A smart little girl's bourgeois certainties are subjected to the upheaval of her parents' abrupt political activism in "Blame It on Fidel." Wonderfully engaging look at 1970-71 from a child's p.o.v. is a splendidly cast trip back to a time when French women had not yet won the right to legal abortion and the redistribution of wealth in Chile and beyond seemed possible if only enough like-minded people took to the streets with militant fervor.

A smart little girl’s bourgeois certainties are subjected to the upheaval of her parents’ abrupt political activism in “Blame It on Fidel.” Wonderfully engaging look at 1970-71 from a child’s p.o.v. is a splendidly cast trip back to a time when French women had not yet won the right to legal abortion and the redistribution of wealth in Chile and beyond seemed possible if only enough like-minded people took to the streets with militant fervor. Fiction debut by Julie Gavras (daughter of Costa) makes the political personal with a light, painless touch that should translate into offshore niche play.

Winner of the MPA’s Michel D’Ornano Prize for a promising first French film, pic world-preemed at Deauville before a Nov. 29 bow in Gaul.

Prim and proper 9-year-old Anna (Nina Kervel) smugly demonstrates her ability to cut a piece of fruit just-so with a knife and fork at the kiddie table at a wedding. At Catholic girls’ school, she revels in her excellent grades and adores catechism class. Anna lives in a spacious house with father Fernando (Stefano Accorsi), a lawyer from a wealthy Spanish family; mother Marie (Julie Depardieu), who writes for a popular French women’s mag, and younger brother Francois (Benjamin Feuillet).

Fernando has just smuggled his sister and her daughter out of Spain where the sister’s Communist militancy was too dangerous. Housekeeper Filomena (Marie-Noelle Bordeaux), however, doesn’t appreciate the guests insofar as she’s a Cuban exile who lost everything because of Castro.

Anna gathers that Commies are bad, so becomes confused when her parents decide to trade their house, garden and servant for a much smaller apartment after a trip to Latin America puts their social consciences in overdrive.

Their new home is suddenly overrun with bearded revolutionaries discovering the glories of collective action into the wee hours. Impeccable hair-dos and tailored clothes give way to colorful hippie garb. Marie starts tape recording wrenching testimony for a book on how women suffer from the unavailability of legal abortion.

Pic’s humor and poignancy is in Anna’s struggle to assimilate so much new information that flies in the face of her former routine. Dad forbids her to read “fascist” Mickey Mouse comics. A street demonstration broken up by smoke bombs and riot police is particularly well depicted from Anna’s low-to-the-ground position in the crowd.

Time frame from September 1970 to September 1971 is packed with history with a capital H: Charles De Gaulle’s death, the watershed petition signed by more than 300 prominent French women admitting they’d undergone illegal abortions, Salvador Allende’s election. Big events are intelligently integrated into the storytelling building blocks of class, nationality, gender, religion and dedication to a cause bigger than oneself.

The book from which the pic is adapted showed the early 1970s from an Italian girl’s p.o.v.; the switch to France is seamless and accomplished. Helmer elicits a resonant and memorable perf from appealingly precocious Kervel as Anna. Production design is tops and score is heard just enough.

Blame It on Fidel

France-Italy

Production

A Gaumont release of a Gaumont presentation of a Gaumont, Les Films du Worso, B Movie, France 3 cinema co-production. (International sales: Gaumont, Neuilly sur Seine, France.) Produced by Sylvie Pialat. Executive producer, Mathieu Bompoint. Co-producer (Italy), Fabio Conversi. Directed, written by Julie Gavras, based on the novel "Tutta Colpa di Fidel" by Domitilla Calamai. Script collaborators, Arnaud Cathrine, Jacques Fieschi, Olivier Dazat.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Nathalie Durand; editor, Pauline Dairou; music, Aramnd Amar; production designer, Laurent Deroo; costume designer, Annie Thiellement; sound (Dolby), Nicolas Naegelen; assistant director, Alain Artur; casting, Coralie Amedeo. Reviewed at Dames Augustins screening room, Neuilly sur Seine, France, July 28, 2006. (In Deauville Film Festival -- non-competing.) Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Nina Kervel, Julie Depardieu, Stefano Accorsi, Martine Chevallier, Gabrielle Vallieres, Marie-Noelle Bordeaux, Benjamin Feuillet, Olivier Perrier, Marie Kremer, Raphael Personnaz, Mar Sodupe, Christiana Markou, Thi Thy Tien N'Guyen.

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