Blame It on Fidel

A young girl’s privileged life in Paris circa 1970 is suddenly changed when a relative is killed by the not-yet-dead Francisco Franco. Her parents decide to give up their “bourgeois” life and become more politically active. They fire their Cuban nanny, who complains bitterly that her former employers are merely playing at revolution, while she suffered through a real one. The little girl is oblivious to the politics — all she knows is that she’s living in a smaller apartment which is filled with strange people at all hours of the day and night, her parents take her to political demonstrations instead of the part on Sunday, and they seem to have a lot less time for her than they did before.

This movie, though, is less about politics than it is about parenting. I loved the scenes where the mother starts to give adult answers to her daughter’s persistent questions. The reaction of her daughter (a remarkable young actress) — at first pleased and surprised that her mother is taking her seriously, followed by the suddent realization that some of her innocence has been irretrievably lost — is priceless.  The film’s ultimate, life-affirming message is that children can deal with an awful lot of dislocation, if they are secure in their parents’ love.

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Kings of Pastry

This documentary follows the experience of three pastry chefs (all French, but one living in America) competing for the “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” designation (literally, “Best Craftsmen of France,” but “Kings of Pastry” is probably closer to its real meaning.) The competition is a grueling three days in which the chefs are expected to demonstrate mastery of a wide variety of pastry techniques, as well as creative imagination — Top Chef meets the Tour de France, without the illegal drugs and intra-contestant sabotage. The movie focuses on the sugar sculptures, in which the skills required are far removed from those of even accomplished home cooks. In one scene, you watch a chef stretch out spun sugar as though it were pizza dough, and then tie the sugar into a bow — even though you’ve just seen it, you cannot quite believe the evidence of your own eyes.The movie also takes notice of how the competition takes a toll on the chef’s work and family relationships.  It’s an interesting look at a part of French culture most tourists (and probably even most Frenchmen) don’t usually get to see.