While Blame it on Fidel, written and directed by Julie Gavras, isn’t fantastical like its French-film compatriot Amelie, it does possess a certain amount of its own magic, albeit of a more understated variety. The story, set in 1970s France, is an exploration of ideology, observing its effect on one little girl who’s presented with various political philosophies over the course of the film.
Our heroine, Anna (Nina Kervel-Bey), is a smart, strong-willed nine-year-old who lives a charmed life with her young, successful parents until her revolutionary uncle is executed in Spain. Anna’s father (Stefano Accorsi), moved by the death of his brother, leaves his high-paying job as a lawyer to take up the cause of the socialist movement in Chile, and things begin to change pretty rapidly.
These changes are none too pleasing to Anna, who loved her big house and Cuban nanny, Filomena — two of the first things to go. She’s cramped in smaller apartments, with strange new women to take care of her and her brother, while her parents gallivant around the globe, fighting for a cause she doesn’t understand. All the while, she’s bombarded by conflicting ideologies, courtesy of her parents and grandparents, the nuns at her school, and the Che Guevara knock-off activists that now frequent her home, strategizing politial change with mummy and daddy. All of this is confusing for Anna, and she resists the change tooth and nail, even though everywhere she looks someone is trying to convince her of some different point of view.
The performances are solid throughout, especially Kervel-Bey. It’s always a little bit surprising when a child actor manages to act naturally on the big screen, and this young actress accomplishes something even more impressive — subtlety. It’s not difficult to understand how Anna is feeling, and not because Kervel-Bey is hamming it up, but because her mannerisms are so spot on.
The only major fault of the film is that at times it treads uncomfortably close to preaching to the audience. At the beginning of the movie, Anna’s parents are obscenely negligent, going so far as to even take their children to a street protest (which is subsequently broken up by the police). That perspective is balanced out later on when the script fleshes out her parents’ personalities, and we begin to understand that they aren’t just overzealous, over-stretched radicals who happen to have children, but real people who’ve been affected by tragedy, and who are changing just as rapidly as Anna.
When all is said and done, the film doesn’t exactly endorse any one ideology so much as it acknowledges the abundance of different beliefs that are out there. It’s no surprise that Anna appears ready to accept her parents’ perspective by the end of the film; it was a foregone conclusion. Then again, as with most good films, the point isn’t the end result; what’s important is the steps the people we’re watching make along the way. To that end, Blame it on Fidel is an enjoyable and appealing family film. Don’t let the subtitles turn you away.
Cornell Cinema will be showing Blame It on Fidel Saturday, February 9, Sunday, February 10th and Tuesday, February 12th. All showings are at 7:15pm in Willard Strait Hall.