[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 produced by her father's notes-towards-a-fiction. For my refusal to leave the cinema betimes, outcast by Saura's aggressively devised problems of continuity, [Elisa and her father] were largely responsible. Except for moments when uncharitably molested by their director, they engaged me with their gentility and their genuine air of troubled kinship. To have become as indifferent, as Saura has, to our grasp of what he has to say about characters whom he seems to have created with some affection is grotesque in a decisively negative reading of the term.
I suspect that he is divided between his native cast of temperament and a diehard international fashion: compulsively to interrupt logical sequence, even when the scenario as first conceived carries no such justification. (p. 332)
Vernon Young, "The Grotesque in Some Recent Films," in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1978 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXXI, No. 2, Summer, 1978, pp. 329-36.∗