La faute Fidel! (Blame It on Fidel!) (2006)
Director: Julie Gavras.
Starring: Nina Kervel-Bey (Anna de la Mesa), Julie Depardieu (Marie de la Mesa), Stefano Accorsi (Fernando de la Mesa), Benjamin Feuillet (François de la Mesa), Martine Chevallier (Bonne Maman), Olivier Perrier (Bon Papa), Marie Kremer (Isabelle), Raphaël Personnaz (Mathieu, le marié), Mar Sodupe (Marga), Gabrielle Vallires (Cécile), Raphaëlle Molinier (Pilar), Carole Franck (Soeur Genevive), Marie Llano (Mre Anne-Marie), Marie Payen (La mre poule), Marie-Noëlle Bordeaux (Filomena).
a married couple in Paris 1970-1971 become radicalized which deeply affects their nine year old child
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
The Spaniard Fernando de la Mesa and his French wife Marie have two children: nine years old Anna and the even younger François. Recently, Fernando's sister Marga and her daughter Pilar have lost their husband and father respectively. His name was Quino. Quino and Marga were communists and worked very hard on various political causes. Fernando has temporarily taken his sister and niece into their home.
The film opens at a marriage of Marie's brother Mathieu to a woman named Isabelle. Anna is a bit upset. She asks her mother why is father always with Pilar and her mother? What she really wants to know is if Pilar and her mom will be going back to Spain? Anna even says to her father that she wants them to go home. Dad explains to Anna that they can't do that. They just smuggled his sister and niece out of Spain after the death of Anna's Uncle Quino. Now the family must take care of their guests. Marga says that for fifteen years she fought against injustices alongside Quino.
Anna attends all girls classes at a Catholic school. Back at home she asks her mother why did Dad lose his job? Mom only tells Anna not to bother her father now. The maid/nanny Filomena is upset with the family's guests. She says they are communists! And the one thing she hates is communists. She says she had to leave Cuba because of the communist Fidel Castro. What she really hopes for is that Anna's aunt leaves soon.
Filomena brushes Anna's hair and kisses her affectionately. Anna's school friend Cécile is over at the house and she says that Anna's father must be Spanish too, if his sister is Spanish. Anna asks Filomena what is a communist? After hearing the explanation, Anna figures communists don't study the Bible and move around a lot.
Anna overhears her mother ask dad why doesn't he become a lawyer for political refugees? Her parents leave for Chile for a couple of weeks. Filomena watches the children. Anna and François are upset with their parents because they change their return date three times to later dates. The news of the day is that the French military and political leader Charles de Gaulle has died.
Anna's parents return. She can't believe how different they look. Something has changed them in Chile. Mom and dad say that Chile has far too many poor people. They say they were in Santiago, Chile when the socialist leader Salvador Allende got elected to be the president. Although Allende is the president, there are many threats of a putsch. They also tell Anna that they will have to live more cheaply now that there are doing so much political work. Mom says she will still write for the Marie Claire magazine. Dad will help Allende establish relations with France. Anna is not happy about "changes" that are "coming". Her father tells her not to worry about the changes.
Anna blames Marga and Pilar for the big change. One of the worst changes for Anna was that they had to get rid of Filomena, because they could not afford to pay her. Filomena tells Anna that she thinks she was fired because her parents became communists. She tells Anna that she is like her, driven out of her home like Fidel drove her out of her home. Anna concludes that, therefore, it must all be the fault of this Fidel guy.
In the new home Anna is upset because her parents are always having strange political people over to the house. She meets two Chileans for Allende named Emilio and Pierre. After talking a little with Anna they tell her father that his daughter is a reactionary. They also ask why does he put his daughter in Catholic school? He says it is mostly to please her mother. This makes Anna mad and she says that her school is just fine, adding: "You liked lit, too!"
At night dad scolds his daughter for reading a comic book. He says: "Mickey Mouse is a fascist!" He can't remember the name of the new nanny. It's Panayota, says Anna. Dad says that she had to flee from Greece where her husband is in jail.
In school Anna is told that her parents want her out of Bible study. This makes Anna upset, mad and sad at the same time. When her mother comes home, Anna asks her why can't she have Bible study? In fact, she says, she wants Bible study, her old house and Filomena. She adds and a bath before dinner. Her mom is so irritated at her that she takes her into the bath tub and gives her a wet down with the shower attachment. Anna repeats three times: "I hate you."
Anna asks her mother if they are poor now? Mom says they are not rich, but they certainly are not poor. Anna wants to know if they could move back to the old place if they had enough money. Still feeling they are somewhat poor, Anna starts stealing pocket change out of the jacket pockets of her fellow students. This, of course, gets her into trouble. When mom asks her why, Anna says it was to pay for their bills. Since she can't keep stealing, Anna becomes super savings conscious and constantly turns off the lights and the hot water heater.
Isabelle is at the house and she is crying. Anna asks her mother why and gets putsout of the room for asking. The only thing she says is that her sister-in-law needs her help. Panayota tells Anna a story from Greek mythology.
Mom tells Anna that she is taking her to see something interesting. Anna thinks it's going to be the zoo and is greatly disappointed that the interesting thing is meeting politically involved women in a house. She asks her mom if these women are Gypsies, because they dress so strangely. Mom learns that Isabelle had an abortion and then left the safe house. This upsets mother. Anna is not pleased and she stops and demands that her mother tell her what is an abortion. Later, says mom.
Dad plays with the kids. Nanny is going to give the children their bath, but there is no hot water. (Anna remains silent.)
