Carlos Saura 1932–
Spanish director and screenwriter.
Saura belongs to the generation that grew up under Franco, and the theme of the Spanish Civil War plays a major part in his work. While his early films use allegory as a means of masking political criticism, Saura's more recent work analyzes the psychological effects of a repressive society.
As a film student in Madrid, Saura resented pressure to create heavy-handed religious dramas. Instead, he opted to make a neorealistic film. Los Golfos features a young amateur cast, and its youthful focus helped Saura escape the political commentary of the censors. While Saura was eager to depict the evils of Franco's regime as accurately as possible, he could not be explicit. The necessity to alter the truth creatively stimulated moral commitment as well as artistic inventiveness. In La Caza, a hunting party serves as an analogy for war. However, because of heavy symbolism, Saura's early films are considered too allegorical and ponderous to enjoy.
In his next films, Saura often reverted from past to future to show various stages of character development. The Garden of Delights relies heavily on fantasy as well. Its use of grotesque imagery and surrealistic symbolism have led to comparisons with Buñuel. La Prima Angélica (Cousin Angélica), the first Spanish film to view the war from a loser's vantage point, indicates Saura's interest in the emotional intensity of children. To Saura, childhood is not a time of happiness, but an intensely frightening period. This same emphasis is found in Cría Cuervos, which underplays social forces and concentrates more on children's emotional perceptions.
Some critics feel the political urgency pulsating through Saura's earlier works has disappeared since Franco's death. Saura says he made political films as a moral obligation, but prefers now to concentrate on psychological studies.
The style of Los Golfos is one of a deceptively simple realism. The background is authentic. The industrial and slum areas of Madrid, market places, dance halls, and river banks are areas frequented by the group of boys who form the subject of this film. The camera acts as an observer, conversations are clipped as if overheard, incident follows incident in the apparently formless fashion of real life. Here the intention is to present a certain point of view which will assume the validity of the subject matter itself. It is an artistic method which succeeds because the director creates characters rather than sociological concepts….
[The theme of Los Golfos] is the ultimate innocence of the delinquents. Their determination to raise enough money to launch Juan as a bullfighter has the selfish single-mindedness of the child. Their innocence springs from their lack of a realistic contact with society. No private existence can last for long if cut off from society as a whole. Outside realities intrude, usually accompanied by disaster. In Los Golfos, reality takes the form of failure and ignominy. The film's ending, which is totally crushing, is delineated with the realism already noted, a realism which now emerges in its true form as drama. The grubby bull-ring, the jeering spectators, Juan's humiliating attempts to kill the bull, are the tragic details of an uncompromising reality.
Luis Bunuel may be...
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Los Golfos [which criticizes Spain's social structure] was obviously subjected to several cuts before being allowed out of Spain, and for this reason is difficult to judge as a complete work….
Saura handles his subject in a harsh but not unsympathetic way. He avoids most of the pitfalls into which most Western directors fall when dealing with delinquents who find robbery an attractive substitute for work. But his film does have two major failings: he gives little insight into the characters of the boys and the motivating circumstances which have led to their present existence (here again this may be due to censorship ties); and he lets his camera roam excessively in street and market sequences. But for all its shortcomings Los Golfos has the imprint of a director who has a natural flair for cinematic invention. Saura's use of background noise for dramatic effect is at times ingenious, and his pictorial images have a compelling effect. His comments, if at times cynical (it is the most likeable of the five who becomes the victim of mob vengeance), make their point.
It demands attention and a good deal of thought, in spite of the mutilation to which it has been subjected.
Robin Bean, "'The Hooligans'" (© copyright Robin Bean 1961; reprinted with permission), in Films and Filming, Vol. 8, No. 3, December, 1961, p. 31.
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Carlos Saura's penetrating and increasingly violent "The Hunt" … should give the New York cinema intelligentsia a new regard for filmmaking in Spain.
What is surprising about it is that it cloaks in its lean and cruel account of quarreling and ultimate murdering among four men on a routine rabbit hunt a cynical innuendo of what has happened to some middle-aged men of the generation that fought for Franco in the Spanish Civil War….
