Geraldine Chaplin, Carlos Saura’s companion and Charlie’s daughter, haunts in Cría cuervos (1975), but she gives her finest performance in another one of Saura’s most brilliant nonmusicals: Elisa, vida mía. Again Chaplin plays two parts: Elisa, and Elisa’s mother. One must also note that Fernando Rey, tremendous here as Elisa’s father, also delivers his greatest performance.
With its analytical flow of time, memory, reality, illusion, Elisa mesmerizes and succeeds in making surrealism as much the content as the method of the film—though what we can glean of the psychological narrative also is extraordinary: an elderly writer, ill, secretly writes a book about his grown daughter, Elisa, but from her viewpoint—autobiography by imaginative proxy—in order to secure their bond. Once this daughter reads the manuscript, also secretly, however, his sometimes inaccurate view of her view of reality creeps into and begins replacing her own. Thus an ironical Saura posits patriarchal authority and imposition in an elusive, circuitous way fully capable of suggesting their social and cultural pervasiveness; and sharpening the point is the unresolved ambiguity that the father may have left the manuscript in sight in order to entice his daughter into reading it. Saura worries here, as in Cría cuervos, that fascism in Spain is not finished as a result of Franco’s death, that the social and cultural features that helped install Franco may survive his political rule.
Saura’s method also enables him to explore the impingement of one psyche on another—one of the great modern themes—without reviving nineteenth-century overtones of vampirism that somewhat cloud, for instance, Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966).
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