Based on Domitilla Calamai’s eponymous book, Julie Gavras’ 2006 Franco-Italian debut feature film enchanted audiences at home and abroad, collecting several awards from francophone countries and featuring at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.
Anna (Nina Kervel-Bey, brilliantly, convincingly strong-headed) is a 9 year old Parisian daughter of Spanish and French petite bourgeoisie. The film follows her story from the death of her uncle under Franco’s regime to the assassination of Chilean President Salvador Allende on September 11th 1973.
When Anna’s aunt and cousin find refuge in the family home in Paris, Anna’s tranquil, regulated life is thrown into a shambles. New terms such as distribution of wealth and communist, uttered by her increasingly reactionary parents, creep their way into her vocabulary alongside the familiar and reassuring teachings of the school nuns’ bible study.
Anna struggles to hang onto a reference point in a world that is many shades of grey: she witnesses wisdom within prejudice and prejudice hiding behind a screen of progress; she discovers her ancestors are torturers and their children self-styled freedom-fighters.
As a throng of bearded visitors and a succession of exotic nannies (from “countries where they burn children with napalm”) all but invade the downsized house her family now inhabits, Anna’s hunger to understand slowly takes precedent over her outright rejection of this drastic change in her traditional upbringing. Initially dubbed “la momia” by her father’s Allende-supporting friends, she learns to tolerate their late-night presence and increasingly seeks out their company. Her attempts at spying on her mother’s feminist meetings and secret recording sessions are met with strict rebuttal.
While the adults each fight their own battle, she tries to assimilate the concept of “group solidarity” which they make her experience first-hand in an anti-Franco demonstration. Her lack of understanding in the face of issues such as social mobility and abortion mirrors that of the older generation and her catholic schoolmates’ parents, but her curiosity and an incontrovertible sense of logic push through: she braves mistake after mistake in the pursuit of her own conclusions, under the sometimes benevolent, sometimes appalled eye of her parents. It becomes clear that even without all the pieces, this puzzle is less complicated to a child than to the adults who purport to redefine its shape.
As Anna completes her journey, from haughtily “cutting fruit properly” to switching off the boiler in winter to save electricity, we experience and celebrate her frustrations and moments of epiphany, and the puzzled apprehension and delight of newfound freedom.
This unpretentious film offers a brilliant portrayal of 1970s reactionary Paris through its fallible characters and the eyes of the child who watches them suffer and grow. The string of usual revolutionary clichés are mercifully not in abundance here, as Julie Gavras puts careful thought into demonstrating both the importance and futility of symbols and individual action. A few joyous moments of subtle humour complement the overall light-hearted treatment of a heavy historical subject. Armand Amar’s wonderful soundtrack, reminiscent of the more widely known Yann Tiersen, is a pleasure in itself.
Blame in on Fidel! is available on BBC iPlayer until 17th April.