To be sure, the average outsider might not immediately perceive in the seemingly nondescript environment and the accumulating details of the hunt all the subtle hints and signals that colloquially identify these men as veteran Falangists and their background as the civil war.
But any Spaniard familiar with his nation's history and geography should recognize the dry and barren region in which these sportsmen arrive in a jeep for a few days of rabbit-shooting as an area southwest of Madrid where some of the bitterest battles of the civil war were fought.
Any Spaniard should catch in a twinkling the significance in the fact that one of the men is nursing (or favoring) an old wound, that another is carrying a pistol of the type that the Germans used in the civil war and yet another is revealed as having good connections with the Government. These men are Franco veterans—all except the youngest in the group, who is evidently the son of a veteran—and...
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[The Hunt] is an immature, and unbelievable, film….
[It] is a jumble of veiled political allegories inappropriately spiced with the sort of perverted symbols Bunuel exploits….
The three men are characterized too synthetically for such triangular carnage to be credible. No, it won't make you believe what happens in Mr. Saura's film to say, "But fascism is self-destructive". If so it cannot be demonstrated in the amateurish way childish symbols are here bumbled about.
Saura's imitations of Bunuel in The Hunt would be laughable were their visual content not so psychopathic—a skinned animal carcass is hacked apart; a sand crab is squashed; a ferret bites a rabbit's eye, and later, when it is shot, as is the rabbit, the camera dawdles over the quivers of their death throes. Also, a man is shot in the face, and, as blood covers everything but one eye, he guns down the "friend" who shot him. There are other pathic odds-&-ends, including a skeleton in a cave, the significance of which is unclear.
So is The Hunt.
Henry Hart, "Film Reviews: 'The Hunt'," in Films in Review (copyright © 1967 by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, Inc.), Vol. XVIII, No. 6, June-July, 1967, p. 369.
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The pleasantest surprise of the current New York Film Festival may well be Carlos Saura's "The Garden of Delights."…
Recent (i.e. 1930's) Spanish politics are by no means absent from "The Garden of Delights," but now they are made explicit and they become dramatically useful to the Pirandellian permutations of a brilliantly playful and wonderfully funny comic invention….
The crucial moments [involving the paralyzed Antonio's attempts to remember the number of his Swiss bank account] are so ludicrously, so elaborately miscalculated … that they would drive the soundest mind to amnesia. But Antonio makes some progress….
I have my doubts about the machine shop and about much of the movie-mechanical whimsey in "The Garden of Delights," but not about its fantastic sense of character situation. For the best dramatic moments are those that Antonio begins spinning out of his own head—wickedly erotic, or simply wicked—that constitute a totally private, perfectly obsessive world.
Roger Greenspun, "'The Garden of Delights'," in The New York Times (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 19, 1970 (and reprinted in The New York Times Film Reviews: 1969–1970, The New York Times Company & Arno Press, 1971, p. 218).
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Saura deals with the configuration of the fascist personality only in the abstract, and this is the central weakness of his imaginative use of the surreal in depicting how living in fascist Spain immobilizes and laments the sensibility [in The Garden of Delights]….
In the last scene of Garden of Delights Saura, abandoning even the very thin veneer of realism with which he has cloaked his allegory, has all of his characters moving in wheelchairs, not only the still paralyzed Antonio. Staring immobile into space, they cannot look at or see each other: each selfishly pursues his own ends. With Antonio at the center, an image of the failed hope for Spain's future, they pass like marionettes before the camera. Fascism has dehumanized and devitalized them, left them shells of human beings, deadened all capacity of each to feel for the other, just as none of his family felt sympathetically toward Antonio's accident.
Saura's central metaphor is that of the absence of self-knowledge, the paralysis of individuals who have been destroyed by fascism. (p. 11)
Joan Mellen, "Fascism in the Contemporary Film," in Film Quarterly (copyright 1971 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. XXIV, No. 4, Summer, 1971, pp. 2-19.∗
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[Carlos Saura's "Honeycomb" is] the latest and the least of those movies that mean to unlock the secrets of middle-class matrimony by means of a willful indulgence in everyday unreality. Such films … seem invariably to follow a process of elegant dissolution—never inelegant dissolution—until all is laid bare in the destructive psychodrama of life. But in "Honeycomb" nothing is laid bare except the dullest of make-believe constructions covering for the lack of insight that would be necessary to sustain the most ordinary unhappy domestic drama.
