Eight-year-old Ana, stoic and quiet approaches her father's bedroom where she hears a woman in bed with her father, confessing her love for him. Descending the stairs, she spies an attractive middle-aged woman, hastily dressing and rushing from the bedroom to the front door of the darkened house. The woman and Ana exchange glances but do not speak. Once the woman has left, Ana enters her father's bedroom and finds the man dead, apparently from a heart attack. As if not really understanding the gravity of the situation, Ana unflappably takes away a half-full glass of milk, which she carries to the kitchen and cleans. In the kitchen, she sees her mother, who chides her for being up so late and sends her off to bed.
Reality and fantasy swap places. The bizarre death of Ana's father, who will prove to be a senior Army officer, is real. The apparently banal appearance of the mother at the fridge, on the other hand, is in fact fantasized by the grieving child. Ana's mother is already dead; her image is only a fanciful illusion of the little girl's mind. Blaming her mother's illness and death on her father, Ana has dissolved a mysterious powder she believes to be a potent poison in his milk glass as a willful act of murder. Her belief in the power of the poison is thus confirmed when her father dies. (Her mother had told her years ago to throw out this powder as it was poison. It turns out it is simply baking soda.)
At the wake of Ana's father, she sees again the mysterious woman she had previously seen fleeing her father's bedroom on the night of his death. The woman, Amelia, is the wife of her father's close friend and fellow military officer. Ana's satisfaction of having rid herself of her father's presence is short lived, for her mother's sister, her Aunt Paulina, soon arrives to set the house in order, turning out to be every bit the cold authoritarian Ana's father had been. The all-female household is completed by the children's grandmother, mute and immobile in a wheelchair, and the feisty, fleshy housekeeper, Rosa.
Ana takes refuge in the basement, where she keeps her 'lethal' powder, and where she is watched by an apparition of herself from twenty years in the future. The adult Ana, looking exactly as her mother, recounts her infancy: 'I don't believe in childhood paradise, or in innocence, or the natural goodness of children. I remember my childhood as a long period of time, interminable, sad, full of fear, fear of the unknown'.
The little rituals of everyday life fill Ana's days during her summer school vacation. Tortured by the memories of her mother's illness, Ana rebels against her aunt's authoritarian style, and in bouts of loneliness she variously imagines her mother's continued presence, or even her own suicide. Though diverted by the presence of her two sisters, Ana's only truly close companions are the family maid, Rosa, and her pet guinea pig, Roni, whom she discovers dead in his cage one morning.
Ana’s mother's painful death from cancer; her father's presumed murder, her guinea pig's death and her own imagined suicide weigh on the girl's mind. Ana even offers her grandmother, ill and using a wheelchair, the opportunity of dying and ridding herself from loneliness by providing her a spoonful of her poison. The old woman turns down Ana's offer as the old woman realizes that the powder is simply baking soda.
The adult Ana explains the notion of the mysterious powder that the child Ana had so dearly coveted: it was nothing more than bicarbonate of soda that her mother once told her was a powerful poison, so powerful that one spoonful would kill an elephant. She further explains her motivation in wanting to kill her father: "The only thing I remembered perfectly is that then my father seemed responsible for the sadness that weighted on my mother in the last years of her life. I was convinced that he, and he alone, had provoked her illness."
Ana, still believing that she has murdered her father, attempts to poison her aunt with the same powder. She repeats the preparation of milk with the mysterious substance, but the next morning awakens for the first day of school to find that Paulina is still alive. Ana and her two sisters leave the lugubrious family compound and march into the vibrant and noisy city that has all but been shut out from their world up to this point.
Ana Torrent plays the lead character, Ana. She was already well known thanks to her starring role in the film El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive) (1973) by Víctor Erice, made when she was seven years old. She followed Cría Cuervos by yet another memorable role in The Nest (1980) in which she played a thirteen-year-old in a relationship with an aging widower played by Héctor Alterio who here has the role of Anselmo, Ana's father.
Geraldine Chaplin plays dual roles: Ana's mother, Maria, in which she speaks Spanish with an English accent and Ana as a young woman in which she is dubbed by actress Julieta Serrano. Chaplin was director Saura's common-law wife and muse at that time. She appeared in ten of his films.Ana Torrent - Ana, 8 years old
Conchi Pérez - Irene, 11 years old
Maite Sánchez - Mayte, 5 years old
Geraldine Chaplin- Ana's mother (Maria) and older Ana
Mónica Randall - Aunt Paulina
Florinda Chico - Rosa, a maid
Josefina Díaz - Ana's grandmother
Héctor Alterio - Anselmo, Ana's father
Mirta Miller - Amelia, Anselmo's mistress
Germán Cobos - Nicholas, Amelia's husband
The title Cría Cuervos comes from the Spanish proverb, "Cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos". This translates as, "Raise ravens, and they'll take out your eyes" and is generally used for someone who has bad luck in raising children, or raising them badly. It may also imply rebellious behavior or that every bad act will return to haunt you.
The phrase "Cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos" is said to originate with Don Álvaro de Luna of Castile during a hunting expedition. In the course of the hunt his party came across a beggar with terrible scarring in the place of eyes. The beggar explained that he had raised a raven for three years with affection and great care, but it attacked him one day, leaving him blind. The bon mot was Don Álvaro's reply.
Cría Cuervos was originally released as Cría! in the United States and as Raise Ravens in the UK, but the original title Cría Cuervos is now used in both countries.
This film was made during a period where Carlos Saura was considered one of the great opponents, along with other directors, of the Franco regime, with characters and themes in the film alluding to Saura's interpretations and criticisms of Franco-inspired truths.
The film stresses the disparity between Ana's inner world of private traumas and the outer world of political realities and fascism. Ana will cope with her guilt in both arenas.
When asked to elucidate on the nature of Ana's suffering, the director, Carlos Saura replied :" Cría Cuervos is a sad film, yes. But that's part of my belief that childhood is one of the most terrible parts in the life of a human being. What I'm trying to say is that at that age you've no idea where it is you are going, only that people are taking you somewhere, leading you, pulling you and you are frightened. You don't know where you're going or who you are or what you are going to do. It's a time of terrible indecision."
Cría Cuervos was shot in the summer of 1975, as Spanish dictator Francisco Franco lay dying, and premiered in Madrid's Conde Duque Theatre, on January 26, 1976. Highly acclaimed, it received the Cannes film festival Special Jury Prize Award. The film became director Carlos Saura and producer Elías Querejeta's most commercially successful film up to that point, going on to become the sixth largest grossing Spanish film of 1976. The picture made a similar strong showing in foreign markets, including the United States where it solidified Saura's reputation as Spain's best international known director of the 1970s. Today the film is considered a political and psychological masterpiece and a classic of Spanish Cinema. The film was selected as the Spanish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 49th Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.
The film prominently features the pop song "Porque te vas" by Jeanette, an English-born singer, singing in Spanish, whose accented voice reminds Ana of her mother, as played by Geraldine Chaplin, who speaks Spanish with her English accented voice. Despite an infectious rhythm the song has sad and poignant lyrics. The song expresses the fact that Ana has no understanding of death, only of absence.
Cria Cuervos was released on DVD on August 14, 2007 in a two-disc special edition as part of the Criterion Collection.
The film was released on Blu-ray in a Dual Format Edition on May 27, 2013 by the BFI.