Children’s Minds in the Line of Fire Blog

Article title: Cria Cuervos: political and personal trauma in a child’s mind
Author: Mary T. Brady, Ph.D.

Cria Cuervos Official Trailer 1976

Spanish director Carlos Saura’s (1976) masterpiece Cría Cuervos explores the interpenetration of the past and the present when time has been fractured by a traumatic loss. Cría’s subject is eight-year-old Ana (played by Ana Torrent), who believes she killed her dead father and is frequently visited by hallucinations of her mother (played by Geraldine Chaplin). The interpenetration of reality and fantasy is brilliantly played out in the opening sequence. In a white nightgown, Ana descends a dark staircase. As the camera focuses on her pale, expressionless face, urgently whispered adult words—“I love you;" “I can't breathe"—- are heard from behind a closed door. A half-dressed woman runs from the room. On entering the now silent room, Ana finds her father in bed, apparently dead. Impassive, she takes a glass to the kitchen and washes it in the sink. As she opens the refrigerator, her mother comes into the shot and addresses her tenderly. Only later do we learn her mother, too, is dead. 

The psychological and the political are inextricable in Cria. The title refers to a Spanish proverb meaning “keep ravens and they will tear your eyes out.” Ana’s father was a Fascist military officer, so the title implies a legacy of political and personal violence. Saura shot Cría Cuervos in the summer of 1975, as Spanish dictator Francisco Franco lay dying. The film premiered in Madrid in 1976, forty years after the beginning of the Spanish Civil War and received the Special Jury Prize at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. Saura vividly depicts the way children’s fragile psyches are frozen in time by trauma. 

Intra-psychic, yet societally induced trauma is relevant to the ‘Mind in the Line of Fire’ theme chosen for our 53rd Congress in Cartagena, in 2023.  Our IPA leaders (President Harriet Wolfe and Vice-President Adriana Prengler) have recognized that the pandemic exaggerated societal inequities long with us; they urge us to develop psychoanalytic theory relevant to societal effects on psyches. In preparation, COCAP (IPA Committee on Child and Adolescent Psychoanalysis) here initiates a series in the IPA News entitled, ‘Children’s Minds in the Line of Fire.’  

Children and adolescents are often the group most affected by cultural changes and catastrophes.  They are like the canaries sent into coal mines to signal the presence of gases, imbibing cultural, societal and economic changes in a rapid and powerful way.  Ana has imbibed her father’s individual brutality, yet also through him, the brutality of Franco’s regime.  At the same time, Ana seems a ‘wise’ child who has experienced personal, familial and cultural disasters, grasping the violence and beauty of life, (albeit infused by a child’s magical and omnipotent thinking). Ana has tried to kill her father, whom she holds responsible for the death of her mother due to his cruelty and infidelity.  Ana is not actually responsible for his death, nor is her father literally responsible for her mother’s cancer, yet in Ana’s child mind both are true.  

Our congress title of ‘Mind in the Line of Fire’, for me recalls Bion’s bracing suggestion that the analyst needs to be able to ‘interpret under fire’. The analyst of a child or adolescent is under fire much of the time. We must participate in play and react to behavior, absorbing the feelings and roles conveyed in the analytic field.  We must react to behavior inside and outside of sessions, particularly with adolescents. At times we might need to confront and set limits, while struggling to retain our capacity to think.  Analysts of children, adolescents and adults must struggle to think in analytic fields dominated by non-thinking states engendered by trauma and splintered by dissociation and splitting. 

Trauma overwhelms the psyche, while both psychoanalysis and artistic creations such as Cria allow us to grapple with it. Bion was heavily influenced by his traumatic experiences in the First World War, which he entered in his own late adolescence, at age 19. The devastation of combat affected him for a lifetime. Additionally, his first wife died in childbirth. After he married his second wife, Francesca, Bion had a remarkably fertile period, during which he developed many of his seminal ideas, such as container/contained, a theory of thinking and attacks on linking. This foment of theoretical development seems related, in part, to the refuge his relationship with his wife Francesca accorded him, allowing his return to the horror of his war experience (Brown, L.J., “Bion’s discovery of Alpha Function: thinking under fire on the battlefield and in the consulting room,” International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 2012). Bion’s personal experience of trauma, the painful difficulty of growth and the containment that made it possible are essential to his thinking.

