Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Blame it on Fidel!

The original title "La Faute à Fidel"

Directed by Julie Gavras

France 2006

There is something amazing in showing political upheavals through the eyes of a child. This approach helps to avoid dangerous cliches, didactics, stereotypes or predictability. The trick was used wonderfully in Chilean “Machuca” and Brazilian “The Year my parents went on Vacation”, both dealing with military dictatorships in Latin America in 1970s. Now “Blame it on Fidel” perfectly recreates the excitement of the same time, a period both turbulent and exciting, but clasps few different threads and experiences of different countries all together. There is Cuban revolution, election and assassination of Chilean president Salvador Allende, wave of French feminist movement with an aim to legalize abortion and political refugees from Franco's Spain. This sounds like serious stuff but although in my opinion it is one of the best films about politics in recent years and for anyone who cares about such matters it's a must-see, "Blame it On Fidel" is also a comedy about a little girl who just wants things to be as they were before and a portrait of loving relatives on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Julie Gavras, the daughter of political cinema icon, leftwing director Costa-Gavras, makes it clear where her sympathies lie but doesn't have a political agenda and stays away from judgements or comments. Instead of following her father's radical storytelling methods, she opts for a more delicate coming-of-age tale and chooses to cast a watchful gaze over the mood of the time.

This exceptionally intelligent feature film debut of Julie Gavras (following a string of documentaries) is a story of a wealthy, but increasingly politicized family with a conservative daughter. Nine year-old Anna de la Mesa (spectacular Nina Kervel-Bey), a Catholic schoolgirl in in the early 1970s' France, who loves catechism classes and her family's comfortable bourgeois lifestyle, is outraged by her parents' newly acquired political activism. As her daily life is drastically revised she resists change with the ferocious determination. Anna’s father Fernando (Stefano Accorsi), a lawyer from an upper-class Spanish family, feeling guilty for living with the knowledge of his family’s close relationship with the Franco regime and inspired by his sister's opposition to it, devotes his professional skills to a group of left-wing Chilean exiles as they campaign for the election of Salvador Allende as Chile’s president. Anna's mother Marie (Julie Depardieu, daughter of Gérard), a French glam magazine journalist-turned-writer becomes devout feminist and demonstrates for abortion rights.

As a result Anna's luxury life and her established routines are over. To her horror, all of the things she has considered to be good and right are suddenly swept away by her parents' new leftist view. Everything is turned upside down: she must drop her religious classes, adjust to refugee nannies, international cuisine and a cramped apartment full of noisy revolutionaries, constantly talking about redistribution of wealth and solidarity. It is a tumultuous time too: Charles de Gaulle, the hero of Anna’s grandparents, dies, Allende is elected Chile’s president, and 300 prominent Frenchwomen risk prosecution by signing a petition declaring that they have had abortions.

Anna is confused by these political and cultural crosscurrents. Her beloved nanny, Filomena, a Cuban exile who lost everything in Castro’s revolution, regales Anna with her hatred of communists. After Filomena is dismissed, Anna’s new Greek nanny and then another nanny, from Vietnam, bombard her with theirs cultures' creation myths that clash with Anna's strict Roman Catholic education. She must construct from this ideological maze her own set of beliefs. Slowly she begins to understand the realities behind such vague concepts as "communist", "abortion" and "solidarity". The youngster is smart, though and easily engages in political discussions.

When a Chilean exile peels an orange and patiently explains to Anna that some people want the fruit all to themselves, while others believe in sharing it, and then hands her a section, she starts to appreciate her parents change of attitude. She is still evolving when the film ends as, finally pulled by her parents from her Catholic school, she ventures onto the playground at public school for the first time. But to be convincing and reject allegations of potentially false idealism, just before it “Blame It on Fidel” also offers domestic battle in which Marie’s feminism clashes with her husband’s unwitting male supremacism, and everything the couple believe is called into question.

Brilliant movie! I have enjoyed it very much.

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