Anna and François are really looking forward to their weekly Sunday trip with their parents. But dad tells them that he is going to show them something important: group solidarity! He says in Spain some people are facing the death penalty and those opposed to this are combining forces and protesting. Marga says that it's not a good ideal to take the children to a demonstration. Dad tells her to stop it! In the demonstration, people yell "Franco is a fascist!" and "Stop the Franquists!" All of a sudden the crowd is pelted with canisters of tear gas. People start running in a panic. Anna just stands there and her father has to come and grab her up, telling her: "You have to run!"
Anna confronts her father. She says she knows that they should help the poor and be polite to them, but do they have to put all this effort into the cause? Anna is really angry with her parents. She tells them that she wants to go visit her maternal grandmother and grandfather. She says they at least would not bother her with this "Group Solidarity!" The door is closed in her face. She sits on the top of the stairs leading down to the next floor.
With grandmother and grandfather, Anna sees Isabelle. She still looks very miserable and unhappy. Dinner is very strained because of the tension between Isabelle and her husband.
Dad brings Anna home and her mother comes out and warmly kisses her. One day Panayota doesn't come to pick up Anna and François from school. There is a very young Chinese woman there to pick them up. The children go home with her, but Anna scolds her mother. Mom says she forgot to tell her. Panayota went back to Greece because her husband got out of jail. Mai Lahn from Vietnam will be taking her place. Mom says she should have told her and that she is sorry. Anna growls: "You said to never follow strangers!" Mother responds lamely: "You should have asked François. He knows her."
Anna's school friend Cécile comes over for a sleepover. Cécile is amazed at all the weird people coming in and out of the apartment. And she hates the Vietnamese food of the nanny. And then she happens to see Anna's father in the nude with her first view of a man's penis.
At night Anna gets up to see her parents. There are a lot of people in the apartment, but her mom and dad are not there. She falls asleep in a chair and three Chilean men ask her if she is hungry. She is, so they fix her something to eat. Anna tells them that communists are bad people. They try to convince her otherwise. They show her an orange. Some people want to have the entire orange and don't want to share it with anyone. Other people want to share the orange. Her parents and they, communists, want to share the orange with everyone.
In school Anna has to leave the school room once again because it's time for Bible study. At home Anna gets interested in a poor woman's story as told to her mother. She hears a mention of May of 1968. She asks her father about it and he says it was a time when people demonstrated to change things. He says that he himself missed out on the event. Anna says then dad was wrong. So now she wants to know how can dad be so sure he is not wrong again? Dad just says he's not wrong.
At school Cécile is still mad at Anna. She tells other girls that Anna's parents have become "beatnik-hippy". Anna isn't sure what that means, but she knows it's not good. The two girls get into a physical confrontation. The two mothers are called in. Cécile's mother is very upset and walks out on the meeting with the director. Anna's mother is mad at her daughter.
At home they have a big party with the place full of political radicals. The kids just move in and out around the people. For the first time Anna hears the Spanish Pilar speak French. And for the first time Anna speaks with Pilar. Soon the two girls and Anna's brother are playing tag, running around the people. The people are there to talk about Allende and the municipal elections. Allende wins with 51% percent of the vote. The group sings "Venceremos" ("We will prevail!").
Dad comes home and is furious with mom. He is mad because she signed a petition without consulting him. The petition was signed by 343 French women who dared admit they had an abortion. Dad asks mom how could she do this to him? People will talk. Mom asks dad: "What's this macho act?" The big row continues. Anna gets in between them and dad scares her. She takes her brother by the hand and they go downstairs and out of the apartment building. They go sit in a library. She reads about Chile in a book. Then she reads a book to her brother. After awhile, François asks his sister when they can go home?
They go home and ring the bell. Mom opens the door and François says he is hungry and marches into the apartment. Anna is still a bit defiant. Dad was out looking for the children and comes home to find them already home. Mom and dad are silent. Anna goes into the apartment followed by dad.
Anna decides she wants to take a trip with her father to his home in Spain. Anna wanders around the house. She picks up a scrap book, takes it to her dad, sits in his lap and asks him to go through it with her.
Anna disagrees with the teacher about the interpretation of a story and the nun tells her that she is just wrong. Anna is so mad that she wants to change schools. Mother thinks this is a bit drastic. She says that Anna will miss Cécile if she changes school. Anna says: "It's just like changing nannies. It's sad at first, but if the next one is nice, it's okay."
Over the news Anna learns that President Salvador Allende was killed in a putsch. (Backed by the Americans, of course.) She sees her father staring out the window. She goes over to him and takes his hand in hers.
Anna goes to a public school. It is a lot more frenetic with a greater variety of faces. It's sheer anarchy compared to the order of the Catholic school. Some girls playing a ring-around-the-rosy game invite Anna to join in and she does.
The film is said to be about a child trying to make sense of the world. But in one sense it is more about the abuse and neglect of the children by their very politically-committed parents. In their concern over the protection of the rights of others, they tended to forget about and ignore their children. The parents were even too busy to answer little Anna's important questions. They could have made the life of Anna so much easier if they had just discussed things with her. They were discussing politics with so many people, but supposedly they couldn't find time to discuss things with their children? Even when Anna was full of rage at them, which should have been obvious to everyone, her parents still did not relent. They still would not sit down and talk to the poor girl. So the film is more about bad parents that create mixed-up children. Childhood need not be that hard, if parents are a bit more considerate. (Now if they had been refugee children, their parents might have paid attention to Anna and her brother.)
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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