“Cousin Angelica” – a Story about (Un)Memory

Cousin Angelica


Title: “Cousin Angelica” (“La prima Angelica”)

Release Date: 1974

Director: Carlos Saura

Cast: Jose Luis Lopez Vazquez, Lina Canalejas, Fernando Delgado, Maria Clara Fernandez de Loaysa, etc.


Carlos Saura’s film “Cousin Angelica”, which won the Cannes Prize, is a work that belongs to the cycle recalling the Spanish Civil War. The nostalgic tale of childhood is woven from the protagonist’s individual memories, which together make up the complicated situation of Spain after World War II.

In “Anna and the Wolves”, a Spanish matron, recalling her son Juan’s childhood, tells of his indecent love for a certain cousin Angelica. Saura’s next work is therefore a clear reference to this statement, building a kind of bridge between the two pictures. Nevertheles, while in the former film the director tells the story of the Spanish Civil War in allegorical language, in the latter he presents literal images from that time. This does not mean, however, that Saura adopts a realistic perspective, for he chooses as the medium for his story a mature man who was just over 10 years old in 1936. The viewer has access only to the main character’s memories, so he learns the story through the prism of a child’s experience, in which memory is mixed with imagination.

The plot of “Cousin Angelica” is not very complicated. Here, Luis (Jose Luis Lopez Vazquez) comes from Madrid to Segovia to bury his mother’s ashes in her hometown. A sentimental journey to his childhood world triggers memories of the Civil War, whose beginning found him at his grandmother’s house in Segovia. Luis’ thoughts also revive his childhood and forbidden love for his beautiful cousin Angelique. It turns out that the now mature woman still lives in the same place, and her daughter (Maria Clara Fernandez de Loaysa) bears a striking resemblance to her own youth. Angelica (Lina Canalejas) is going through a marital crisis and gives Luis tentative signals of interest. In the end, he doesn’t respond to them and, as before, suddenly returns to Madrid.

Cousin Angelica movie review

“Cousin Angelica” – a Freudian conception of existence

“Cousin Angelica”, like many of Saura’s other films, draws on the theories of Sigmund Freud in its conception of human destiny. It is the Austrian psychiatrist who believed that childhood is the prefiguration of adult life. The most important things happen during this period, while adulthood is a constant struggle with childhood complexes and unprocessed trauma. This is the case with Luis, whose entire adult life and relationships with women reflect his childhood. This construction of the main character also has a symbolic dimension – Saura shows that contemporary Spain will never cut itself off from the events of the past, and the stigma of the civil war will weigh on it forever.

“Cousin Angelica” also evokes Freudian trauma therapy. For in psychoanalysis, the treatment of trauma involves telling the past. Simply returning to childhood and bringing subconscious fears to light is supposed to result in recovery. So Luis returns to his hometown to confront his past. He recalls his school, dominated by political ideology, and his childhood religiousness. The latter was shaped by the church through a system of prohibitions burdened with the fear of eternal damnation. Saura’s significant trick, whereby we do not see the protagonist as a child, but only his adult incarnation juxtaposed with childhood situations, emphasizes the therapeutic process going on in his psyche. Furthermore, only as a man can he face his childhood fears and grasp their absurdity.

“Cousin Angelica” – the dialectic of memory and imagination

In “Cousin Angelica” the story itself is also interesting. Saura shows that a story about history is never objective, because it is woven from the memory of individual witnesses. This in turn is a very complicated creation – it is a kind of mixture of real experiences, feelings, dreams, and even imagination. In other words, everyone has his or her own story, which not only reflects what really happened, but also contains an inherent interpretation of those facts.

Cousin Angelica 1974 film analysis

The Spanish Civil War remains in Luis’ memory an absurd event that forever changed the fate of his family and divided his closest people, placing them on opposite sides of the barricades. The protagonist’s father, as a Republican, is subject to infamy even years later. Therefore moving his mother’s ashes to the family tomb has a symbolic dimension – it is an attempt to cope with the trauma of the past.

“Cousin Angelica” – nostalgia for a lost paradise

“Cousin Angelica” is a film that uses the poetics of nostalgia. It manifests a sentiment for lost childhood and unhappily ended love. The protagonist’s most painful experience during the civil war is the sudden and incomprehensible separation from his beloved. When they decided to flee to Madrid together as children, they were intercepted by a military patrol and Angelique’s angry father immediately sent Luis back to his father.

This event affected the whole life of both of them – for Angelique would be unhappy in her marriage and Luis would remain lonely. Had they had the chance, would their lives have turned out differently? We don’t know. But surely their hearts will remain forever torn apart, just as Spain’s heart was torn apart.

E. Królikowska, „Śladami Buñuela. Kino hiszpańskie”, Warszawa 1988.