Mr. Saura, normally a director of forceful personality, whether you like him or not …, hardly exists except at the very beginning and end of the movie. And if there is any reason for "Honeycomb," it is to display the talents of what is virtually two-person cast….
Roger Greenspun, "'Honeycomb'," in The New York Times (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 23, 1972 (and reprinted in The New York Times Film Reviews: 1971–1972, The New York Times Company & Arno Press, 1973, p. 337).
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[La Prima Angélica] is an attempt to explain the significance of the Civil War to a generation, specifically the generation too young to have fought in it. Saura has claimed that his film is the first to be made about the Civil War from the point of view of the side which lost. Luis, the central character, lost the war as a child because it traumatized him, and the film demonstrates that thirty years later the wounds remain. The crippling effects of the traditional combination of church and family are seen here against the background of the national trauma of civil war. The film is notably critical of the church: its characters include a thuggish priest, a vindictive nun with stigmata and a priest expatiating on the dimensions of Eternity to a group of cowering boys, a scene which recalls a well-known passage in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. For Stephen Dedalus, Ireland was 'the old sow that eats her farrow'; and so, for Saura, is Spain. Stephen Dedalus escapes but Luis does not, cannot….
Saura's use of the same actors either as themselves when young or taking different roles thirty years earlier emphasises—like the furniture shrouded in plastic sheets in the room where Luis stayed as a boy and where he stays again at his now elderly aunt's insistence—that despite the prosperity nothing has changed. Franco's victory merely destroyed the hopes aroused by the Second Republic.
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Although Carlos Saura has frequently been accused of 'borrowing' from Luis Buñuel, and although he clearly pays homage to his friend and mentor in La Caza [The Hunt], the film does not set out to be a serious imitation. Saura's images on the whole are not surreal but grow organically out of the characters and landscape; this is no journey into the dreamworld of the subconscious but a finely worked psychological thriller which, without strain, can be taken as a pessimistic parable about Spanish society…. The paucity of action generates an atmosphere of listlessness and ennui: seemingly trapped by the heat and idleness of this endless day, the men are provoked into unaccustomed introspection. The telescopic sight on Luis' rifle is a sign of his ability to see further into moral realities although, too weak to face up to them, he finds oblivion in his brandy flask…. José's guilty obsession with death, indicated by the skeleton of a colleague who committed suicide, is a spectral reminder of the war and a self-inflicted reproach. His maudlin confidences are repellent to Paco, as is Juan's servility and dependence, against which Paco's killing of the ferret is a futile protest…. In this kind of merciless detail, Saura browses over the morbid weaknesses of his characters, immobilised by the self-indulgence and brutality of their class. Their only escape is through mutual destruction. The youth Enrique escapes Nemesis; and his fleeting...
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Saura's films are explicitly concerned with the problems of Spanish society, a society (as he sees it) which is not yet free of the guilt of the Civil War. This eminence grise colours all his works, in varying degrees; even in such an allegorical piece as La caza its influence can be felt. Much of Saura's output I find mannered and unapproachable …; there is no doubting, however, his technical ability or deep-seated conviction….
Superficial resemblances to [John] Boorman's Deliverance (1972) should not be allowed to diminish the stature of Saura's achievement. His mixed quartet undergoes little physical hardship, and there are no visual thrills to rivet the audience to its seats. Saura's film is considerably more claustrophobic: the nerve-ends are stifled rather than rubbed raw. From the opening credits, unwound over footage of caged ferrets, it is clear that we are in allegorical territory. (p. 33)
The early scenes of re-acquaintance and preparation are handled with a fine sense of atmosphere, and only the dialogue is over-obvious…. At all times one is aware that Enrique is a voice apart from the rest of the group, unhampered by past prejudices or memories. His rejection of much that the other three hold dear is a straightforward metaphor for the generation gap, yet his presence is dramatically required to act as a soundingboard for the older men's prejudices. Saura builds the suspense with...
