Blame It On Fidel (2006)

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It’s 1970s France, and little nine year old Anna (Nina Kervel-Bey) lives a charmed life. She resides in Paris with her journalist mother, Marie (Julie Depardieu), lawyer father, Fernando (Stefano Accorsi) and little brother, Francois (Benjamin Feuillet). She is adored by her grandparents who make their home in a grand estate in the French countryside. As Blame It On Fidel begins, we see Nina at a family wedding, outfitted in an immaculate frock, and schooling her lesser cousins on the proper way to cut a piece of fruit with a knife and fork.

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However, Nina’s life is about to get topsy-turvy. Her father, originally from Spain, takes in his sister and her daughter after his brother-in-law disappears under Franco’s fascist regime. Doing this alters Nina’s parents’ priorities. Fernando begins to focus his new radicalized politics on his law practice. Marie, stops writing superficial articles for Marie Claire, and begins to write articles about serious women’s issues, including the thorny topic of abortion.

Nina doesn’t care about any of these things. She just knows her life has been changed completely. And she doesn’t like it. Her beloved nanny, Filomena, is let go only to be replaced by a string of different nannies (including one who provides the title of the film). Her family moves from their huge home to a cramped apartment. Bearded, smoking radicals are always around taking up her parents’ time. And Nina is removed from her beloved religion class at school.

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The movie is seen mostly through Nina’s nine-year-old eyes. She doesn’t care about what’s going on in the world. She just wants things to go back to the way they were. Sure, she’s self-absorbed, but so are most children. They want security and stability. They don’t care about “sticking it to the Man.”

And what makes Blame It On Fidel most effective is how it is shot at a child’s eye level. This is most evident when little Nina is dragged along with her parents to take part in a political demonstration. All Nina can see are legs, arms and feet. She is too small to see the faces of the protesting adults. And when things get out of hand, and tear gas fills the streets, you feel Nina’s fear and confusion.

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Blame It On Fidel is superbly directed by Julie Gravras, herself the daughter of lefty movie director Costas-Gravras. This is a film that could easily be grim and one-dimensional  but a has wry humor and a bittersweet sentiment. Nina’s parents may want to change the world, but their love for her will never waver. And perhaps once Nina gets older, she will realize this.

All the performances are wonderfully acted. But Miss Kervel-Bey is astounding as young Nina, her serious face and intense eyes conveying so much. With a lesser talent, Nina might come across as bratty and spoiled, but Kervel-Bey gives this young character a heart and soul the movie so richly deserves.

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Blame It On Fidel is not rated, and is in French with English subtitles.

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4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (2007)

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It is communist Romania, 1987. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days opens in university dorm room. At first, it just seems to be an ordinary day for any group of college students. They try on make-up, buy illicit cigarettes and talk about mundane topics. But you soon realize something is going on beyond idle chit-chat and daily college activities.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days takes very realistic and gritty look a at two roommates, Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) and Otilia (Anamaria Marinca). Gabita is pregnant and is relying on Otilia to help her procure an abortion. At the time, not only was abortion illegal in Romania, so was birth control. And though the rather dim Gabita is the one in need of an abortion, it is the more pragmatic Otilia who goes through the channels to make sure she gets one.

After leaving the dorm, Otilia starts a bleak journey going from hotel to hotel trying to find a room for Gabita to have an abortion. This can’t be done at the dorms, and obviously, they can’t go to a clinic. After she finally gets a room, she meets with a back-alley abortionist ironically known as Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov). Otilia takes Mr. Bebe to the hotel room where Gabita waits. Chillingly, Mr. Bebe describes the procedure, and shames both Gabita and Otilia for being dirty sluts. While Gabita spends time in the bathroom, Mr. Bebe apparently rapes Otilia. We never see an actual rape scene, but Otilia coming into the bathroom, sans pants and scrubbing herself between her legs gives you a terrifying idea of what happened between her and Mr. Bebe.

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Mr. Bebe discovers Gabita is further along in her pregnancy and demands more money, which the young girls somehow come up with. They will trade both their bodies and their money to go through this procedure. As Mr. Bebe begins the abortion, he becomes very matter of fact on what will happen. During a long shot, we see him insert a probe into Gabita and inject a liquid. There is no idea how long this will take. It could take a few hours or a few days, and Gabita could get sick and die during the procedure. Mr. Bebe does not wait to find out the outcome.

Otilia also has to leave to join her boyfriend’s family for his mother’s birthday party. Otilia doesn’t say much during the dinner, but the look on her face says volumes. As her boyfriend’s family and friends chat about everything from food to schooling, Otilia’s emotions bubble very close to the service. She has no idea what is happening to her friend, and it is driving her mad.

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Otilia soon escapes the party and goes back to the hotel to find out what has happened to Gabita. These two women have gone through a very harrowing experience, but Otilia tells Gabita that they will never talk about ever again. It is as if it has never happened.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days is not a pro-life or pro-choice movie. It is a look at two young women living in a world of very few options. Though young, they are world weary and defeated. The scripted dialogue doesn’t hit one false note, and neither do the performances. Ms. Marinca as Otilia is exceptionally good in her role. Without melodramatics, she conveys her character’s struggles in silence using subtle facial expressions. Written and directed by Cristian Mungiu, this movie’s aesthetic choices of no accompanying music and tight, almost claustrophobic camera shots convey the dreariness of moment in time.

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4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days is not an easy movie to watch, but never does it ring false. This movie proves not all unexpected pregnancies turn out to be puppies and rainbows. This movie is the anti-Knocked Up and will inspire a great deal of difficult conversations.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days is not rated and is in Romanian with English subtitles.