Blame It On Fidel
This review was written for the festival screening of "Blame It on Fidel" (La Faute a Fidel).
PARK CITY -- Documentary filmmaker Julie Gavras has made a successful transition into narratives with the remarkably assured, thoroughly delightful "Blame It on Fidel" (La Faute a Fidel).
Adapted with considerable grace and style from an Italian novel by Domitilla Calamai, Gavras has reset the story of social unrest as seen through the eyes of a young girl in France circa 1970.
The beautifully observed, terrifically acted production, screened as part of the expanded dramatic World Cinema Competition at Sundance, where it was met with an enthusiastic audience response, should have no trouble charming a suitable American distributor. It opened in France late last year.
When we first meet the fiercely logical Anna (splendidly performed by Nina Kervel), the 10-year-old has been living an orderly, comfortable middle-class existence with her French journalist mother, Marie (Julie Depardieu), and Spanish attorney father, Fernando (Stefano Accorsi).
But her structured, bourgeois lifestyle is about to undergo a serious upheaval when her parents turn into radical political activists after Fernando's sister and daughter arrive from Spain to live with them following the arrest of her anti-Franco husband.
The visit has triggered guilty feelings of familial neglect in her father, and after her parents return from an extended trip to Chile, Anna is thrust kicking and screaming into a daunting new world while her little brother Francois resiliently embraces the new developments.
Suddenly, Anna's former spacious home with a garden is replaced by a cramped apartment where women being interviewed for her mother's book on women's abortion issues and strange, scruffy young men come and go all hours of the day and night. Her beloved Castro-bashing Cuban nanny has been replaced by a succession of refugees who cook weird food, and she's forced to sit out her Catholic school's Divinity classes.
Through it all, Anna's constantly questioning, big brown eyes speak volumes as writer-director Gavras -- who comes by her political interests naturally as the daughter of famed filmmaker Costa-Gavras -- adroitly adds in witty dollops of irony to go along with all the conflicting ideologies.
Things come to a visually stirring turning point during a powerful sequence in which Anna is brought along on a protest with her parents and riot police turn back the crowds with tear gas.
The look on the girl's face, simultaneously registering fear, confusion and a strange, wise-beyond-her-years comprehension as she's enveloped in a suffocating gray haze, is a testament to young Kervel's exceptional portrayal (watch out, Dakota Fanning!), Gavras' never-heavy touch and cinematographer Nathalie Durand's artfully thoughtful compositions.
BLAME IT ON FIDEL
A Gaumont presentation in association with Les Films du Worso
Screenwriter-director: Julie Gavras
Producers: Sylvie Pialat, Matthieu Bompoint
Director of photography: Nathlie Durand
Art director: Laurent Deroo
Editor: Pauline Dairou
Costume designer: Annie Thiellement
Marie: Julie Depardieu
Fernando: Stefano Accorsi
Anna: Nina Kervel
Francois: Benjamin Feuillet
Grandpa: Olivier Perrier
Granny: Martine Chevallier
Running time -- 110 minutes
No MPAA rating