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["Cousin Angélica"] is a voyage into the past quite unlike any other I've ever seen in a movie, both because Spain's recent history is so particular and because of Mr. Saura's way of always dealing with memory so that it becomes an extension of the immediate present.
"Cousin Angélica" is not simply about Luis's childhood before and during the civil war. It's about Luis's recollections of his childhood as he renews contacts with his family….
Mr. Saura doesn't use conventional flashbacks, which are as isolated from time and feeling as postcard pictures are removed from a tourist's actual experiences ….
En route once again to his relatives, the tearful Luis is comforted by his mother and father. There is nothing exceptional about this scene except that when we see the middle-age, cardigan-wearing Luis being soothed by parents younger than he is we are suddenly presented not only with a memory of the past but with everything that's accrued in the intervening years—with fear, anger and humiliation, but, also with the sense of loss that has haunted his maturity….
[Spain] is the real subject of the film, and at the time it was released there—1974—"Cousin Angélica" caused quite a stir with its references to the war, Spanish Catholicism and the possible nobility of at least some members of the Republican cause. Even if it's difficult for someone not familiar with the...
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Childhood can be a most terrifying time. One must constantly observe the proscriptions of a primitive system of cause and effect that can be questioned only by the reckless or the ignorant. Squash a spider and it will rain. Step on a crack, break your mother's back. Sleep in the light of a new moon and you may never wake up. There is power in the knowledge of these things, as well as awful responsibility. One must be vigilant. One has to be alert for signs.
Such a child is Ana …, the 9-year-old heroine of Carlos Saura's beautifully acted, haunting Spanish movie, "Cria!" about a childhood so packed with trauma that one can scarcely believe that this acutely sensitive child will ever grow up to be [a] apparently composed, articulate woman…. (pp. 53-4)
"Cria!" is more ambitious [than "Cousin Angelica"] but, without the focal point of a strongly defined present, it lacks the cumulative impact of the earlier movie.
Its dreamlike reality is fragile. As it cuts among three time periods—Ana at 9, Ana a few years earlier at the time of the death of her mother …, and snippets of the grown-up Ana—one begins to wonder whether the movie is much more than an outline for another movie. One wants more than mood and memory, though that may be asking for more than Mr. Saura ever intended….
The childhood that Mr. Saura imposes on Ana is enough to have crushed even someone who's gone...
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A man of early middle age touches a bald place on his head for a moment. In another film, it might be that he was thinking of his looks. In Carlos Saura's wonderful Spanish picture "Cousin Angelica" …, the movement is one of trying to correct the blurring of time and history….
When the hero, called Luis Cano, touches his head, he is trying to retrieve something lost. The idea of having the same actor play both the boy and the man tells us what we all know: that everyone is every age at the same time, eight and forty-eight and eighty, merely embossed in a slowly changing carcass. The film tells us, too, that people have faulty memories. In the present of the film, Luis is trying to put things in order…. Time passes after all. A boy grows into a man, a generation grows into aeons of men. Luis, this boy, this man, is concerned to make memory concrete, not diffuse; he has the mind of a mathematician, the doubts of a scholar….
One's own mind goes back with the hero's to school as he remembers "how difficult it was to write a page without making a blot" before the days of ball-points. "It took all the pains in the world."
All the pains in the world are in this film….
The film is a sanctified fancy about memory, a recovery from sourness. (p. 109)
Penelope Gilliatt, "In Passage," in The New Yorker (© 1977 by The New Yorker Magazine,...
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[What I've seen of Saura's work]—The Hunt and The Garden of Delights—has been rather onerous: gravy-rich photography and ponderous symbolism, like the worst Czech and Polish and Latin-American films. A Spanish moralist without Buñuel's humor makes for a long evening.
Much brighter news from Saura with … Cousin Angelica….
