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Friday, Jan. 11, 2008
'Le Faute a Fidel!'
Children — natural born conservatives
By KAORI SHOJI
Children are often much more conservative than adults give them credit for. Many prefer orderliness over chaos, predictability over confusion, and custom over trends that come and go.
"La Faute a Fidel!" (released in Japan as "Zenbu Fidel no Sei") is a beautifully observed tale of just how staunchly old guard children can be.
The director is Julie Gavras, who switched lanes from documentaries to make this dazzling feature debut.
Gavras is the daughter of prorevolutionary leftwing filmmaker Costa Gavras (see "Missing," his famed 1982 work on the Chilean coup d'etat) and this portrayal of a child raised by radical parents is perhaps inspired by her own experiences.
But "La Faute" is never heavy-handed or even particularly political — It's a profoundly delightful depiction of adult life dictated by adult "isms" as seen through the eyes of a precocious 9-year-old girl.
Her name is Anna (the stunningly adroit Nina Kervel), who lives a perfect existence in a Parisian home with a well-kept garden. Her papa, Fernando (Stefano Accorsi), is a handsome lawyer, her mama, Marie (Julie Depardieu), is an attractive journalist and her kid brother, Francois (Benjamin Feuillet), is mega-adorable.
Anna is popular in school, has a nice Cuban nanny, and owns a number of pretty, flouncy dresses which she dons because Papa tells her they are very becoming. Then her world crumbles in a single stroke. Fernando and Marie, driven to guilt by a family crisis in Franco-ruled Spain and spurred into action by the leftist movement in Chile, renounce their bourgeois lifestyle to embrace communism. The family moves from their spacious home into a cramped apartment, Anna is informed that she can no longer attend catechism classes held by her favorite nun, and her adored nanny is replaced by a succession of refugee women who serve one weird dish after another.
Their apartment is thronged by bearded, unwashed activists who come and go at all hours, raid the fridge and sit round endlessly drinking wine. "Are we poor? Did we lose all our money?" desperate Anna asks her mother, but Marie is too busy organizing pro-abortion/feminist meetings to explain money matters.
Anna is both horrified and defiant, and she certainly refuses to go down without a fight. "It's all Fidel's fault!" she fumes, remembering what her beloved, anticommunist nanny had said about Castro and his supporters ("A bunch of barbarians!"). Adamantly, she tries to convince her parents to return to their old comfortable lives, but her entreaties are met with lectures on political conviction or a trip to a demonstration where the family and the other activists are blasted with tear gas.
What Anna wants to hear aren't lectures, but simple, down-to-earth explanations about why her parents think it's necessary to share wealth and renounce personal privileges ("Why?" is Anna's personal refrain.)
"La Faute" is set in Paris in 1970 when the city was going through a major political upheaval. Anna's story was probably not uncommon as parents all over France launched into heated political discussions and pondered their course of action. What Anna, for all her keen insight doesn't realize, is that it's her good fortune to live in a country where such discussions are acceptable and people have the choice to embrace bohemian communism rather than a bourgeois lifestyle without fear of ostracism or arrest. (Certainly Fernando's brother, who died in a Spanish political prison, didn't.)
And having hip, opinionated parents (OK, they're a little crazy, but their sincerity and charm override the shortcomings) is actually exciting: They've always got something to talk or argue about.
Over time, Anna learns about life and freedom and the state of human existence in places other than France, enough to counter the snide remarks made by her smug, bourgeois schoolmates. But, understandably, enlightenment doesn't come so easily to Anna and the scales tip the other way: In many scenes, she comes off like a miniature Marie Antoinette while her parents get ready to storm the Bastille. The comparison — subtle but acutely observed — is rich with understated humor.
In the end, Nina Kervel steals the show, evolving from a pouting little girl into a formidable, thinking person. It's at that moment that you see Gavras' documentarian roots have merged neatly with fiction.