Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Blame it on Fidel

(La faute à Fidel!, Italy/France, 2006)

What a find this movie was! It’s directed by Julia Gavras, daughter of the radical Greek political filmmaker Costa-Gavras, best known in the West for Missing and Z. One of the stars is Julie Depardieu, daughter of Gérard. But these offspring of famous people aside, this movie belongs to 9-year-old Nina Kervel-Bey. She plays Anna, who lives with her moderately well-to-do family in a wonderful old house with a garden, and is well on her way to being an insufferable upper-class bitch princess. Suddenly, events in her extended family cause her parents to reassess their lives. They become radicals, working for the poor and for political change in Chile. They move into a smaller (but still quite nice) apartment in Paris. They are visited by odd people. Gypsies? Communists? Anna hates all this. She is at the age when she wants to feel in control of her life, and now everything is running away from her. (Her younger brother is at the age where he’s up for anything, so long as Mom and Dad say it’s okay.) She’s inquisitive, and won’t take “You wouldn’t understand” for an answer. The truth is, she wouldn’t understand, not at first, anyway, but she is tenacious, she keeps chewing it all over until she gets answers that make sense. Her parents are not very good at this, either; they don’t seem to see how deeply upsetting all this change is to her. They have her taken out of Bible studies classes at her Catholic school, which is devastating to her. Dad tells her Mickey Mouse is a fascist.
There is a great tension set up here, because I am mostly in agreement with her parents’ politics, and I know Gavras is, too, and I know Anna will one day be grateful for the new experiences she’s having, and the new viewpoints she’s being exposed to … but for right now, it sucks, okay? Why do we have to worry about poor people? Can’t we just send them some food, or some money? Why do we have to march in the streets? Why do we have to care about Chile? There is a terrifying sequence when the family is in a crowd that is being tear-gassed, and she gets separated from her father. It’s all filmed from a 9-year-old’s viewpoint, seeing only the lower parts of people in the crowd. In fact, many shots in the film show adults only from the chest down.
She gradually begins to make some sense of her new life, seeing some of the contradictions and hypocrisy of the old life, but there is no moment of epiphany. We just get the impression that a line has been crossed, and though she has learned some sobering things, they are all part of growing up. “All children are conservative,” someone says, and it’s true. They don’t want things to change, but we all soon find that everything changes, that you can’t go back because that place doesn’t exist anymore … and you must move on and make the best of it.
I have to mention that the DVD extras are some of the best I’ve ever seen. There are three short films, and they concentrate on the problems of working with children in films. The little boy admits he thought it was all done in one day, he didn’t know you had to do things over and over and over until you got it right. Little Nina almost seems like an adult when she’s talking about her work, about learning her lines and focusing on her character, and then there will be a burst of 9-year-old devilment. I fell in love with her almost from the first frame, where she was teaching a table full of other children the “proper” way to peel fruit. The little bitch.