The Immortal Story: Divas and Dandies By Jonathan Rosenbaum
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I lived in Zurich before joining Stanley Kubrick on his Napoleon project in 1969. Unfortunately, this film was never made, but I stayed with Stanley for another thirty years. It was in Zurich, in an art-house cinema, that I saw Carlos Saura’s Cría cuervos . . . in 1977, and I was overwhelmed. Back in England, I told Stanley that this was one of the most interesting and delightful films I had seen in years. Since he was a real film buff and always on the lookout for something new and great, he asked me to try to get a print with subtitles from Spain, as the film was not available in the UK. I spoke to Primitivo Álvaro in Madrid, who was instantly helpful and said that he had a 35 mm print with subtitles that we could borrow. A few days later—after cumbersome customs papers for temporary import were completed by our shipping agent; this was before we had a European Union—Stanley’s driver picked the cans up from Heathrow Airport.
Stanley and Christiane invited some friends. My wife and I came, and about twenty people were sitting in Stanley’s lovely screening room and were full of expectations. I was a bit nervous, since one always puts oneself on the line when praising a film so highly. Then the catastrophe: no subtitles. We could not understand the whispering coming from another room. Some noises, unrest. Stanley said we should stop . . . and then silence. We saw this little girl standing on the staircase and watched with her the half-dressed woman running out in a panic. Then this strange behavior near the bed of her dead father, culminating in the careful washing of the almost empty glass. No subtitles needed—not a word was spoken.
Now we knew that a sinister story was to unfold. A riveted audience watched the whole film. I quickly explained about the conversation with the grandmother and the “poisonous” baking powder and similar facts that needed to be understood. They had all figured out the essential points, complex as the story in this masterpiece may be. The most astonishing thing was observing in ourselves our condoning of the little girl’s intent to kill her father—she has not killed him, of course, but it is her intent that matters, and her own belief that she has succeeded, and her satisfaction.
The last time I met Saura was in connection with the Spanish dubbing of Eyes Wide Shut, a film Kubrick considered his greatest contribution to the art of the cinema. It was Stanley’s wish that Saura should oversee this Spanish-language dub of the film, and I was so glad that this could be achieved.