February 24, 2007
Blame It On Fidel, 2006
It perhaps comes as no surprise that the astute social observation and political acuity so integral to the wry, infectious, and irresistible whimsical humor of Blame it on Fidel comes from first (non documentary) feature filmmaker Julie Gavras, whose father, Costa Gavras, continues to redefine the bounds of political filmmaking with his distinctive blueprint for crafting articulate and thought-provoking historical docu-fiction. Set in 1970 France, the film opens to the insightful close-up image of cherubic, Catholic school girl, Anna (Nina Kervel) commanding (or rather, demanding) the attention of her dining companions by demonstrating the proper way to peel an orange using only silverware, much to the assorted bemusement - and indifference - of the children in the designated kids' table of a wedding banquet. But beyond Anna's projected confidence in demonstrating her impeccable table manners, the auspicious occasion has already begun to sow the seeds of confusion for the young heroine, as her father, a Spanish expatriate and successful trial attorney named Fernando (Stefano Accorsi) covertly scuttles his sister and niece from Spain following the arrest of Anna's left-leaning uncle for political agitation, moves them in with the family, and invariably becomes galvanized into his own acts social action by his sister's impassioned stories of struggle and resistance. Their unexpected arrival also causes consternation for the family housekeeper, Filomena (Marie-Noëlle Bordeaux), a Cuban exile whose family was brought to ruin and forced to flee the country after Fidel Castro's rise to power, and who now sees the introduction of communists into the de la Mesa household as a harbinger for an inevitably great calamity. Meanwhile, Anna's mother, Marie (Julie Depardieu), increasingly dissatisfied with her career as a journalist relegated to writing women's issue fluff pieces for Marie Claire, decides to embark on her own independent research for an exposé on the (then) taboo subject of reproductive rights with unexpected - and life-altering - consequences. In her remarkable perceptivity and even-handed approach towards depicting the repercussions of transformative change and ideological awakening from all facets of social life, Gavras emerges from her father's formidable shadows and into her own luminous spotlight as a conscientious and assured filmmaker, creating a charming and deceptively lighthearted, yet incisive survey of the cultural climate in the immediate aftermath of May 68, when the disappointment of the failed national revolution was seen, not as a death knell signal to the left movement, but as a momentary stumbling towards a still vital - and seemingly within reach - global wave of social revolution, a continued idealistic euphoria that was crystallized by the ground-breaking popular candidacy of socialist Salvador Allende in Chile. Capturing the profound trajectory of young Anna's own domestic struggle to make sense of her parents' newly (re-)awakened militancy through the subtle, yet poetic closing image of Anna, no longer in the center of her own dainty, cultivated - if insular - universe, but rather, among the diverse milieu and controlled chaos of multicultural children playing in the schoolyard, the film is a potent, uncompromisingly intelligent, and refreshing portrait of the enervating confusion and sublime exhilaration of social awakening.