Reviews

Cria Cuervos

Michael Buening

Three generations, each imitating the sins of the others, await freedom in the declining years of Franco’s Spain.


Cria Cuervos

Subtitle: Criterion Collection
Director: Carlos Saura
Cast: Héctor Alterio, Geraldine Chaplin, Florinda Chico, German Cobos, Mirta Miller
Length: 109
Studio: Criterion
MPAA rating: N/A
US DVD Release Date: 2007-08-14

The film starts by focusing on an upper middle class family’s bulletin board in Spain, 1975. We see picturesof three young sisters playing, looking serious, running and jumping. We see their fragile nervous mother, (Geraldine Chaplin), hugging them and hovering in the background. Their stiff military father, Anselmo, (Héctor Alterio), commands the center. The action cuts away to their house at night. The middle sister Ana, (Ana Torrent), walks down the stairs to confusing noises, (“I can’t breath. I’m suffocating”) and watches her father’s mistress Amelia, (Mirta Miller), flee from the house while buttoning her blouse. She then discovers her father’s dead body in the bed. As Amelia runs out the door we see that a thick concrete wall surrounds this crisp modern home. The tall wall isolates the house from Madrid but not from the piercing loud sound of the sirens outside.

In a few minutes we have been introduced to a family and to a country. When Carlos Saura made Cría Cuervos Spain was about to undergo a sharp transition. Though he couldn’t have known that right wing dictator Francisco Franco would be dead within a year of its release, this film would forecast the end of his regime with remarkable clarity. Within this fortress of a house, the political and the personal are fused. History as embodied by the three generations within the home: those from before the Spanish Civil War, the generation that grew up during Franco’s regime, and their children are waiting to be freed.

The supplements on Criterion’s much appreciated release of Cría Cuervos place the film and the work of Saura within the conflated artistic and political realm that he favored while reassessing the film's value and relevance over thirty years after its release. The Spanish television documentary Portrait of Carlos Saura is a good introduction, tracking his evolution and the recurring imagery and themes that emerged through his work. He rose to prominence in the late fifties and sixties determined to criticize Franco from within Spain, using metaphoric plotlines ingenuous enough to slip past the censors.

He befriended Luis Buñuel at Cannes and the elder master became a casual mentor. Saura says, "Back then, reality was just what you saw before you. Social realism and all that. But I've always felt reality was much more vast, and that came from Buñuel. He offered that breadth of vision, a much greater scope where you could use your mind to bring in the past, present, and future -- everything. That was a huge discovery."

In Cría Cuervos this idea is combined with fantasy and light surrealism to create a searing personal and emblematic psychological portrait of a lonely child in a time of upheaval.

Orphaned after their father’s death, the sisters are cared for by their no-nonsense Aunt Paulina, (Mónica Randall), who is mysteriously fierce and fragile. Ana bristles at her forceful parenting style while taking comfort in the silent remembrances of her grandmother, (Josefina Díaz).

Torrent’s sad saucer eyes absorb the world around her. Her view of the world it distorted by attempting to make sense of it. Her performance is as impressive as in the just completed Spirit of the Beehive, but it cannot be attributed to an old soul aura since Torent says in a recently taped supplemental interview. "I didn't understand what I was doing, that movie was not for kids.”

Chaplin, who was married to Saura, offers the most illuminating commentary in a separate interview. She says, "I think Ana is Carlos…lost in a world that she doesn't understand, that she thinks she has control over.” Saura came of age during the Civil War, which she says interiorized his conflicting emotions. Ana and Saura’s mothers were both training to be concert pianists and abandoned their ambitions when they married.

Ana is smart and assertive, but struggles to make sense of her world, which becomes the film’s thin source of dramatic thrust. She confuses life and death, trying to poison her aunt,(it’s baking soda), fantasizes meetings with her mother, remembers fights between her parents that may or may not have occurred and recreates them with her sisters. In Portrait Chaplin says that Ana is "the little girl who observes everything and has the power to create her own world and it's a dark world."