[The] casting mixture is slightly confusing at first, but it's quickly sorted out, and its various points—of psychic implication and inheritance—are neatly made. (p. 26)
Saura handles the interplay of time with mostly extraordinary skill. The whole picture is directed with an ease that comes from no compulsion to prove anything, which was not true of the earlier Saura that I saw. There are now sharp edges of humor….
For a foreigner the picture's chief appeal is two kinds of travelogue: physical and psychological. The former, purely of landscape, should not be underrated…. The latter, from Spain, is still a relative novelty in the US. After every war come the questions about what the other side was really like…. Here, on a small scale, Saura gives us some idea of what a bourgeois Spanish family, very Catholic of course, thought of the war; how they lived; and how by indirection, it affected the way they live now.
But, interesting though it is, that's all the film does. The two time strands are...
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[Cria and Cousin Angélica] complement, in a way strengthen, each other; their methods are comparable, and they suggest what it is about life that seems to haunt Mr. Saura.
I say "seems," because it is presumptuous to generalize about the preoccupations of a man of Saura's sensibility on the basis of two works. But, speaking tentatively, what moves him are the passions and terror, the courage and ignorant audacity of childhood that go unremarked by the presiding adults whose catch-all admonitions are "mind your manners" and "run off now and play." His way of dealing with this material is to employ parallel time tracks, so smoothly interfaced that one must be alert to recognize from moment to moment which segment of experience is dominant. To say that Saura employs flashbacks would not at all convey the effect, which is to persuade the viewer that past and present are a single web….
Cria is the story of a small girl who, for a period of several years up to the age of 9, becomes involved in adult affairs she only fractionally understands, but which she feels obligated to manipulate according to her view of what the situations require….
Saura burdens her with a succession of misadventures that may strike some viewers as straining plausibility in the cause of a thesis. Ana cannot walk through a door or run an errand without stumbling on an "unsuitable" scene….
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[Both Cria! and Cousin Angélica] are about childhood and both of them are by the man who is, next to Buñuel, the most distinguished Spanish director. But that is where their similarity ends. Cria! is a dark and melodramatic comedy, highly original in plot, about how a child misperceives her actions and their consequences in the adult world. Cousin Angélica, though more stylistically unconventional, is a rather ordinary story about an adult attempting to refine and correct the memories of childhood. Cria! is an almost entirely successful work, while the other, earlier film must be regarded as an honorable failure….
[Cria!] is at its best exploring the confusions that attend the preadolescent years. At that stage, kids have a way of being half-right about how the world works and a sunny, misplaced confidence that they have the whole thing taped. Naturally, they get tripped up a lot, but they get used to it and go bouncing off to school (as Ana does) without moral qualms or regrets. It is this ability to be both right and wrong about even such matters as death that Saura has caught in this deft and strangely touching film.
Cousin Angélica, by contrast, offers a routine story…. This muted film seems to mean more to its creator than he can communicate to an audience. Clearly the work of a careful and caring artist, Cousin Angélica fails to make manifest the...
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Saura is concerned [in Cría] with apprehending the continuity between the past and the present, and, if possible, finding a resolution for Spain's political tragedy, the civil war that must have been terrible even for a five-year-old, and whose consequences manifestly haunt him still. (p. 72)
As a result [of Spanish censorship], one must read a Saura film to some extent as a coded document; the hateful father figure, for example, that figures in several of [his] movies is, surely, a symbol also of the Generalissimo and the conditions he imposed; the sundered and emotionally riven families must also be viewed as symbolizing a country rent apart. Cría, like other Saura films, has too much mood in it and too little event, but it is hard to tell whether the cause is a lack of things to say or a lack of freedom in which to say them …
Saura leaps freely back and forth between periods and places—or, more precisely, Anas—and the dream likeness is intensified by the fact that real events and others merely remembered or imagined are shot in the same way and intertwined. It may all be less of an artistic gain than an aestheticizing game.
Saura does not distinguish clearly between a nicely observed atmosphere with fine textural details and all-important plot elements, of which, in any case, there are too few…. So cavalier is the author-director about plot that a whole conversation between...
