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Two about kids and Allende

September 13, 2007 pm30 10:47 pm

Twice in two-and-a-half years I’ve seen coming of age movies starring cute kids, set in the shadow of the US/Kissinger/CIA military coup against Chile’s Salvador Allende. And in both we hear Allende’s final words. September 11 was a tragic day in 1973, too. These are two good movies, but after the backdrop and the age of the characters, they have little else in common.

Machuca Machuca we watch two boys in Santiago, Chile, a poor Indian and a privileged upper middle class private school student, become friends; then we watch the friendship disintegrate in the coup.

In Blame it on Fidel, we watch a young French girl’s reaction and adaptation to her parent’s involvement in the Chile Solidarity movement.

Machuca was directed by Andres Wood, filmed in Chile, and premiered in Spain in 2004. The protagonist’s fancy, yet progressive, private school brings in several poor students. A friendship develops, etc, etc. They visit each other’s homes, hang out. We look through the rich boy’s eyes, feel for the poor boy (Machuca), but the third role, the street smart girl, steals the camera.

Machuca is not in theaters anymore, but it is on DVD. When you find it, don’t skip the backdrop – the politics, the demonstrations, the rationing, the blackmarketeering. And the brother-in-law’s little self defense group? Sounds like a fascist paramilitary. And in the scene with the soldiers, ask yourself, what are the ranks? In the end, who is obeyed? Scary.

But as fascinating as the backdrop is, the friendship… that’s the movie. It is touching. If it takes extra effort to find this one, you will be well-rewarded. Here are some snippet-reviews.

Blame it on Fidel (La Faute á Fidel) was directed by Julie Gavras, and yes, she is Costa Gavras’ daughter. It was released in the Fall of 2006. Julie Depardieu plays the mom, and yes, another famous relation. But don’t worry about them – Nina Kervel-Bey who plays little Anna steals the show.

The comfortable, Parisian, professional family gets politicized in the leftist Chile solidarity movement, and the changes shake up the little girl. They move. She liked her big house, her garden, her (anti-communist) nanny. She doesn’t like meetings or ‘group solidarity’ or foreign nannies who make funny food (the family is hiring refugees).

The development is set in motion by the arrival of the father’s Spanish sister (French movie, Spanish father is played by the Italian Stefano Accorsi). As Anna adapts, adjusts, integrates new ideas, she in turn forces her father to examine his own past.

E. D. Hirsch writes about the importance of background knowledge. If we understand context, we can figure out what unfamiliar terms mean. In a similar way, understanding theater, or a painting, or a movie requires background knowledge. American movies generally require little. They explain themselves. They know their audience. You don’t need to read to appreciate most domestic films.

Background knowledge weighs heavy in Blame It on Fidel. Who is Allende? Who are Los Barbudos? What are the differences between French public and parochial schools? What else was happening in 1972-73? Why did people leave Spain, etc, etc. In one scene, Anna’s parents are fighting over politics. Anna pulls the standard kid “I don’t want to hear this” – she starts singing nonsense syllables loudly and covers her ears. But she doesn’t sing “La la la la la la la…” she sings “rumbala, rumbala, rumbala….” and her father freaks.

If you don’t recognize the origin, a Spanish Civil War song, and most of the audience probably didn’t, the scene may make far less sense, and the motivation for the sequence that follows may seem absent. (click for more about the guy who sang the version I knew.)

So how can I recommend this movie? With enthusiasm! It is engaging, the little brother is adorable, and Anna is a show-stopper. It is cute, it is funny, it tells a real story. The look of terror/hatred when she sees her father’s beard is precious. And how can you not just grin and applaud when she turns the nun’s lesson on obedience into an argument for freedom. But, be forewarned, there will be a few tough-to-understand moments.

I liked this review a lot.

La Faute á Fidel is still playing at Cinema Village in Manhattan, where I saw it. I don’t know about other cities. Machuca is available on DVD.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 13, 2007 pm30 11:41 pm 11:41 pm

    I didn’t know about either of these movies. I’ll bet they are tough to find around Dallas. Thanks.

  2. September 13, 2007 pm30 11:55 pm 11:55 pm

    Machuca’s on DVD (link’s in the post). See if you can rent it, though. In my school I think they bought it since they will reshow it.

    La Faute á Fidel (US release was last month) is showing a gross of $70,000, so I’m going to say that it’s only showing at Cinema Village in NY. I don’t know that it will make it to big screens in other cities (I quick-checked and it’s not in Chi or LA, and the official site is for the French version, so there’s no distribution info)

    In a couple of years you can rent it with Missing, and have a strange family contrast movie night.

  3. April 25, 2008 pm30 12:26 pm 12:26 pm

    Machuca , you are pretty girls kissed her . pretty girls sexy was cool .


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