*A 2007 (U.S.) Release*
In one of the several amusingly clever moments in the new early-1970s set French film, Blame It on Fidel! (La Faute Fidel!), the kid brother of our 9-years-old protagonist inquires of her: Shall we play Allende and Franco? I'll be Allende, he's a good guy. This after the duo had hidden from a gendarme outside the Chilean consulate in Paris under the assumption that they might be napalmed, and before one breaks out an Ay Carmela!, a Spanish Republican song, once being retorted regarding Franco.
Produced by Sylvie Pialat, widow of the late, great Maurice Pialat, and directed by Julie Gavras, daughter of the renowned political filmmaker Costa-Gavras, this wry, charming and delightful but also socio-politically acute effort is taken from the point-of-view of the aforementioned Anna (Nina Kervel), the feisty and precocious daughter of a Spanish-born trial attorney (Italian star Stefano Accorsi) and a feminist writer (Julie Depardieu, daughter of Gerard). Annas perfect little world is at the least turned sideways when at a wedding she witnesses her dad consoling his newly arrived sister from Spain. She later discovers that her hitherto politically quiescent dad had to salvage the remains of his communist family from the grips of Francos fascist rgime, and that they will be sharing the house with them for a little while (much to the chagrin of her high-strung Cuban-exiled nanny, whos not only responsible for the title of the film but also the term barbudos, "bearded and godless 'Reds' whore constantly on the move").
And it isnt long that Annas suddenly activist parents are seen packing for Chile to scope out the situation and to see if they could make a difference for the Socialist Party (and its Marxist head Salvador Allende) in the upcoming elections. In their absence, Anna and her brother spend some time with their Charles de Gaulle-supporting grandparents, well-meaning individuals who favor to preserve the bourgeois status quo. Not so the case with the duos parents, as once they return, the family moves to a smaller dwelling and institutes a few other social and lifestyle changes, not all of which go down well with Anna (her now very bearded dad Right-fully starts referring to her as pequea momia or little mummy), even though she manages to keep her much-cherished catechism class for the time-being. De Gaulle dies a few days after Mr. Allende assumes presidency in Chile. The rest, as a few of us know, is history.
Gavras adapted this film, her first fiction effort, from an Italian novel called Tutta colpa di Fidel, which was written by her friend Domitilla Calamai. Shes not only seamlessly moved the setting to France, but given the time frame her decision to incorporate Chilean politics is also very appropriate (and so is her use of a scene from Patricio Guzmns The Battle of Chile [1975-79] at a key moment). (Gavras has credited her fathers 1982 effort, Missing, for this process, which he made when she was 12.) Its rather remarkable how well she manages to distribute the array of ideologies -- not only political but religious and mythological as well (the latter courtesy of Annas new Greek and Vietnamese nannies) -- without resorting to polemics. Nor are there many instances where things are over-simplified: Gavras occasionally accentuates her primary motif by allowing us a childs-eye view of the proceedings, thus suggesting that the protagonist is distilling the received knowledge.
Nevertheless, it still may come as a surprise to some that this isnt an arty, high-minded effort. Its perhaps a perfectly calibrated commercial film, though one which goes about its business with intelligence and efficiency (yes, a lost art in and of itself, and not just in Hollywood). Of course, those familiar with its politics are likely to appreciate it more, but the frequent humorous inserts, not to mention the colorful palette (with Red being the dominant) and the fluid mise-en-scne, keep the proceeding enlivened. And, as indelible as the intense and, yes, world-weary performance of Kervel, who makes most other child actors look silly in comparison, the geometry of action in the final shot proves Gavras to be a subtle filmmaker as well. Blame It on Fidel! is one of the best films of the year.