review

Review: Blame it on Fidel

Foreign films have a reputation for being boring. So, a random line from this one:

Mickey Mouse is a fascist! I said don’t read it!

If that’s doesn’t make you sit up and pay attention, nothing will. The line also succinctly explains the chief struggle in Blame it on Fidel (La Faute à Fidel).

Young Anna is a moderately spoiled and conservative nine year old in France in 1970. Conservative not in a deeply political way, but the casual conservatism of child who rather likes her Catholic schools and the nuns that teach there. And rather likes having a big house with a big yard. And rather likes her family’s housekeeper, a Cuban émigré. And seems closer to the woman, Filomena, than her parents. She also share’s Filomena’s distaste for her visiting aunt and cousin–refugees from Franco’s Spain who the refugee from Castro’s Cuba recognizes as socialists.

When the housekeeper’s suspicions–that Anna’s parents would become socialist crusaders–are proved correct, she’s dismissed. Anna’s parents have found passion for socialist movements and are driven to help Salvador Allende’s ascent to power in Chile. To truly pursue this dream they must give up their home and her father’s high-paying job as a lawyer.

This in the first of many seemingly-unbearable changes with which Anna must contend. The move into a smaller apartment and recruitment of a new childminder–a depressed refugee from Greece–don’t help her chronic dissatisfaction with all the changes in her life. She’s further insulted when her parents take her out of divinity lessons, well aware that her socialist cousin had been removed from them as well.

Told that saving is the only way get the money she sees as necessary for the life she wants, Anna takes to pinching pennies, and sometimes even stealing them outright. She regularly turns off as many lights as possible, as well the water heater. Of course, the results aren’t nearly what she desires, seeming to do little more than make her have cold baths from time to time.

What’s amazing and worthwhile in this strained relationship between Anna and her parents is the extent to which it lays bare the logic of arguments hashed out all over the world between radicals and reactionaries. For example, a conversation between Anna (emphasized) and her father after being tear-gassed at a protest:

I’m hungry. I want to go home.

Me. Me. Me. That was group solidarity! We’re here for your future.

My future?

When you’re older, you’ll see that we were right. In Spain they kill men like Quino [Anna’s uncle, killed by Franco’s men]. In Latin America the poor live in shacks.

Ok. We have to help the poor and be polite to them, but why do all that? Let’s do like Granny [who lives in a big house and sometimes donates clothes to the poor]!

The whole thing is by measures inspired and absurd. And much of it delves into history and cultural references that I can only begin to understand. But none of that’s much of a problem. The films constant understated humor sustains the drama throughout.

On the whole, I think it’s a great and important film that I feel certain more should see.

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