English Title: Cousin Angelica
Original Title: La prima Angélica
Director: Carlos Saura
Cinematography: Luis Cuadrado
José Luis López Vázquez
María Clara Fernández de Loaysa
María de la Riva
José Luis Heredia
Carlos Saura’s provocative COUSIN ANGELICA stirred a vehement protest from the Spanish Right upon its release during the twilight years of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. The film focuses on Luis (Vázquez), an unmarried, middle-aged business man in Barcelona, bringing his long-deceased mother’s bones to bury in her family crypt in Sevogia. En route, past memories well up, he begin to re-enact the events happened almost forty-years ago during the Spanish Civil War, his days of sojourn with his mother’s family, includes his first cousin Angelica (played by Canakejas as the adult and de Loaysa as the child), his first love.
The most unconventional tack is that Saura decides to let Vázquez play both the adult and child version of Luis, while Canalejas, Delgado and de Loaysa play two nuclear families in both time-lines: Angelica’s family in the present, and the one during the wartime, a 9-year-old Angelica and her parents. This stipulation evidently creates some initial puzzlement and requires viewers more patience to get the narrative which frequently jumps back-and-forth. And one key giveaway is Vázquez’s performance, who can convincingly switch between a grown-up’s urbane refinement and a child’s wide-eyed obedience, the latter is quite demanding for an actor is his fifties.
Recollections are intermingled with Luis’ present mental state, gradually, audience will be notified there is a deep chasm between his father and his mother’s family, they are on opposite sides in political slants during that tempestuous time, his parents are called the black sheep of the family, which corners Luis in an awkward situation staying with them, where family bond is virtually marred by politics.
However, the puppy love with Angelica symbolises the most innocent and beautiful souvenir in this experience, a stolen kiss, being each other’s playmates, sharply contrasts with the marriage fetters she is entrapped in presently, rekindled romance glistens faintly, but eventually he is not the knight in shining armour, the sadness of adulthood.
Saura also registers strongly with symbolically religious projections which has poisoned and continues haunting Luis’ psyche to date, the mortified nun, with a lock sealing her lips, and a bleeding hole in her palm, is his incubus, which is startling to watch. A priest’s inculcation of a 11-year-old boy’s tragic death from an explosion is bordering on sheer hectoring, and the ensuing bombarding in the school echoes the opening shots, which at first glance resemble an atmospheric modern-dancing rendition.
With hindsight, COUSIN ANGELICA seems to be less pungent in its anti-war and religion innuendos by nowadays’ criteria, other than a beguilingly concocted labyrinth juxtaposing disjointed memories with a disillusioned reality, but sometimes it is overcautious to lay bare the elephant-in-the-room, whereas in other time, over-mystifying the machination of reminiscence.