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[For a decade I have been looking at Saura films] and have found less and less to write about them. Some—Garden of Delights, The Hunt—are more ambitious than others, but all seem more intricate, more convoluted, and more fragmented than they have to be. Many of Saura's films … I have found particularly problematical because of their incessant juggling of fantasy and reality. From time to time I have been made aware that Saura is exploring the Spanish soul through the Franco years and beyond, but the director's symbolism tends to be guarded, mysterious, cabalistic, as if he dare not be too explicit. Similarly, his probes into repressed, twisted, often downright demented sexuality tend to be expressed with much too much facile trickery. In all these years I have come to respect Saura's intentions without enjoying his effects, or even being especially edified by them. He seems always to make omelets with the eggshells inside….
[However, to watch the] three tots dance to pop records and mimic the grown-ups [in Cria!] is to see childhood at long last as a jungle of wild feelings in which death itself is stared at without flinching. Saura deserves full credit for the behavioral beauties of Cria!, even amid the conceptual confusion of old…. It is one of the most exhilarating entertainments of the year.
Andrew Sarris, "Random Notes on Rossellini and Other Current Concerns"...
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I think I'd be willing to settle for a lot less from Carlos Saura and … Cria Cuervos….
[The film's] two levels, the first presented head-on from Ana's viewpoint and the second apparent only from the gradual accretion of seemingly inconsequential detail, are enough for any film to handle. Saura specializes in a kind of allegorical realism, judging from some of his earlier work, particularly The Hunt (1966) and The Garden of Delights (1970). But Saura, trying to live up to critical claims that he is Bunuel's heir, has contrived to load his film down with trimmings it doesn't really need.
Saura is Bunuel's equal in his fluid transitions from reality to fantasy….
Saura has real problems, though, trying to be a surrealist, and his hommages to other directors frequently add resonance in the wrong direction. The surrealist touches in Cria Cuervos—ominous things in the fridge, a perpetually mute and smiling grandmother in her wheelchair—come through to us as third-hand. Bunuel via Polanski: they lack the disorientingly vivid immediacy of Bunuel; they're studied, too predictable. (p. 13)
Saura gets into trouble when he goes for the macabre-funny touches, for at the same time he can't resist rubbing in the pathos inherent in the very notion of an eight-year-old orphan. In addition to a prosaically wicked guardian and the grinning grandmother,...
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[A] gratuitously baffling chronology is provided by Elisa, Vida Mia, of Carlos Saura. If finally incomprehensible,… the whole is more agreeable than the sum of its parts…. Saura does have a certain respect for his milieu and, as we have seen before, an obsessively trenchant gift for recalling the woes and hungers of childhood and their traumatic reappearance in maturity. I think he has exploited this yield to its limits—in The Garden of Delights, La Prima Angelica, Cria Cuervos—and now repeats himself, precariously (like Resnais, Fellini or Bergman), the more so when he resorts to involutions of narrative that alienate one's attention when he might better be securing it. This film appears to resume the prolonged visit of young Elisa … to her self-exiled but doting father …, living in isolation somewhere on the Castilian plains—while writing a book! (is this a trend or merely a coincidence?), during which period she deceives and undeceives herself about her rupturing marriage and her past relationship to her father. But does she? For, after the halfway mark, notably, it is quite impossible to know (I challenge anyone!) who is experiencing what at a given moment—including inserts of ghoulish murder and incestuous embrace—how many roles [Elisa] is assuming (a further amplification of Saura's strategy in Cria Cuervos) or if, indeed, at least half the scenario is not a hallucination...
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[Cria Cuervos] is nothing if not fragmentary and allusive in venturing on to the fraught terrain of childhood sensibility.
The jumble of family snapshots accompanying the opening titles functions as a correlative for Saura's mosaic approach as well as introducing a key visual theme….
