Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Blame it on Fidel

Blame it on Fidel
Directed by Julie Gavras
Koch Lorber

Political films face the potential danger of sacrificing story for the sake of the message. Recently, Hollywood has jumped into this trap with both feet, resulting in quick box-office deaths, and even critical drubbings. Nuanced political films that actually do not stack the deck outrageously make for much more interesting viewing, which is why Hollywood ought to sit down and screen Julie Gavras’s Blame it on Fidel.

In Blame, the audience sees an affluent French-Spanish couple’s conversion to Bohemian radicalism through the eyes of their instinctively conservative daughter Anna, played surprisingly effectively by Nina Kervel, with little of the cloying quality typical of child actors. It is her skeptical reactions to her parents scruffy new leftist associates and their hardcore activism that makes Blame almost politically ambiguous.

After moving from their large family house to a cramped flat, Anna starts to lose patience with her parents’ new lifestyle. Her old nanny Filomena, a Cuban refuge from the Castro regime, has been replaced by a Greek exile. When Anna tries to draw a parallel between the two, her father dismisses Filomena’s history, saying “Oh, that’s different.” He even chides her angrily for reading a comic book because: “Mickey Mouse is a fascist!”

While Gavras clearly sympathizes with their causes (the Soviet-aligned Allende government and the French abortion rights movement), their behavior as refracted through the lens of their daughter frequently appears dubious. Sometimes it crosses the line into outright irresponsibility, as when they take their children to a street demonstration and temporarily lose Anna when the proceedings devolve into a riot. Gavras is the daughter of Costas-Gavras, the leftist film director, so one cannot help wondering how much of her childhood is, perhaps inadvertently, reflected in Anna.

The fact that either end of the spectrum can take something from the film is what makes it interesting. Certainly no mention is made of the KGB’s financial support of Allende’s campaign or the hyper-inflation chaos that marked his second year in office. However, the common sense of Anna is often seen in opposition to her parents’ ideology in some sharply written scenes. Anna’s challenge to her parents to differentiate their definitions of “group solidarity” and “sheep behavior” is a particularly apt example.

The quality of the writing is one major key to Blame’s success. It is an intelligent screenplay that is a family drama at its core, which most could identify with at some level. When watching the extra deleted scenes, one sees how Gavras made decisions based on requirements of story, not political impact (the original screen tests of the child stars can be safely skipped though).

Of course, Kervel’s performance is also central to the film. On screen nearly for the entire film, she seems to be a natural actor, conveying Anna’s intelligence and intuitiveness. She is able to play the character acting out, without losing the audience’s sympathy. (By contrast, based on the behind the scenes features, there did not seem to be much acting going on with Benjamin Feuillet as the annoying younger brother in major need of Ritalin.)

Gavras proves to be a sensitive director, aided by a charming score by Armand Amar. Whatever her political intentions were with Blame, to its credit, it should prove enjoyable to viewers across the ideological spectrum.