Film Scouts Reviews

"Carla's Song"

by Karen Jaehne

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"Carla's Song" is about murderous politics in Nicaragua that have become something of a sad ballad sung round the world - without anyone really understanding the truth behind the lyrics heard on subway platforms or by pretty girls with guitars at ACLU fund-raisers.

The plot of the movie is a simple love story between George, a young Scottish bus driver going nowhere, and Carla, a beautiful Nicaraguan girl who captivates him and takes him home with her. It's not like Carla wants him to meet the family. She only wants him to understand the horrors of her country. She speaks minimal English; his Spanish is nonexistent, so they share only the languages of love and of bullets.

This is a Ken Loach film. Its purpose, as in every film made by this politically engaged Englishman, is to educate us about political conflicts, and Scott Glenn plays a CIA agent gone native, who understands Nicaragua so well that he informs us in a few stark passages of dialogue that the Americans have engineered the entire civil war and caused the death toll for the sake of a puppet government under the Samozas.

As Teddy Roosevelt so famously announced about the first Samoza put into power, "He may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch."

"Carla's Song" is not a film that gets into the intricacies of U.S. control over the right-wing Contras. Writer Paul Laverty visited the country in the mid-80s and claims he was most impressed by "how the Sandinista made it a priority to teach people to read and write after the 1979 revolution." He worked for a human rights organization and came to write this screenplay for Ken Loach because he wanted to take his cause to a larger forum than the small number of people who seem to care about torture and death in Central America.

It is easy to criticize this film for having no structure, or for trying unsuccessfully to contrast a rebellious spirit of a bus driver in Glasgow with a Nicaraguan woman who has lost the spirit of rebellion, because she's seen too much of it.

We must bow our heads, however, before people with the courage to continue to fight the kind of ruthless oppression and outright misinformation about a little country like Nicaragua - people like Ken Loach. He is unique. He may be the only film director in the world who honestly tracks down story after story to keep us mindful that we're sitting in a plush seat, eating popcorn, enjoying enormous privilege at the expense of people trapped in the danger of massive poverty and drugs - because the State Department wants it that way.

Do You Know: following the 1984 elections, the Nicaraguan Government took the United States to the World Court, claiming reparation for war damages. Two years later, in 1986, the World Court found in favor of Nicaragua, ordering the U.S. to pay $17 billion to the tiny country as compensation for illegal military intervention. The U.S. refused to recognize the World Court - or to pay the $17 billion.

In Central America, the U.S. is like the 600 pound Gorilla who walks into the bar. How much does he pay for his drink? Nada. All you can do is keep him drunk. That's our country - love it or leave it. At least think about it.

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