I watched Ken Loach's "Kes"(69) many years ago, and was mightily impressed. I still chuckle at the memory of the football scene. It was probably the first film that awoke a social conscience in me. I remember wanting to put on a flat cap, shout ecky thump and head north to where the real men lived. Remarkably the evergreen Loach is still at it, even though he qualified for his free bus pass some time ago. He has always been politically engaged and has sought to educate us about political conflicts. In the case of "Carla's Song"(98), it was about the civil war in Nicaragua.
The film is a rather flimsy story of love between a rebellious Glasgow bus driver, played by Robert Carlyle, and Carla a Nicaraguan woman trying to escape from the horrors of her past. The two slowly try to build a relationship, but this is constantly hampered by Carla's past experiences. I am reminded of words from the Bob Dylan song "Tangled up in Blue". "Then all the while I was alone, the past was close behind". Carlyle decides that the only way to excise the demons is to take Carla back to her homeland, and try to find the answers to haunting questions. This puts them into the danger zone as they seek Carla's family and an old lover. We head to a bittersweet finale. Will true love win the day?
As a love story the film does not quite work for me. The relationship is a little contrived and unlikely. The story itself lacks any real structure and is just a means for Loach to fall back on his common themes of politics gone sour, and mans inhumanity to man. Robert Carlyle is excellent in the lead role. That solid American actor Scott Glenn turns up improbably in the guise of an ex CIA man now batting for the other side. He even picks up a gun for the cause, which reminded me of his role in the western "Silverado". I just had to get some reference to my beloved westerns in! The film does contain some nice scenes, most notably when Carlyle takes Carla on a trip to the hills above Loch Lomond in his double decker bus.
But the love story takes second place to the politics. Franklin D Roosevelt supposedly said in 1939 of the Nicaraguan dictator Somoza, who was perceived to be anti communist, "He may be a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch". The quote has often been used for those that back unjust causes for misguided reasons. The US backed the Contras who were the last struggling embers of the Samoza days, thus prolonging an agonising conflict. In 1984 they were taken to the world court in the Hague where they were ordered to pay 17 billion dollars as compensation for illegal military intervention. I am not being political here, merely stating the facts. Mr Loach has, through the medium of film, made me much more aware of what actually took place in Nicaragua. Politics and films do not always mix in the wrong hands, but in the hands of Loach it works perfectly. He wears his heart on his sleeve as they say. I was both educated and entertained. A happy mix. Recommended.