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Ana y los lobos (Anna and the Wolves)

Posted by martinteller on January 4, 2015

Ana (Geraldine Chaplin) is an American nanny, newly arrived at a Spanish estate to care for the three little girls of Juan (José Vivó) and Luchy (Charo Soriano).  It is a full household.  Juan lives with his ailing mother (Rafaela Aparicio), who is obsessed with death and has attacks when she gets excited.  Also living there are Juan’s two brothers.  Fernando (Fernando Fernán Gómez) follows an ascetic existence, and wants to live his life as an eremite in a cave.  And José (José María Prada) is the self-proclaimed pater familias, an authoritarian, militaristic figure who insists that any concerns about the children be brought to him instead of Juan.  Ana tries to find her place in this family, intrigued by the mysterious Fernando, hounded by the lecherous Juan (who sends her anonymous, perverted letters) and enlisted by José to help maintain his collection of military gear.

Director Carlos Saura doesn’t bury the allegory beneath any layers of obscurity.  This family clearly represents the forces of Franco-controlled Spain: José is the dictatorship, Juan is the morally corrupted elite, Fernando is the Catholic church.  Ana is the foreign interloper: her reactions to the absurdities (amused) and cruelties (shocked) drive the family closer together, into a defensive stance that only exacerbates the situation.  She also represents the role of women in Franco-era Spain, who were stripped of many employment opportunities and lived largely under the thumbs of men.  Ana has far less agency in this scenario than she thinks she does.

It’s an intriguing film… there are a couple of surrealistic touches (Fernando’s “levitation”, José’s vision of Ana’s legs) but for the most part it stays grounded.  The allegory may be a little thin, but as a viewer who isn’t terribly familiar with modern Spanish history (or any Spanish history, or let’s face it, history in general) I didn’t mind the lack of subtlety so much.  It addresses a lot of the issues with both sly mocking humor and haunting horror, especially in the shocking ending.  Chaplin has a magnetic presence as always.  Ana is aware of the effect her sexuality has and tries to use it to her advantage, or to protect herself.  But she also has a sense of empowerment that sadly this world does not recognize.  The three brothers are excellent as well, especially Gómez (recognizable from Spirit of the Beehive, a more nuanced Franco allegory).

Perhaps not one of Saura’s most powerful works, but a very solid film that’s quite watchable… enlightening, and both entertaining and sobering.  Rating: Very Good (81)


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