Cultrue For ‘Em: Film Recommendations- Blame It On Fidel & Machuca


I so enjoyed this film I have to pass on how good it is. An absolutely brilliant performance by Nina Kervel-Bey as Anna who is the centre of the story as we view through her 9-year-old eyes her parents becoming increasingly politically engaged and the confusion and obstinacy it inspires in her, until she too grows and becomes her own person. But hey don’t let that worthiness put you off, it really is entertaining, with some very funny moments and some touching ones, the mise-en-scène is virtually faultless from the non stereotype 70’s period detail (something British films usually fail at) to the understated yet strong lighting design. Hilariously right-wing critics misconstrue it is a critique of the left rather than a warm and human story of a little girls bewilderment at her parents awakened consciences and activism. It’s directed and co-written by Julie Gavras daughter of Costa Gavras

I kept the basis of the story, about a wealthy family with a conservative daughter. The father’s from Spain, his sister arrives, and the little girl’s life is shattered. Although I was more at home with Paris than Rome, what struck me was the way the writer talked about that period of the early ’70s from the perspective of a little girl. In the book, the father’s an engineer who becomes a union leader. I changed him into a pro-Allende activist, because my father made a film about Chile called ‘Missing’ , which was the first of his movies that I actually understood. For many French people, Allende represented the hope of a new political system, because he said he wanted to make a revolution within the bourgeois laws. It was something that caught the imagination of the French intelligentsia and a lot of French people went to Chile.

It’s also notable as a female empowered production-

Based on the novel by Domitilla Calamai and written by the film’s director Julie Gavras, it was produced by Sylvie Pialat (widow of Maurice Pialat), shot by Nathalie Durand, edited by Pauline Dairou, costume-designed by Annie Thiellement, cast by Coralie Amedeo, and acted by two splendid leads, Julie Depardieu (daughter of Gérard Depardieu) and first-time actor, little Nina Kervel.

It’s even more enjoyable when you have an awareness of the history as the interpretation through Anna’s experience and family circumstances give it a unique human colour and warmth. Perhaps a perfect accompaniment to this would be Machuca, two boys experiencing the bloody coup against Allende. It’s a while since I saw it but like Fidel it pays some attention to the comfortable middle class lifestyle and the very prosaic reasons why some people might support a fascist dictator just as long as they keep their lifestyle and they can live in denial of the atrocities committed by the government to keep them in fashionable clothes and servants. Machuca does this fairly directly by comparing the two boys, one from a poor slum the other from a bourgeois family who have their friendship tested as the coup unfolds. The Catholic school which brought them together again provides for an examination of the involvement of conservative religious intuitions in the coup and the individual efforts of some clergy to fight the criminal takeover. Unlike Fidel it is not at a remove in Paris so the experience is bleaker, so maybe Machuca first then Blame It On Fidel to leave you a better night’s sleep.


Machuca is also maybe culturally different in terms of national cinema, examining the Pinochet years in mainstream cinema is clearly a loaded issue (although a much earlier film Gonzalo Justiniano’s ‘Amnesia is excellent but almost impossible to see, my knackered VHS copy would be happy to hand over the task to a DVD but none is apparent, please let me know if you have a lead on that), Machuca perhaps uses the children’s story as a way to get to some truths that adults resist admitting. Whereas Fidel does not have that issue and the children’s story illuminates other aspects of resisting dominant paradigms, how doing the right things is not easy on you or those around you. For Anna is Paris it means a smaller apartment and being taken out of divinity class, both of which piss her off mightily which is made very funny through Nina Kervel-Bey’s performance. For Machuca simply his poverty and darker skin gets him in trouble while his richer friend escapes and his family enjoy the fruits of the repression, even the guilt middle class Gonzalo feels is a luxury not afforded to the repressed barrio dwellers.

What both films do is provide rewarding entertainment with real weight to it and …if you can get English speaking children to watch subtitled films they will also give a vitally different view of the world than the Hannah Montana movie, while giving them stories from children’s viewpoints which they can relate to. For adults, the deeper meditations on the costs and rewards of being concerned with social and political justice will gain nods of recognition.

Meanwhile if you fancy Norwegian comedy zombie movies with living dead Nazis erm, there is one- Dead Snow, not great but worth some popcorn, it’s like BNP on Ice!

6 Responses to “Cultrue For ‘Em: Film Recommendations- Blame It On Fidel & Machuca”

  1. HarpyMarx Says:

    “and human story of a little girls bewilderment at her parents awakened consciences and activism. It’s directed and co-written by Julie Gavras daughter of Costa Gavras”

    That kinda echoes the film ‘A World Apart’ written by Shawn Slovo. The political activism, imprisonment and the constant threat/experience of violence (which eventually led to the death of Ruth First by bomb attack in the early 1980s) of anti-apartheid activists and SACP members, Joe Slovo and Ruth First through the eyes of a bewildered child circa early 1960s who doesn’t see her parents that much and doesn’t understand why. It is a deeply fascinating film same with Blame it on Fidel.

  2. RickB Says:

    Aha! Yes, haven’t seen that for ages good call! Fidel’s way more, humorous I guess the threat is to her lifestyle more than anything (I think she’s so funny in how peeved she is at times, a great comedy performance at times) but yes it is really a good perspective they achieve and it’s fascinating for a viewer I find.

    Speaking of cinematic depictions of/with the Slovo family have you seen Catch A Fire?

    • HarpyMarx Says:

      Yes, heard of the film but didn’t get around to seeing it, I kinda like some of Phillip Noyce’s films. There are many films I know of, tell myself to see them but forget….

      Though am very very glad I have seen Haneke’s The White Ribbon, truly excellent and well deserved reviews and Palme d’Or …..

      • RickB Says:

        Even ‘The Saint’ has its fans I am told!

        I am jealous, I am down with the ‘H’ (as he likes to be called), in fact watched his first movie ‘The Seventh Continent’ just the other week, (nice antidote to DIY makeover shows I find).

        • HarpyMarx Says:

          Well, I am more Dead Calm than The Saint.

          I find Haneke inconsistent, from a personal point of view, preferred original Funny Games, loathed La Pianiste, really liked Cache and The White Ribbon is excellent. Liked The Seventh Continent btw.

          Also, I dunno outside London, but The White Ribbon is on a limited release here only on about 4-5 cinemas. Hopefully the screenings will expand but this is the problem with the economics of the cinema and the commodification of entertainment…. it is about ‘bums on seats’ for the distributors obsessed with commercial successes as opposed to aesthetics, and films that go against the stereotypical Hollywood formula. Tho’ Haneke capitulated to Hollywood when he made the other version of Funny Games.

          Here endeth the rant….

  3. RickB Says:

    I honestly was kind of perplexed throughout the US Funny Games, I think maybe it was about Haneke’s artistic curiosity of Hollywood more than anything, also it seemed not as good at all which makes me wonder do subtitles prejudice a viewer towards greater intellectual generosity? Hmmm.
    White Ribbon will be as most movies for me be a DVD rental.

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