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1987, love in time of war. A bus driver George Lennox meets Carla, a Nicaraguan exile living a precarious, profoundly sad life in Glasgow. Her back is scarred, her boyfriend missing, her family dispersed; she's suicidal. George takes her to Nicaragua to find out what has happened to them and to help her face her past. Once home, Carla's nightmarish memories take over, and Carla and George are thrown into the thick of the US war against the Sandinistas. A mystery develops over where Carla's boyfriend is, and the key to his whereabouts may be Carla's friend Bradley, a bitter American aid worker. She finds her family, the Contras attack, and she and the Scot face their choices. Written by
A fairly mixed affair that fails to pull anything off that well
George Lennox is a bus driver in Glasgow who tries to go about his business in a cheerful, helpful and understanding way. When a ticket inspector takes issue with a young woman over as little as 40p, George helps her out and lets her get away. Later, the Nicaraguan exile finds George and gives him a gift to say thanks, but doesn't stay around any longer than that. George is both concerned for her and attracted to her and keeps pushing, but she withdraws more and more. Messing up her lodgings, George gets Carla a new place and tries to get to know her, unaware of where his relationship with her will take him.
A hard sell back in 1996 when it was released, not many people paid to see this and in a way it is still a hard sell now, perhaps appealing most to those who will always make the effort to see Ken Loach's work. The reason that it perhaps failed to grab an audience is that the film itself isn't sure what it is trying to do and as a result is a bit fragmented and split. The film opens in a faltering way and it didn't convince me in how quickly it brought along George and Carla in the first stages. After this their relationship is a bit more convincing as it is brought on naturally as trust grows. At this stage Nicaragua is part of her character rather than the whole story. Gradually then suddenly the film becomes more about Nicaragua and George & Carla's relationship becomes the device to get him (the audience's eyes) into the country to learn all about it. I felt a bit like my interest in the people had been thrown out the window, and the vague attempt to make it about them towards the end didn't convince me. Loach directs with earnestness but he cannot make this work as either a political education or a character piece; varying wildly between being preachy and being touching.
The cast try hard to find this middle ground and to their credit they do pretty well. Carlyle does well to bring out a real person in George, covering up the question marks early on. He is left a bit high and dry in the second half but does his best. The same could be said of Carla, who is a person in the first half and a journey in the second. Cabezas delivers the role as well as she can and is natural and convincing throughout. Glenn has an obvious role but he is a good presence. The rest of the support cast is solid enough but the problems is with the material, not with any of the cast.
Overall then a fairly mixed affair that is as affecting as it is preachy. Easy to see why it failed to get much of an audience as it makes for an uneasy mix of ideas that don't really come off failing to educate much more than on a superficial level and failing to produce a real character piece (that would have been better).
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