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Managua Trois

[whitespace] Carla's Song
Casualties of War: George (Robert Carlyle) and Carla (Oyanka Cabezas) find a soulful connection amidst the Sandinista-Contra fallout in 'Carla's Song,' opening this week at the Nickelodeon.

Ken Loach's 'Song' looks back at romance in the time of the Contras

By Richard von Busack

A DISGRUNTLED Glasgow bus driver named George (Robert Carlyle) is the hero of Carla's Song, Ken Loach's 1996 movie based on the dirty war between the Sandinistas and the contras. George is working his route one day in 1987 when a comely young woman tries to sneak by without paying her fare. George is already sick of his job. He decides to stand up for her when she's harassed by another transit employee. His intervention ignites a fragile friendship. Carla (Oyanka Cabezas) is a refugee from Nicaragua hiding out in Scotland. She's earning money as a street performer, spending nights in a grubby women's shelter and fighting off the flashbacks from what the contras did to her.

George finds her a place to live in a spare room of a friend's house, and one day he decides to take her to the famous Loch Lomond on the bus, an adventure that gets him fired. Now jobless, he buys a pair of tickets to Managua, so that Carla can visit her friends--especially her boyfriend, Antonio, whom Carla left behind and never talks about. It's a busman's holiday for George, who ends up driving for the Sandinistas. While there, he also meets a American peace activist named Bradley (Scott Glenn) who has a sort of crush on Carla and is raucously incredulous about George's ignorance of the Heart of Darkness events around him (although Bradley himself has the brimstone-like scent of the CIA agent).

That trip to gray Loch Lomond in the double-decker bus is a lyrical moment that you'll need to cling to as the movie gets more and more turgid. Despite the neorealist qualities, Carla's Song has all of the direst aspects of fictional movies: musical-comedy-like solutions to every problem--from unemployment to homelessness--melodramatic mystery and a mawkish finish.

The question of Antonio's fate is prolonged, and you watch the film in a state of dread: What did the contras do to him? On the one hand, you're glad to have anything about contra depredations brought out; on the other hand, it isn't much use as information. It's propaganda for a war that's already over. Using atrocities as the hook for a love story makes the love story immaterial and the atrocities a gimmick.


Carla's Song (1996; unrated; 127 min.), directed by Ken Loach, written by Paul Laverty, photographed by Barry Ackroyd, and starring Robert Carlyle and Oyanka Cabezas, opens Thursday at the Nickelodeon in Santa Cruz.

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From the September 10-16, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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