Rejection of "childhood innocence." Carlos Saura’s Spain is a crumbling mansion where a girl (Ana Torrent) projects memories and phantoms, the adult world is a strange realm as the Franco guard expires. Bedroom endearments yield to murky death, the uniformed patriarch (Héctor Alterio) is dutifully mourned and the rigid aunt (Mónica Randall) takes over, the kids are unsettled ravens. The fragile mother (Geraldine Chaplin), a former piano prodigy sent to the grave by disease and her husband’s infidelities, appears to Torrent as a flirtatious remembrance, playing and replaying past moments; the paralyzed grandmother (Josefina Díaz) lives but is herself a ghost, gazing at a mural of pictures of old Spain. Grown-up issues become fodder for playacting children rummaging through a wardrobe, but grave things swirl behind the girl's dark eyes -- a fascination with death, from the stoic burial of a pet hamster to the way she mock-executes then "revives" her sisters (Conchita Pérez, Marie Sanchez) during a game of hide-and-seek, serves both as the cornerstone of her own private, controlled universe and as the pathway into the unknown beyond childhood. Gliding movements connect them, mix them: Torrent alone in a room broods over the pot of baking powder her mother told her had enough poison "to kill an elephant," Saura pans to the right to reveal Chaplin as the adult Torrent, looking back pensively ("Why did I want to kill my father?"). The deadpan, unalarmed timbre expands on Wise and von Fritsch's Curse of the Cat People, the "flying" sequence stems from Mulligan's The Other, a pop song is repeated until its drippy circularity embodies dark enchantment itself. Summer's over, back to class -- will reactionary values be perpetuated, or extinguished? This tiny tower questions her stagnant surroundings, and meets and overthrows her aunt's stock reproach: "You're still too young." With Florinda Chico.
--- Fernando F. Croce