La prima Angélica / Cousin Angelica (1974)

2 08 2014

Spanish playwright Ramón del Valle-Inclán once said, “Things are not as we see them, but as we remember them.” The phrase seemed to stick with filmmaker Carlos Saura and writer Rafael Azcona, as it became the inspiration for the two’s 1974 collaboration, Cousin Angelica. Memory, perhaps because so many of us experience it through certain visual cues, is an immediately cinematic sensation. Saura doesn’t construct his images with the flash and poetry of someone like Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, whose Memories of Underdevelopment seems to be touching on a similar impulse. Instead, Saura smashes the past and the present into the same image, constantly manipulating the continuity of a single shot. The result is unique, to say the least, and if nothing else, it proves that describing a film as “dream-like” can mean just about anything.

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Traveling from Barcelona to Segovia to bury his mother remains, Luis recounts his visit in 1936. It was there, right in the middle of the Spanish Civil War, that he met and fell in his love with his cousin Angelica. Meanwhile, in the present, Angelica is now married with a daughter of her own, also named Angelica. Her daughter is the same age she was during Luis’ last visit, they appear to be the same person. Similarly, Luis can’t shake the memory of Angelica’s fascist father being the same physically as her husband, although actual photographs suggest that there is no resemblance at all.

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While Saura does present an entirely new way of linking the present with the past, it might be of use to mark some familiar territory. If there’s one film that seems to operate on a similar ground as Saura’s, it’s the final film of fellow countrymen Luis Bunuel, That Obscure Object of Desire. There, one woman is represented by two different actresses. While Bunuel is meditating on something else entirely, he and Saura share for the mise-en-scene to be jarring as opposed to Alea’s more familiar (think Malick) route where the editing juxtaposes two different realities or periods of time. Saura manages to capture two different period of times within one frame, and does so with a calculated and precise eye.

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This plays out in a fascinating, almost mysterious nature while watching the film. In one sequence, Luis and Angelica seem to recapture their love from the summer of 1936. They climb on top of a roof and embrace. Cut to a static shot inside the window they climbed out of, and we hear, off-screen, Angelica’s father of the past or her modern day husband. Because the two are played by the same actor, a connection made from our point of view, Luis’  brain, there is a tension not in where the film is, but when the film is. Because Luis’ memories are interacting with the present, the answer might be both the past and the present. That sounds needlessly complicated, but it is reflective of the film’s greatest strength: the dedication to filming the experience as Luis himself would both comprehend, reflect, and respond to it.

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