Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Anna and the Wolves (Carlos Saura, 1973)


The title of Carlos Saura’s Anna and the Wolves likely evokes a children’s story, a suggestion supported by the opening shots of Anna (Geraldine Chaplin) arriving at the isolated mansion where she’s to take care of three young girls, and the notion of playacting and invention that runs throughout the film. Any sense of innocence though is rapidly squashed out: all three of the brothers who occupy the house have their eye (and often hands) on Anna as soon as she arrives, and the roleplaying (including, over time, that of Anna herself) becomes increasingly malevolent and perverse. Juan, the only married brother, bombards her with lewd anonymous letters, raiding the family stamp collection to make it appear that they come from around the world; Jose maintains a private museum of military uniforms, guns and other memorabilia; Fernando becomes increasingly mystic (he’s even seen levitating in one impressionistic moment), retreating into a hermit’s cave and hardly eating, for a while impressing Anna with his apparent lack of designs on her, until his underlying perversion comes to light. The twistedness of course has deep roots: the family matriarch, prone to sudden fits of collapsing which seem to be largely strategic, maintains boxes of childhood mementos for each son, although the labeling system is chaotic, and the contents include such items as a spiked thimble that was used to stop one of them from sucking his thumb (we’re told it lacerated his mouth for some five months).  Nevertheless, the film’s shocking ending clarifies that for all the bourgeoisie’s dysfunction and internal dissention, it ultimately sticks together in perpetuation of its interests, with outsiders paying a brutal price (Anna’s fate, and an earlier sequence involving a buried doll, bring to mind the masses of the Franco-era disappeared). Overall, the film belongs with The Hunt and The Garden of Delights among the incisive peaks of Saura’s major, generally under-screened period.

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