Bion did not treat adolescents or younger children, yet many of his inter-related concepts, such as container/contained, maternal reverie and the development of thinking through alpha function, are highly applicable to their treatment. Bion’s premise that the purpose of analysis is the growth of the mind is synonymous with the child or adolescent analyst’s goals of fostering development and understanding impediments to development. In The Tavistock Seminars, Bion comments:

. . . people say, ‘‘It’s no good to psychoanalyse a child of two or three or five.’’ I have even heard fantastic statements about not being able to do anything when ‘‘the fibres are not myelinated.’’ The trouble with the myelinated fibres is that the person who has them is often so rigid, so structured, that you can’t get another idea through their myelin.  (2005: 15)

Cria’s Ana is a child of great sensitivity, who takes in her personal and cultural surround at a depth and judges it unsparingly.  Sauros said, "Cría Cuervos is a sad film, yes. But that's part of my belief that childhood is one of the most terrible parts in the life of a human being. What I'm trying to say is that at that age you've no idea where it is you are going, only that people are taking you somewhere, leading you, pulling you and you are frightened. You don't know where you're going or who you are or what you are going to do” (Stone, R., Spanish Cinema, p. 102, Routledge, 2001).  I believe Bion would sympathize. 


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Posted by:   Ms. Rhoda Bawdekar
Posted on:   2022-01-12 12:37 PM
Comments:   Adriana Prengler, IPA Vice-President:
I loved reading your text!
Mary, I also enjoyed very much how you put together many aspects of the theme of our Congress, integrating trauma in childhood with the social environment, taking into account the effect of the relationship with a sweet but sick and devalued mother, an authoritarian and unfaithful father, in parallel with the political situation under Franco’s dictatorship and the traumatic experience in Bion’s life that influenced his thinking and theory.
Your choice of Saura’s film to illustrate the internal/external world is great. I remember this extraordinary film and also its music with lyrics that allude to mourning and loss (Ana's favorite music in the film).
Your photo of Ana with “shy” tears, in the scene after Ana sees her mother screaming in pain on her deathbed, is an image that matches the impotence and sadness not only in Ana’s life but also as an analogy of the impotence and the “pain” of the society under Franco’s regime. As you wrote, psyches are frozen in time by trauma. And here also the social structure in Spain was traumatized and frozen, a social effect in the mind. Perfect for our Congress theme!
Reading your essay I thought that Ana’s authoritarian and despotic father can be also seen as a paradigm of the political situation of Franco's dictatorial regime and the submissive powerless mother begging for care and love could represent the submitted Spanish society.
I love the title you are using, and if it is helpful, I want to add that “criar” means “to raise”. “Cria cuervos”, more than "keep ravens" means "to raise ravens". The phrase that you mentioned “Cria cuervos, que te sacaran los ojos” (Raise ravens and they will take your eyes out) is a very popular phrase in Spanish. It is used to describe a situation in which someone is very ungrateful. (Like if you give something to someone as when “raising” a child, or give something very good to someone, and that person later behaves in an ungrateful way.)
I wrote a comment about an Almodovar film (Live Flesh) which also mentions some of the effects of Franco’s regime on the mind. I can send it to you if you are interested.
Posted by:   Dr. Mary T. Brady
Posted on:   2022-01-25 14:31 PM
Comments:   Dear Adriana,
Thank you so much for your response and encouragement for our new series! We clearly share an enthusiasm for 'Cria' and Saura's sensitive examination of a child's mind in a background of Fascism. Your comment about Ana being frozen by trauma as the social structure was frozen under Franco is so thoughtful, as well as your conception of the larger meanings of the despotic father and submissive mother. The best part of the IPA is our international communication - your knowledge of Spanish opens the title of 'Cria' up further. We have much more to think together about Fascism in the world and in the psyche. Your comment helped inspire me to have the film group I co-lead to take 'Fascism on Film' for our series next year. I read and enjoyed your chapter on 'Live Flesh, particularly your bringing your personal experience under Fascist regimes into the frame. We are all increasingly vulnerable to such ominous developments.
Gracias! Mary
Posted by:   Ms. Rhoda Bawdekar
Posted on:   2022-01-12 12:35 PM
Comments:   Harriet Wolfe, IPA President:
Thanks so much for sending your essay. I think it is beautifully written. In a short space it informs the reader powerfully about the theme we have in mind, about child analysis, the beauty of art/film, the character of Ana, the mind of Sauros, and Bion's relevance. It is wonderful. Thank you for conceiving of this project and taking it forward so well.
Thanks again. It is a beautiful articulation of just what we had in mind with the Cartagena theme.
Posted by:   Dr. Mary T. Brady
Posted on:   2022-01-25 14:34 PM
Comments:   Dear Harriet,
I so appreciate your encouragement of our Child/Adolescent groups new creative endeavor. It is planting seeds for our imaginings towards Cartagena. How wonderful it will be to be in person again and to share our thinking on your theme of 'Mind in the Line of Fire.'

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