Blame It on Fidel (2006)

 “It’s not easy learning that Mickey Mouse is a fascist.”

From filmmaker Julie Gavras (daughter of political filmmaker Costas-Gavras, director of Z and State of Siege), Blame It on Fidel focuses on the subject of politics from the viewpoint of a precocious nine-year-old child, Anna de la Mesa (Nina Kervel-Bey).

fidelI am not a fan of films seen from a child’s viewpoint as all too often the plots sink into cliché and sentimentality. Not so in Blame It on Fidel. Nina Kervel-Bey, who plays the nine-year-old Anna is a phenomenal actress who plays her role with gusto. Anna is an interesting, but not particularly easy child. She’s far too intelligent to fall for most of the stories she’s told, and she eavesdrops, mulls over what she hears, and then comes to some very interesting, independent conclusions regarding the world she lives in.

When the film begins, Anna and her baby brother live in a nice section of Paris in a spacious home. Anna’s father, Fernando de la Mesa (Stefano Accorsi) is a wealthy Spanish lawyer who’s married to Marie (Julie Depardieu), a writer for Marie Claire. Shortly after the film begins, Fernando’s communist sister and niece arrived from Spain. His brother-in-law has been killed. This event causes the de la Mesas, Fernando and Marie to embrace political activism. The de la Mesas lifestyle alters drastically. They move into a cramped apartment, and instead of a servant, friends help with the care of the children. Meanwhile, at Marie’s insistence, Anna continues in the local convent school, but she is removed from religious instruction classes.

As Marie and Fernando become increasingly involved in left wing causes, Anna’s grandmother (Marie’s mother), a very wealthy woman, is horrified. To her, communists represent a threat to her lifestyle, so some of her concerns spread to Anna. And to Anna, her grandmother’s fears seem justified when Marie and Fernando leave the children and travel to Chile where they actively campaign for the election of Allende. In time, Anna’s cramped Paris flat hosts various left wing activists who come and go at all hours of the night.

Blame It on Fidel delicately capitalizes on Anna’s skepticism. Here’s a child wrapped in a protective cocoon of privilege and wealth until her parents abruptly exchange their value system with little or no explanation. Anna tries to make sense of it–sometimes with amusing results. There’s one scene, for example, in which Anna takes the idea of group solidarity to a new level. In many ways, Anna seems more mature than her parents, but perhaps that’s because their idealism has yet to be challenged. There’s the sense that Anna’s parents are still in a state of flux while Anna is firmly rooted in her belief system. Her inflexible insistence on playing ‘shop’ and turning a profit astounds and flummoxes the revolutionaries who try to educate Anna out of her behaviour. Anna’s character–stubborn and immutable–shines through in every scene. Although Blame it on Fidel could so easily have sunk into clichés, instead it succeeds, and it’s thanks in large part to this terrific little actress’s performance. Based on the novel by Domitilla Calamai, Blame It on Fidel is in French with subtitles.

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