BLAME IT ON FIDEL
© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.

Julie Gavras' first fictional movie, BLAME IT ON
FIDEL (LA FAUTE À FIDEL)
, has found a
distributor. When I first saw this gem at the
2007 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, it
provided a memorable time in the theater. The
feature is an adaptation of an Italian novel by
Domitilla Calamai, although Gavras (who wrote
the screenplay with Arnaud Cathrine) has moved
the action from 1968 Italy to 1970 France
without losing much. Instead, it infuses the film
with the director's own memories which in turn
add a new layer of enjoyment for the audience.

BLAME IT ON FIDEL centers on nine-year old
Anna (the remarkable Nina Kerval-Bey), whose
parents, Frnech journalist mother Marie (Julie
Depardieu) and Spanish-born lawyer father
Fernando (Stefano Accorsi), enjoy a comfortably
bourgeois existence. The arrival of Fernando's
sister from Spain after the disappearance and
presumed death of her anti-Franco husband
suddenly rekindles the political in the souls of
both Marie and Fernando. They travel to Chile
and return fired up with renewed revolutionary
passions.

Soon, the family has moved from its large home
with a garden and Cuban housekeeper (who
espouses the titular philosophy and teaches
Anna that Communists are not to be trusted)
and has settled in a cramped apartment where
Anna must share a room with her younger
brother François (Benjamin Feuillet). While her
brother accepts the changes in their lives with
equanimity, Anna resists at every turn,
especially when her mother's parents wonder
aloud if their daughter and her husband have
become Communists.

Strong-willed, Anna does get her parents to
capitulate to some of her demands, including
remaining at a parochial school, although her
father insists that she no longer attend religious
instruction -- even though it is one of Anna's
favorite classes, partly because she enjoys the
Creation story.

Additionally, the youngster is upset by the
succession of housekeeper/nannies. In a
recurring and amusing touch, Anna asks each
one to recount her native country's "creation"
myth. The young girl is further annoyed by her
parents' frequent absences and their penchant
for hosting gatherings of Chilean refugees.
Gavras makes this point subtly and with humor
as in a scene wherein two of these men try to
convince Anna that her capitalist beliefs are
wrong and she absolutely refuses to budge.

The film beautifully captures the interplay
between self-involved parents who expect their
children to embrace their beliefs. It is somehow
sad that neither of Anna's parents can see that
their daughter is indeed a "free-thinker" with
definite opinions of her own. Since Anna's
beliefs don't always dovetail with theirs, her
folks miss this key points. One particularly
troubling sequence demonstrates this: Marie
and Fernando take both of their children to a
protest march and Anna's steadfast and
quizzical reactions to the events unfolding
around her are heartbreaking. After the police
deploy tear gas, Anna remains fixed in place
while everyone else runs away -- until her father
returns and spirits her to safety where they
engage in a political discussion that ends with
her father clearly failing to understand her
perspective.

Accorsi and Depardieu are terrific as the
committed, if clueless, parents who often put
their beliefs and their work before their children.
Young Benjamin Feuillet is fine as the
accommodating François, but the film rests
solely on the shoulders of Nina Kerval-Bey and
this young actress delivers a masterful
performance in her first on screen role.

Perhaps Gavras comes easily to this material:
her father is the esteemed filmmaker
Constantine Costa-Gavras who has made his
share of politically-themed movies (
Z and
MISSING, to name but two). Whatever the
case, she has written and directed a sterling
movie that examines how children can absorb or
reject the values of their parents. My only
caveat about the movie is the title,
BLAME IT
ON FIDEL
, which is the literal translation of
Calamai's novel. Otherwise, this is a
well-crafted movie worth seeking out.


   
Rating:                 B+
   
Running time:        99 mins.
      
Nina Kervel-Bey as Anna de la Mesa in
Blame it on Fidel / La faute à Fidel

Photo Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont