Blame it on Fidel

From riches to rags: a once-privileged child learns a thing or two about solidarity

Directed by Julie Gavras. November 2006, France. Unrated: 99 min.

(Originally published in buzz magazine on 11-10-08)

Future stock brokers, corporate CEOs and libertarians beware: the title of Julie Gavras’s debut writing-directing effort is strictly ironic. Blame it on Fidel (France, 2007), while not as shamelessly didactic as many leftist American movies, lets you know exactly where it stands on the political spectrum.

Gavras uses as subject matter the social movements following the student and worker protests in May of 1968. Just as political unrest gripped the heart of the late 60s social climate in the United States—sharpening the bite of the civil rights, anti-war and women’s liberation movements—so too did a culture clash polarize the people of France. But instead of demonstrating the situation by focusing on the life and times of activists, Blame it on Fidel portrays the worldview of a child stuck in the middle.

Raised in a grand mansion with spacious halls and rooms, a lush garden and plenty of nannies caring for her wellbeing, little Anna de la Mesa takes the privileges of her upper middle class lifestyle as God-given rights. Yet the protective bubble of her charmed existence pops after her parents Fernando and Marie rescue her aunt and cousin from Francoist Spain. The fascist government’s police have arrested Fernando’s brother for being a Communist, which leads the de la Mesas to think twice about sacrificing their beliefs just to live in luxury. They decide to depart from their upper middle class lifestyle and remove Anna from religion class in divinity school. They opt for a comparatively meager living space: a cramped apartment with books and pamphlets strewn about everywhere. Gone are the dinner parties and white dresses. Gone are days when friends envied her and longed to sleep over at her place. And you better believe Anna’s not happy about it. Due to Anna’s bottomless curiosity and habit of eavesdropping on mommy and daddy through cracked-open doors, we learn about Marie’s project to write a book based on interviews with women who procured illegal abortions and Fernando’s rallying abroad for Salvador Allende, a Socialist Party member campaigning to become president of Chile. Anna at first despises her father’s long haired, radical house guests, who call her a “little mummy” for siding with her Francoist grandparents and valuing the accumulation of personal wealth over sharing with the less fortunate.

In a key scene, a Chilean socialist divides an orange Anna peeled into several pieces, suggesting everyone in the kitchen should receive the same amount of fruit to demonstrate group solidarity. Anna rejects his notion. Instead, she snatches the orange back and offers slices for sale, encouraging her customers to resell them for profit. Gavras thus illustrates the conflicting viewpoints of socialists and capitalists, comparing the former to educated adults and the latter to selfish children.

Will the de la Mesas forfeit their cause and move back to their old home? Will Anna ever come around to seeing things the same way as her parents? Will the Chilean activists ever find a comb or a pair of scissors and do something with their hair? I guess you’ll have to add Blame it on Fidel to your Netflix or Blockbuster Total Access queue to find out.