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Carla's Song (1996)

Courtesy of Channel Four Television

Main image of Carla's Song (1996)
DirectorKen Loach
Production CompaniesParallax Pictures, Channel 4 Films, Road Movies Filmproduktion Gmbh
ProducerSally Hibbin
ScreenplayPaul Laverty
Director of PhotographyBarry Ackroyd
MusicGeorge Fenton

Cast: Robert Carlyle (George); Oyanka Cabezas (Carla); Scott Glenn (Bradley); Salvador Espinoza (Rafael); Louise Goodall (Maureen)

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George, a Glaswegian bus driver, meets Carla, a troubled Nicaraguan refugee in Glasgow. He falls in love with her and they travel to Nicaragua in search of her former lover, who has disappeared in the country's fierce civil war.

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The screenplay for Carla's Song was written by Paul Laverty, a lawyer who had worked with human rights organisations in Nicaragua. This was his first script, written in response to the people he had met there and the impact of the Contras, the US-backed guerrilla army whose aim was to overthrow Nicaragua's elected Sandinista government. Disturbed by his experiences, Laverty wanted to "give human shape to just one of these thousands of statistics, by telling his or her story, set against the real backdrop of Nicaragua."

Some critics argued that Carla's Song's dual focus on the personal and the political weakens it, and that the film loses momentum when the location switches from Glasgow to Nicaragua. However, this reaction may in part be due to conventional expectations of the love story genre, in which the intrusion of political factors could be seen as interrupting the focus of the story. Here, the political message is integral to the characters' experiences.

Loach has said of Laverty, "I guess we see the world in the same way. Paul has a very good sense of humour. His script makes you smile, but it's also very sharp politically. It isn't just out of books. He's lived it and that's very important." As well as the harrowing events depicted, humour is used, as is common in Loach's films, as an expression of the common humanity of his working-class characters. This is exemplified in the scene on the top of the bus in Nicaragua, which begins with the Nicaraguans' curiosity about what the workers produce in Scotland and leads to them sharing a bottle of whisky.

Robert Carlyle, as George, gives a witty performance, at once down to earth and charismatic, reminiscent of his role as Stevie in Riff Raff (1991). Oyenka Cabezas, who plays Carla, is a newcomer to acting. She was discovered during an extensive casting process in Nicaragua, and spoke no English when she was offered the part.

Like other Loach films, Carla's Song demonstrates a keen sense of location. Both in Glasgow and in Nicaragua, a vivid texture of daily life is presented. Everyday existence - on crowded buses or at home - is shown as neither picturesque poverty nor exaggerated hardship. People are rarely seen on their own - Loach's world, unusually for filmmakers, is one in which communities, as much as individuals, are in focus.

Ros Cranston

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Video Clips
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Carlyle, Robert (1961-)
Fenton, George (1950-)
Hibbin, Sally (1953-)
Laverty, Paul (1957-)
Loach, Ken (1936-)
Morris, Jonathan (1949-)
Channel 4 and Film
Ken Loach: Feature Films