Shot in the year of Franco’s death, ‘Cría Cuervos’ (named after the saying ‘Raise ravens and they will pluck out your eyes’) is more about repression than freedom, although there’s a hint of release in the final images set to a recurring, catchy pop song. Mostly, it’s an interior piece, geographically and psychologically. Eight-year-old Ana (Ana Torrent, from ‘The Spirit of the Beehive’) is the middle of three sisters, and we meet her in her well-off and conservative family’s claustrophobic Madrid home just as her ex-soldier father, Anselmo (Héctor Alterio), dies – joining her pale, weak mother, Ana (Geraldine Chaplin, seen in flashbacks), who passed away not long before. Ana is convinced she is responsible for her father’s death, and we see a number of episodes, past and present, real and fantastical, which sketch her uneasy position in an world where children are party to adultery, patriarchy, unhappiness, conflict and scary raw chicken feet in the fridge.
The performances of the children – especially Torrent, who has a haunting, old-beyond-her-years presence – are exceptional, and writer-director Carlos Saura moves us with a gentle, poetic ease through the film’s many complex realities. Of course, the significance of Saura’s story extends far beyond the walls of the fading home in which it’s mostly set, but the allusions are as gentle as they are smart