Carlos Saura's 1976 film Cría Cuervos, or Raise Ravens, is now revived as part of the BFI Southbank season of post-Franco Spanish cinema, and it is a sensational rerelease: a gripping, profoundly mysterious movie which is both an uncanny drama of family dysfunction and a historical parable of the end of Franco-ism: a film which fully deserves to be placed alongside Bergman's Cries and Whispers or Fanny and Alexander. Eight-year-old Ana Torrent (from Víctor Erice's Spirit of the Beehive) plays Ana, whose father is a senior Spanish army officer and brutal generalissimo stalwart. One night, Ana witnesses this man expiring from a heart attack while having sex with the wife of his best friend: his own wife, Ana's mother, has already died after a long illness and years of mistreatment. Ana fantasises that she has murdered her father, having in actual fact secretly tipped a little powder from an old bicarbonate tin into his food, a tin which her mother had once ordered her to throw away, whimsically calling it "poison". Did her mother will young Ana's fantasy into being? Is it, in fact, her own fantasy? Now Ana and her two sisters are to be brought up by an aunt Paulina (Mónica Randall) and the worldly maid Rosa (Florinda Chico), from whom Ana must gradually hear the truth about her family. She is, however, preoccupied with memories of her late mother, superbly played by Geraldine Chaplin, who appears to Ana in quasi-supernatural scenes which Saura calmly interleaves with reality with absolute assurance: Chaplin also plays little Ana as an adult, reminiscing about the current action. In one sense, the child stands for the whole of Spain's younger generation, brutalised by the Franco regime, tensely and miserably waiting for it to die out, but wanting to have killed it. The claustrophobic household stands for Spain, but Carlos Saura could as well be addressing Europe generally: a Europe in uneasy postwar denial about that country in its midst which was an ideological and military proving ground for Nazi Germany, and whose unapologetic fascism survived the war. The film is a masterpiece of form and technique, and Chaplin and Torrent are both outstanding.
Peter Bradshaw is the Guardian's film critic