The linking of imagination and memory is the movie's stock-in-trade to the extent of permeating its structure. For while the action has a contemporary setting, it is in effect taking place in the past tense, since the narrative is punctuated by episodes in which a grown-up Ana comments directly to camera about her childhood (not, she says emphatically, a paradise of innocence) from a vantage point some twenty years in the future—a time which for the audience can exist only in the imagination…. [The device of using the same actress to play Ana's mother and Ana as an adult] admits alternative interpretations: on the one hand, Ana has ultimately 'become' the figure around whom her childhood fantasy of reassurance has been woven; on the other, Ana's childhood comforter is a materialisation of her own older self. But the alternatives are not mutually exclusive, and it is at their intersection that the movie can be said to be taking place.
Such a notion achieves witty expression in the sequence in which Ana and her sisters are driven by Paulina to visit the country home of Amelia … and her husband, the sequence...
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Cesar Santos Fontenla
If, in a way, Cría cuervos was the culmination of the line taken by Saura in Peppermint frappé, and Elisa, vida mía constituted a kind of questioning on the author's part of his own work and personality, Los ojos vendados indicates a new point of departure. Saura, still true to himself but having exorcised his ghosts, freed from the need to resort to a symbolism that to some seemed excessively obvious and to others unduly cryptic, confronts in a spirit of inquiry the problems of post-Franco Spain through characters who throw themselves desperately into the search for their own identity. Torture, "white terrorism," the struggle to find a reason for living—or dying—and to pass from the condition of spectator to that of participant are, among others, the themes Saura lays on the table, in a game at once relentless and tender, in which "theatre" in its strictest sense and the "theatre" in which the characters indulge when they lie to themselves and to others, is a decisive factor….
[Between the] beginning and end there is a story of love and re-encounter with an "ego" that is multiple and assumed in different degrees. There is also a great deal of autobiography, self-criticism and self-quotation, all done with clarity. A personal and a political film, Los ojos vendados is perhaps the first work in which Saura looks firmly not at the past, nor even the present, but at the future, a future which is...
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[In contrast to Saura's early] operatic films with their dramatic sweep of violent deeds and historical events, Saura's later works are more interior and subtle. They focus more narrowly on an individual within the close confines of a bourgeois family and stress the mental life of a particular consciousness—memories, dreams and fantasies—rather than external events. (pp. 16-17)
Saura's primary focus is the crippling influence of social and political forces on individuals, particularly during childhood, which is revealed through a return to the past or a reunion with family…. Saura's films achieve extraordinary subtlety in their psychological realism. He makes unusual demands on his actors, whose facial expressions and physical gestures must simultaneously convey both the masks required by the society and the underlying passions and ambivalences. Saura's films are masterpieces of repression in which the sub text is developed, not with the surreal wit or grotesquery of a Buñuel, but with the emotional intensity and psychological astuteness of a Bergman. As in Bergman's canon, Saura's films are woven together by recurring names, faces, characters, and situations that suggest a tapestry of recurring dreams. (p. 17)
Of all Saura's works, The Garden of Delights is the closest to Buñuel in its use of surreal symbolism; it depicts the discreet horrors of the bourgeoisie living under Franco repression. In...
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Saura is one of those tightly controlled, long-distance filmmakers … who, rather than exploding into Felliniesque self-apotheosis, tends to implode within personal themes and a signatory style. Saura's Garden of Delights and Cousin Angelica … seethed in their contemporary portraits of familial disintegration and bitter memories of past repressions.
A funny thing, however, has happened to Saura on the way to the '80s. The director's latest films reveal a desperate, unconscious need for Franco and the good old bad days of repression that had added an urgency and subtextual sting to his films. Without a relevant nemesis, Mama Turns 100 emerges as a lightweight parody of Garden of Delights (and, by implication, of Saura himself) and Blindfolded [Los ojos vendados] evolves as a stylish romance that fails in its secondary purpose as a political thesis because it lacks a credible right-wing villain. In Saura's new films, the Spain of a benign restored monarchy and chidings from Amnesty International seem colorless compared to the jackboots of the Caudillo. Without contextual bitterness, Saura's archetypal devices of memory connections and multiple identities seem robbed of their synapses, certainly of the subliminal resonances that simmered beneath his haunted, complex imagery. In Mama Turns 100, the nude scenes with a liberated, pot-smoking young woman have also led to a corresponding...
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