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.