chaplin is pitch-perfect in this film as a "ghostly" mother. She's blessed with pale, full cheekbones and piercingly chilling eyes that craft an unusual beauty. Her soft sensuality makes the loss of such an alluring mother's love justifiably maddening for young Ana.

The most compelling feature of this film lies rooted in this madness. Ana's fading grasp on reality and death lift Cría Cuervos... from a sheer production of dramatic intent to a fascinating character dissection. We wait in anticipation to see her ghostly visions, whether we know them to be memories or the actual spirits of the deceased. It's this added element of instability and projection of apparitions that took Saura's film from purely affective to unbelievably rich and enveloping. Saura definitely has a way with crafting natural family drama, but he also shares a similar capacity to leave you exasperatingly compelled.

Cría Cuervos... left me haunted, hopeful, and thoroughly absorbed. It's a film that doesn't even make it much of an option whether or not to care for the girls once the film concludes. They become individual family members that we want to assuredly care for. Their strife unfurls within a seamless and beautiful time narrative that bounces between the past and reality. Cría Cuervos... seems universally evocative, painting an image easy to digest for those that did not suffer with similar difficulties. At the same time, this film plays off of the family angst of fellow "survivors" that will probably grasp the film with more stringent strength. It reminds us of the harshness of times past, whether a survival story or one of harm, and how it shapes us into the strong individuals of today. For that, Cría Cuervos... needs to be embraced with warm, understanding arms.

The DVD:

The Criterion Collection brings us Cría Cuervos..., Spine #403, in a clear overlapping double-disc presentation. Included is wonderfully simple yet beautiful coverart, both on the outside and on the clear inside, accompanied by a sizeable insert booklet. Contained within this booklet is an essay entitled "The Past is Not Past", by Paul Julian Smith. Bear in mind the available menus are non-anamorphic fullscreen presentations.

The Video:

Cría Cuervos... comes from Criterion in a 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, displaying thin black bars on either side of your 16x9 television to accommodate for the negative size. To say that the transfer on Cría Cuervos... is impressive dances quite close to drastic understatement. Through its beautifully drab color palette, this film exhumes rich detail and frothy color replication. Criterion's disc displays immaculate levels of detail within many scenes of considerable darkness and depth. If you were to get really picky, there's a glimmer here and there of mild color replication problems at the very edges of the negative. When I say a "glimmer", I'm implying a hardly noticeable hint of color difficulty that doesn't come close to detracting any positive outlook on this beautiful image. The only elements that will remind you that the film was shot in 1975 are the hairstyles and resonant songs, because this crisp picture will surely draw an impressive grin. Cría Cuervos... looks absolutely radiant for its age.

The Audio:

One thing Criterion persistently reminds us of is of the potency within a Dolby 1.0 mono track. Cría Cuervos... just so happens to boast an exceedingly dynamic sound within its mono recording. After enjoying some of their older film restorations that include nothing more than a mono track (including Ugetsu and Eyes Without A Face), it's incredible to hear exactly how rich and envelopingly eerie such an aural presentation can be in a Dolby 5.1 world. Everything pours through rich and clear, from the persistent midrange-frequency feminine voices to the repetitive song that circulates across Cría Cuervos...' full run time. It's a wholly impressive room filling track, albeit moderately aged and mildly metallic, which grasps an inspiring richness within its constrained channel.

The Extras:

If you were to gauge the expansiveness of the extra material purely on the description included on the back cover, then Criterion's Cría Cuervos... might appear to be a bit disappointing and scant in the features department. However, rest assured that this limited number of bonus material is incredibly dense and insightful.

On Disc 1, Criterion has made certain to include a great Theatrical Trailer for Cría Cuervos.... It does give small clips of several key scenes from the film, but not in any context that would divulge anything of pertinence. Though it's not exactly a supplement, it should be noted that the English subtitle translation of this Spanish language track follows along with Criterion's ongoing credo of excellence in the field.

Disc 2 includes two separate sections with a total of three (3) playable features. Sounds a little sparse for a Criterion dual disc presentation, doesn't it? Worry not; this bonus disc for Cría Cuervos... is a tried and true example of "quality over quantity". Optional subtitles in English are available for these features.

- Portrait of Carlos Saura -
This is an hour long documentary from 2004 on Carlos Saura and his cinematic developmental aspects. It's a tremendously candid snapshot of Saura, his life, and his impact on cinema as a whole. More importantly, it's incredibly reflective upon Saura's full catalogue of past films, ranging from some earlier clips of his final student film to his modern achievements. Much of Saura's flamenco film history is included as well. Furthermore, Saura's films are referenced with that persistently glimmer of political undertones revolving around Spain's transformation. It's a lengthy piece that gives you a lot to digest, as well as a wonderful checklist of films to consider for future viewing. Moreover, you get to see a lot of what makes Saura uniquely himself. Portions including his son, cinematographer, and Geraldine Chaplin specifically of the Cría Cuervos... cast are featured.

- Criterion Specific Interviews feat. Geraldine Chaplin and Ana Torrent -
Geraldine Chaplin is enchanting and quite eloquent. Her experience, ranging back to Dr. Zhivago and her first work with Carlos Saura, has left her with a truly strong sense of wonder about her performances and those supporting her. Hearing about her disagreeable interaction with Ana Torrent on the set is very compelling to absorb. Most importantly, to hear her adoration about Cría Cuervos... and the messages buried within the film regarding politics and shackled Spain leave you compelled and pensive.

Ana Torrent, now aged and exhibiting the same deeply enchanting eyes, expresses her feelings on her unexpected fame and entrance into Saura's film. She illustrates the openness and absorption the crew and director expressed in regards to the sister's interrelations. Across both Chaplin and Torrent's interviews, it's compelling to see exactly how she crafts this wonderfully unnerving personality within her "Ana" character. She also reflects on the current events and lingering memories of her past at that point. It's shorter than Geraldine Chaplin's interview, but still equally compelling.

Though Cría Cuervos... doesn't scream "comprehensive" with its line-up of supplemental material, it certainly packs a healthy punch of quality with the features included. Throughout the pieces, you're treated to still shots and a continuous stream of that effervescent song made so prominent within Cría Cuervos... . Where Criterion's disc lacks in sheer number, it bowls us over in fantastic insight.


Final Thoughts:

Cria Cuervos... is an intimate, unnerving, and chilling piece of dramatic cinema from master craftsman Carlos Saura. Criterion has harnessed this film's potency within a beautiful DVD presentation that shines in aural, visual, and contextual brilliance. If multifaceted foreign drama brimming with quiet brazenness and gorgeously wispy character development appeals to you, then it's very difficult to go wrong with Cría Cuervos.... Even if your taste for such films is wavering, then the mildly eerie reflections on mortality and crumbling grasp on reality writhing in this film should still give you something to enjoy.

Nonetheless, Cría Cuervos... isn't an easy film to digest, but is undoubtedly one of the more intriguing and engrossing films about family interrelation ever crafted. Criterion makes certain that purveyors of the film will find plenty of satisfaction within this package. Indeed, Cría Cuervos... comes exceedingly Highly Recommended.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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