Here is another pair of movie recommendations from Terrazas Branch staff member, Aaron Parker.
The Spanish language Latino television that gets broadcasted to America is usually worth a few laughs every now and then. Chubby old men in diapers getting hit by scantily clad head mistresses and uber-maudlin soap operas clog the airwaves but where is the programming with any real credibility? Sure the same could be said for the majority of American media, but there are nuggets of quality; you just have to dig. I can’t help but wonder what gems are being filtered out from the Mexican market when all we get in the United States is lowest-common-denominator pap. The Spanish language DVD collection at the Terrazas branch tends to lean towards the same populist market, with some notable exceptions, including Cria Cuervos (1976) and El Espíritu De La Colmena (1973). These two movies both feature the inimitable child star, Ana Torrent. With huge black, fathomless eyes, Ana’s roles in the two are similar in that she plays an eerily enigmatic, emotionally disturbed child dealing with the alien world of adults. Both films were made towards the end of the Franco Regime in Spain and make subtle jabs at the fascist party (some more oblique than others).
El Espíritu De La Colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive) centers around young Ana and her family in rural Spain. Seeing the movie “Frankenstein” at the local movie theater evokes an obsession with the fantastic in Ana. She becomes fixated with the spirit that her sister tells her resides in the abandoned house on the edge of town. One thing that sets Espíritu apart is the horror references. Something disastrous happens to Ana in the woods at night but we never really know what, just that somehow Frankenstein’s monster was involved. Through the eyes of Ana we see reality and fantasy blur in unsettling ways. One eerie moment is when we get to actually share her vision of the Frankenstein monster. The film sets its focus on the psychological decay of a family, with the allusions to the war used more to highlight the familial drama, “a war outside the window”. Espíritu is considered one of Spain’s most important films, a film epitomizing Spain herself. It continues to be a touchstone of debate and analysis due to its enigmatic nature. Part of the reason for this inscrutability is that any film made under the Franco regime was subject to strict censorship. A certain ambiguous aesthetic quality labeled “Franco films” was at the time just a veiled way to critique the fascist machine. An opening sequence of moldering machines of war was cut from the Espíritu entirely. Still, director Víctor Erice never set out to make an explicitly anti-war, anti-fascist film but an intensely human exploration with war as an emotional backdrop.
Carlos Saura made his film Cria Cuervos… (Raise Ravens…) at the very end of Francisco Franco’s life and reign. This time there are more overt references to the regime. The film deals with the dissolution of the fascist control through the personal turmoil of a politically well-placed family’s decline. The title is from the Spanish proverb “Raise ravens and they will peck out your eyes.” As in Espíritu, the world is seen through troubled young Ana. Her fantasy and reality shift in even more insidious and disquieting ways this time. The dead readily mingle with the living in Ana‘s world. After the death of her mother, Ana comes across her father (who we later learn is a leader in Franco’s military) dead in bed with a married lover. Ana and her sisters accept the confines of their feminine roles at times, but flatly deny them at others. For example, contesting their aunt, they handle the weapons in their father’s arsenal with aplomb, saying that he promised the weapons to them. During her emotional turmoil, Ana takes things a step further by silently threatening the aunt and her military suitor with a pistol. Unmistakably, these are children of a violent legacy. One of the best uses of a song in film is Ana lip-synching the plaintive pop song “Porque te Vas”. That in itself is beautiful enough, but it contrasts with the traditional piano piece that her grandmother used to play -- present versus past; just like Spain stepping out of the tradition-obsessed repression of Francisco Franco into modern times full of uncertainty.