Blame It On Fidel
Film: Blame It On Fidel
Release date: 26th May 2008
Running time: 99 mins
Director: Julie Gavras
Starring: Nina Kervel-Bey, Julie Depardieu, Stefano Accorsi, Benjamin Feuillet, Martine Chevallier
Adapted from the novel by Domitilla Calamai, and directed by Julie Gavras, Blame It On Fidel is a coming of age story with a difference. Taking the lead from her father, internationally acclaimed filmmaker Costa Gavras, the director has created a political drama set in 1970s France, filmed from the point if view of its 9-year-old protagonist.
Anna is a child of the French bourgeoisie – and proud of it. She lives in a big house in Paris with a garden, and all her and her brother François’s needs are taken care of by their Cuban born Nanny, Philomena. Her father, Fernando, is a successful lawyer, and her mother, Marie, is a journalist for Marie Claire; life is pretty swell. Unfortunately, the arrival of her Spanish activist aunt soon puts an end to all of this, much to Anna’s consternation.
At the start of the film Fernando attempts to explain to Anna that his sister and niece had to be smuggled out of Spain, after his brother-in-law was killed for his political beliefs, and cannot go home. Anna immediately senses the threat to their way of life, and rightly so. Fernando’s guilt at not helping his sister earlier, and the unexpected support of his wife, leads him to quit his job and go to Chile to support the socialist Allende’s campaign for power.
Anna is left increasingly concerned by her parents changed behaviour – they move to a small apartment, have an array of migrant nannies, invite a load of Communists around for dinner, and her mother takes up feminism and compiles a book on women’s experiences of abortion – it is a lot for a 9-year-old to take on board.
Anna retaliates in a series of amusing ways, including turning the lights and heating off to save money and eventually stealing from her class mates, convinced that if they only had more cash they could move back to the big house and life would get back to normal. But, eventually, through her conversations with the adults who surround her, and despite of her parents inconsistencies, Anna starts to adapt to, and even enjoy, her new life…
Blame It On Fidel deals with the complexities of a young girl trying to get to grips with the world. In Anna’s case, this involves forming complex political and religious beliefs. The film is shot from the child’s point of view, and the viewer is as limited in their understanding of events as Anna is herself. She learns about what is going on around her by overhearing conversations, but also through listening to stories that people tell her. At the start of the film, Anna tells her mother that her favourite story is that of Genesis, and her understanding of religion is limited to the narrow view of Catholicism, but by the end she has learnt tales from Greek mythology and Vietnamese folklore, not to mention the ideals of Communist atheism. As a director, Gavras draws the viewers’ attention to the power of stories in forming the beliefs of a society.
When it becomes apparent that Anna’s parents have become Communists, Philomena is outraged and tells Anna that Communists forced her from her home and made her flee to France for safety. She describes them as bearded and red, which turns out to be amusingly close to the truth. Her grandmother is also judgemental of their politics, and believes that communists want to take away her money and house. Anna confronts her parent’s friends with these stereotypes but they laugh it off and try to explain their point of view, utilising an orange as the world cut into segments to be shared. At the beginning of the film, we also see Anna cutting fruit; she lauds it over the other children at the wedding and considers them below her when they do not cut their fruit as neatly. Through these linked scenes, and the symbolism in each of them, the viewer can see that Anna has grown.
There is often humour in this film, which could so easily have been a dry political commentary on post ‘68 France. This is best captured when Anna tries to play shop with the revolutionaries sharing her home, and adds a massive mark-up to the price of the plastic plates on her stall utilising free market economics, while the men try and explain the concept of the redistribution of wealth.
Kervel plays the part of Anna brilliantly throughout, and was picked by the director out of 400 other girls because she so closely resembled the character. This is not to take away from her acting ability, which shines through every pouting mouth and tantrum, ensuring that the viewer cannot help but be on her side through it all as it becomes apparent how fallible and inexplicable adults can be.
Blame It On Fidel is a beautifully shot, well-rounded drama that remains true to its main character and the mood of 1970s France. It can be both confusing and frustrating as the viewer to be forced into the position of a child, but the humour of the film, made possible by this disparity, more than makes up for it.
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