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