Only Remember Beautiful Moments: Carlos Saura (1932-2023) | Tributes

Saura’s script for his follow-up to his early work, which would make his name, impressed young producer Elías Querejeta, who became one of Saura’s most trusted and important collaborators over the next decade. “The Hunt” netted Saura his first round of prizes and earned him fans on the international scene. It’s not hard to see why. His framing has a sturdiness out of John Ford or Akira Kurosawa, and his story is pure viciousness. The psychological thriller finds four men on a rabbit hunt, slowly losing their grip over the course of a long, hot day. The three older men talk a big game about manliness and what it takes to be a hunter, but every time the fourth man, the youngest of them by 20 years at least, asks about their experiences, specifically their days fighting in “the war,” they clam up. There’s a death by suicide, cruelty, and poor fortune in their past, and it’s caught up to all of them. They have run out of things to live for, and not even their friendships seem real now. It’s only a matter of time before their resolve gives way, and the men tire of shooting rabbits. Sam Peckinpah later said he’d been greatly influenced by it, and indeed his world of men obsessed with each other to the point of violent reprisals seems unthinkable without the spark of Saura’s movie. His camera movements are precise and unnerving, capturing these men on their way to damnation in a sturdy, steady motion. The camera knows they’re doomed before they do. 

Querejeta and Saura decided they wanted to branch out with their next movie and planned to shoot it in English, so went looking for an English star who could speak enough Spanish that they could communicate with her. They settled on Geraldine Chaplin, daughter of the world’s most famous film comedian, and lately a breakout star in David Lean’s “Doctor Zhivago,” a role that hardly gave her a chance to show her emotional range and the specificity of her craft. Saura would give her that chance in “Peppermint Frappé.” The trouble was the rest of the cast couldn’t keep up with the English language script, so they shot it in Spanish anyway, which scuttled the film’s chances at becoming a crossover hit (though it also didn’t help that its premiere at the 1968 Cannes Film Festival was canceled by protests led by Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut) but didn’t alter the film’s perverse impact. José Luis López Vázquez, who would become a favorite leading man of Saura’s, plays an uptight professional with twin fixations on women, both played by Chaplin. He tortures the one when he can’t possess the other. Her introduction is one of the great sequences in Saura’s cinema and properly introduced the musicality that would become integral to his direction. Vázquez sees Chaplin for the first time and sees her in a celebration in a town square, beating a drum along with a small band. It hints at a million things—the protests against Franco’s regimes, the nascent Spanish culture corrupted by the leadership, the demand to be heard when you must communicate in whispers—and explains why Vázquez both must have her and can never. She represents life—art, song, dance, sex—and he represents death—conformity, hypocrisy, and control. 

“Cría Cuervos”

Saura and Chaplin became inseparable over the next ten years. As he continued spinning fables out of Saura’s unspoken (but by no means unheard) rebellion, she became his leading lady and partner. They had a son and made nine movies together, including the classic “Cría Cuervos,” in which Chaplin plays young Ana Torrent’s mother and whose ghost haunts the young girl as she adapts to life in a strange new house. “Cría Cuervos” is a film defined by a very unusual coincidence. The film is about the death of the head of a house made just as Franco was dying—he’d be dead before the film made it to theatres. It was the first film of his not to have trouble with the government censors, who had taken to cutting as much out of his scripts pre-production as possible to remove anything potentially scandalous. By the time of “Cría Cuervos,” Saura was such a hot item abroad that they were worried they’d look bad by suppressing him, but there was hardly anything traditionally objectionable in the movie, much more concerned with the way a child sees the world of adults. “Cría Cuervos” became the most famous of Saura’s films in this overly psychological vein, the one in which he primarily worked during his years with Chaplin. 

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