In their games, the three sisters are rebelling against yet imitating the bullying, chauvinistic dynamics of their parents. Their prime inheritance is the violent and abusive power dynamics of a Fascist regime, represented by the constant philandering of the parents, their relatives and friends going on behind closed doors.

At the film’s climax Ana takes one of her father’s guns and says it was given it to her by her father. Her older sister Irene (Conchita Pérez) claims a rifle, while the youngest Maite,(Maite Sánchez), takes the "Legion flag." The housekeeper,(Florinda Chico), tries to take Ana’s gun away, but she runs into the room where Paulina and Amelia’s husband are necking. He jokingly takes the gun from Ana, finds that it is loaded, and Paulina slaps Ana. "I can't take it anymore!” screams Ana as the couple collapses into each other’s arms, forgetting the child. According to Paul Julian Smith’s booklet essay, the "enigmatic title" is a reference to the Spanish proverb, “Raise ravens and they’ll peck out your eyes.”

It should be mentioned that the movie is not all bleak. There is a melancholy tone held throughout, but co exists with Saura’s dark deadpan humor, attributed by the director to his native Arágon. Chaplin says the humor is that of the silent observer, who tries not to judge, but can’t help but laugh at what he sees. This dual nature is best captured by the scene with the gun and the frequent use of a dippy yet affecting pop song about love and loss, “Porque te vas,” that Ana plays for emotional solace.

Chaplin says in her interview that, "Cría Cuervos was not meant to be a political film"...but the moment you represent...a family in a country that has very strong political repression you are making political criticism even though what you are doing is making social criticism...Anselmo is Franco, Maria represents Spain, a hurt sick Spain, and Ana represents youth, new Spain, maybe trying to kill the old Spain...It got by because what he was showing was the ideal family according to that regime."

That the Franco ideal was so corrupted they didn’t realize that representation is denunciation has a perverse appeal. But it’s hard to believe as the politics are so ringing and clear and his political advocacy is so thoroughly demonstrated throughout the Criterion set, that Saura did not intend to deliberately criticize the state of Spain.

Through Ana Saura expresses his anger at the seemingly unbreakable patterns of this conservative environment. Each new generation replicates the previous one's behavior. As Smith points out, the grandmother, Ana, and her mother each take refuge in a song from their era. The structure draws back on itself like a Spirograph, with Saura employing the same sideways gliding camera movements to indicate repetitive cycles. Sometimes a grown-up Ana comments on the action from the future. She is played by Chaplin, indicating a connection and continuation between Ana and her mother.

And yet, by projecting into the future Saura encourages thoughts of change. Hope lies outside the walls. The cacophony of sirens seems to be tearing them down. The younger generation, the spirit of these women, is impatient. Smith cites Pedro Almodóvar paying homage to Saura by casting Chaplin in Talk to Her. That movie has a similar fantastic Freudian tone. In a weird way, much like the way the death of Anselmo anticipated the death of Franco, the female characters foreshadow Almodóvar’s celebration of vibrant Spanish women. The flower prints on the wallpaper and their clothes are like muted versions of Almodóvar’s sun splattered color schemes waiting to blossom.

In the Portrait of Carlos Saura, Antonio Saura says of his father's films, "There's always the idea that people pin their life up on bulletin boards. But you never see that in any Spanish home! That's his own personal quirk! But there is that obsession that people collect things and fashion a portrait of themselves and live in its midst. It's true. It's the 'Saurian office.'”

Considering that it takes place within such a specific politically charged setting, Cría Cuervos is maturing nicely without age-specific baggage. If this film is a portrait, it has the quality of a living photo, where the eyes of the subjects pierce through the unknowable circumstances of past eras. Saura’s intersection of the personal and the fictional has created a potent vibrancy within the film’s decaying world. History battles the stagnation of memory, rolling forward in a circular and linear motion, and something timeless is achieved.

9

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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