Blame It on Fidel (La Faute à Fidel)

Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Blame It on Fidel (La Faute à Fidel)
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Nine-year old Anna (Nina Kervel) leads a happy life with her well-to-do Spanish lawyer dad, Fernando (Stephano Accorsi), and French glam magazine writer mom, Marie (Julie Depardieu). But, this stable world is about to turn upside down when her parents are bitten by the bug to right the world's wrongs, disrupting the girl's idyllic life, and Anna will "Blame It on Fidel."

Julie Gavras (daughter of the iconic Costas) makes her feature film debut (her first film was the documentary, "Le Corsaire, Le Magician, Le Voleur et Les Enfants") with a wonderful little story seen through the eyes of precocious little Anna.

Things begin to break down in Anna's secure, Catholic school-nurtured life when her Aunt Marga (Mar Sodupe) and cousin Pilar (Raphaelle Molinier) arrive on the de la Mesa family doorstep. Marga's husband was killed by Generalissimo Francisco Franco's troops in the guerilla war against fascism in Spain. Marga's leftist beliefs rub off on Fernando and Marie and they make plans to save the world or, at least, part of it. They move out of their spacious home into more proletariat digs where they make plan to go to Chile to take part in Salvador Allende's bid for that country's presidency. This shift to the left by the de la Mesa couple means that Anna?s once stolid life is going to be turned asunder.

"Blame It on Fidel" is wry political drama that is, in fact, a comedy about a little girl who just wants things to be as they were before. Anna excels at her catechism class and begins a transformation, with the help of Fidel Castro-hating housekeeper Filomena (Marie-Noelle Bordeaux), to conservative thinking the polar opposite of her liberal parents. Of course, their naïve optimism also helps push the youngster to the right.

This sounds like serious stuff but, with Anna at the film's center, there is a light, good-natured feeling to "Blame It on Fidel." Anna, in her new, cramped home, must deal with the constant comings and goings of her parents and their leftist activist friends - the 'barbudos,' as Filomena calls them, the 'bearded' in reference to Castro's famous whiskers. The youngster is so smart, though, she easily engages these men in political discussion. In one delightful scene, Anna plays store with them to get these barbudos to understand the need for a capitalist system. This is both a deeply philosophical scene and one that is laugh out-loud funny. Young Nina Kervel commands the screen as few young actors can and is the real draw to this terrifically complex kids-in-the-world tale.

It helps, too, that helmer Garvas has a first class cast of adults revolving around Anna's world. From her mom and dad, to her grandparents (Martine Chevallier and Olivier Perrier), to the trio of barudos, Emilio (Francisco Lopez Ballo), Pierre (Francisco Pizarro Saenz de (Urtury) and Le Barbu (Alexander Gavras), all flesh out the characters beyond their two-dimensional political lives. Even Anna's younger brother, Francois (Benjamin Feuillet), gets shrift as the sibling Anna must tolerate, sometimes to subtle comic relief moments. Julie Gavras handles her large cast with a sure hand.

Gavras adapts novelist Domitilla Calamai's "Tutta colpa di Fidel" (with collaborator Arnaud Catherine) and creates a period world that is turbulent and exciting. The helmer and her first-rate production crew capture the early 1970's political activism in France while also showing the influence of the Catholic Church on such an intelligent mind as Anna's. Historical moments of the time - the death of Charles de Gaulle in 1970, the rise of Salvador Allende in Chile and his fall to a CIA-backed military junta in 1973, the persecution by Franco of the leftists in Spain - all get good attention.

"Blame It on Fidel" is an adult-level film that does a great job of giving a child's view of a world in the throes of change. I do hope that this gets a kids audience, somewhere, as Anna is a great role model for her peers. This is a spectacular feature film debut for director Gavras and its wonderful little moppet star. I give it an A-.

Julie Gavras, daughter of Costa, makes an impressive feature debut with a work that shows her dad's political chops in a style all her own.  This is simply one of the best film's ever from a child's point of view.  Adapted from a novel by Gavras and Arnaud Cathrine, this exquisitely told tale presents us with Anna de la Mesa (the astounding Nina Kervel-Bey), a pampered princess angered that she must share her home with an unknown aunt and cousin from Spain. Marga (Mar Sodupe) has been extricated from the country by her lawyer brother Fernando (Stefano Accorsi, "L'Ultimo bacio") after her anti-Franco husband was killed.  Now Anna's father's guilt leads him and his feminist wife Marie (Julie Depardieu, "A Very Long Engagement") into a leftist lifestyle that rips the rug out from under their daughter, who goes kicking and screaming into a smaller apartment, a world peopled with foreign sitters and bearded revolutionaries, strange foods and forced removal from her beloved Divinity class.

Frequently hilarious (watch Anna attempt to play 'shop' with three Communist barbudos) and always exceptionally intelligent, "Blame It on Fidel" shows both sides of its political arguments and gives its pouting protagonist an open intelligence that often leaves her parents' arguments stranded (what is the difference between sheep and solidarity, for example).  Playing the type of young girl who simply must come out on top in school, young Nina Kervel-Bey could so easily have become unpleasant with her baby fat pout, but the perplexing state of affairs she finds herself in bring on a maturity that is fascinating to watch.  Gavras's direction of the child as adult and the adults often childish is pitch perfect.  Hands down, of the half films previewed for the MFA's 12th Boston French Film Festival, "Blame it on Fidel" is the best discovery.  It's also one of the best films of the year.

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