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Peppermint Frappé, 1967

ChaplinPeppermint Frappé opens to the image of a pair of hands meticulously cropping images from a fashion magazine for a personal scrapbook. The hands belong to an unassuming and conservative physician named Julian (José Luis López Vázquez) who runs a radiology clinic from his personal residence, assisted by a shy, mild mannered nurse named Ana (Geraldine Chaplin). One afternoon, Julian pays a visit to his childhood friend, Pablo (Alfredo Mayo), a charismatic and sophisticated adventurer who has recently returned from Africa with the unexpected news that he has married a beautiful and carefree young woman named Elena (Geraldine Chaplin). The sight of the captivating Elena visibly stuns Julian, as he recalls an incident that would pervade his thoughts and invariably define his image of the feminine ideal - the sight of a pious young woman who had continuously beaten a ceremonial drum despite physical discomfort during a Good Friday ceremony. Julian confronts Elena with his vivid memory of the episode, but she proves to be oblivious to the past encounter. Nevertheless, despite Elena's cosmopolitan demeanor and obvious dissimilarity with the elusive penitent drummer, Julian falls hopelessly in love with her. Frustrated by his inability to win Elena's affection, Julian turns his attention to Ana, as he attempts to recreate his haunted image through his trusting, devoted nurse.

Carlos Saura presents a taut and compelling examination of obsession in Peppermint Frappé. As in Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive (and Saura's subsequent film, Cría Cuervos), Saura uses surreal and haunted memories in order to create an allegorical chronicle of the pervasive repression of Franco-era Spain. By juxtaposing Julian's seemingly innocent youthful recollections with his increasing obsession towards the unattainable Elena, Saura creates a harrowing portrait on aberrant behavior and perversion of reality: Julian's observation of the Good Friday ceremony that led to his obsession with Elena; his glimpse of a children's mock marriage ceremony between Pablo and a girl in the village; his voyeuristic glance through a keyhole as a posed Elena kneels in an abandoned bedroom. Similar to Luis Buñuel's The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz and Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, the desire to attain an elusive ideal woman results in a literal recreation of her image. Note the Vertigo-inspired, carnivalesque, circular camera tracking as Julian oversees Ana's rowing machine exercises, Elena's uninhibited dance in an open field as a mesmerized Julian takes photographs, Ana's transformation at Julian's weekend retreat. Dedicated to legendary filmmaker and compatriot, Luis Buñuel, Peppermint Frappé serves an irreverent, fascinating, and subversive document on the nature of uncertainty, repression, and desire.

© Acquarello 2002. All rights reserved.

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Cría Cuervos, 1976
[Raise Ravens]

TorrentAn inquisitive, cherubic girl named Ana (Ana Torrent) overhears a tender exchange between her father, a military officer named Anselmo (Héctor Alterio) and his mistress, Amelia (Mirta Miller), before the intimate moment gives way to tragedy and confusion, as Anselmo suffers a fatal heart attack. Amelia hurriedly dresses, leaving Anselmo's body alone in the bedroom for the discovery of others, and exchanges a reluctant glance with Ana before running away to avoid a scandal. Young Ana impassively observes Anselmo's rigid countenance before recovering a water glass from the bedside table, and methodically washes the item in the kitchen sink. Soon, the past, present, and distant past seemingly fuse into a surreal and reassuring incident as Ana's dead mother (Geraldine Chaplin) passes through the kitchen and affectionately reminds Ana that it is past her bedtime. Later, a haunted and matured Ana (Geraldine Chaplin) recounts her childhood animosity towards her emotional callous and philandering father, blaming him for causing her late mother's suffering that inevitably manifested in a slow, consuming illness. With the death of their father, Ana and her sisters, Irene (Conchita Pérez) and Maite, spend the rest of their summer vacation in the family home, entrusted to the care of Aunt Paulina (Mónica Randall), a stern, but well intentioned unmarried woman who discourages discussion about their parents in a mistaken belief that she is sparing the children from the grief of their profound loss. However, Paulina's attention is preoccupied by her own surfacing romantic relationship, and the children are invariably left alone with their affable, obliging maid, Rosa (Florinda Chico) and their silent, detached grandmother (Josefina Díaz) whose own thoughts are consumed by cherished memories evoked from a collage of old family photographs. With little guidance and supervision, the children create an insular world that reflects the conflict, pain, and uncertainty of the enigmatic and impenetrable adult world around them.

Carlos Saura presents an indelible, serenely hypnotic, and deeply affecting portrait of innocence, death, and grief in Cría Cuervos. The title of the film refers to a Spanish proverb, "Raise ravens, and they will pluck out your eyes", and alludes to the children's irrational compulsion for vengeance and self-destruction: Ana's innate wish for her father's death; her fascination with a mysterious jar discarded by her mother; the children's resurrection prayer after playing hide-and-seek; Irene's kidnapping nightmare. By juxtaposing low angle medium shots that represent the children's perspective with fluid crane shots that reflect a birdseye point view, Saura visually emphasizes the incongruous union of the children's naïveté with an ominous sense of instinctive cruelty. Inevitably, the fusion of haunted past and indeterminate present, like the coexistence of innocuous wish and intentional malice, becomes the tragic and unresolved legacy of a lost and misguided childhood.

© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.

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