by Allan Fish
(Spain 1976 110m) DVD1/2
Aka. Cría; Raise Ravens
Porque te vas to the Rains of Castamere
p Elias Querejeta d/w Carlos Saura ph Teo Escamilla ed Pablo G.del Arno m Federico Mompoli art Rafael Palmero
Geraldine Chaplin (Maria/Ana as adult), Ana Torrent (Ana), Monica Randall (Paulina), Florinda Chico (Rosa), Conchita Perez (Irene), Josefina Diaz (Abuela, grandmother), Mirta Miller (Amelia Garontes), Hector Alterio (Anselmo), Maite Sanchez (Maite),
Occasionally, through fate, coincidence or whatever force you may or not believe in, you watch a film at a time when the stars seem to align. Such was the case with Cría Cuervos. I’d seen it before, but I had deliberately not gone back to it as soon as the BFI Blu Ray was announced. I wanted to wait to see it in Hi-Def. The Blu Ray was then delayed but still I was resolved to hold back. On first viewing, Carlos Saura’s film, like many of his early works, seemed dominated by political allegory and left me relatively cold. Finally, I got the Blu Ray, but I didn’t watch it immediately. I waited a week or so, so that when I put it on a seemingly unrelated event took place; the showing of the already infamous Game of Thrones episode ‘The Rains of Castamere’. There’s no link there, I can hear you mutter, and you’d be right, but take a look again at the opening scene of Cría, of a series of pictures from a family album.
As Cría was shot, Franco was lying on his deathbed and Geraldine Chaplin had been working with Carlos Saura for nearly a decade, since Peppermint Frappe. They had no family, but they’d been lovers, and one can see that candidness in the photos in the album. Yet Geraldine had another family, of a father who went from Fred Karno to knight of the realm and had as big a hand in the popularity of the movies at a time when Francisco Franco was only an unknown soldier in the regulares.
Appropriate then that the film begins with the head of the household, regime officer Anselmo, gasping out his last in his bed. As we see a woman run out of the room, hastily grabbing her clothes and belongings, it would seem that he’s died during coitus. But then his little girl, Ana, who witnesses the lover’s exit, goes in, picks up a glass which previously held milk, takes it to the sink and washes it out. She believes she’s poisoned her father – as it happens, the powder she put in was only bicarbonate of soda – and blames her father for the unhappiness and premature death of her mother. Ana lives with her two sisters, elder Irene and younger Maite, under the protection of her aunt Paulina and long-serving housekeeper Rosa. In her vibrant imagination, her dead mother appears before her, and when her aunt tries to get her back to reality, she plans to kill her off with the same deadly poison.
On a second viewing, the political allegories – dead father as Franco, mother and her lost career as a pianist as the lost hopes of the nation – don’t swamp the emotion of the piece. It’s a film of illusion, and of impossible leaps in time. As well as playing Ana’s mother in her imagination and in flashback, Chaplin also plays Ana grown up 20 years later (as it’s set in the present of 1975, that would set those scenes near the millennium). It’s undeniably confusing, but becomes like a cinematic stream of consciousness, where reality and otherwise blend together as they perhaps only could through the eyes of a child. It’s superbly directed, stunningly acted by Chaplin and the unforgettable Torrent and beautifully shot in gloomy colours and dim interiors. But what’s it got to do with Game of Thrones, you ask? Two things, actually; on one hand, the cruellest victim of the slaughter of that episode was played by none other than Geraldine Chaplin’s daughter Oona, and was pregnant (more mothers). More symbolic is how the song ‘The Rains of Castamere’ accompanies the slaughter in the same way Chaplin’s sad piano strains haunt little Ana. The only thing that comforts Ana is a story told by her mother, of Little Almond…or The Rains of Castamere. Raise ravens and they’ll pluck out your eyes; and now the rains weep oe’er his hall, with not a soul to hear.