Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Girl In The Cafe: The Context Of Protest

“I want to be a member of that great generation that for the fist time had it in its power to wipe out poverty and did so.”

Surely, The Girl in the Cafe has echoed film writer Richard Curtis’ campaign. That which he is and always will be a prominent supporter of: “Make Poverty History”. The film written by Curtis, who has several romantic comedies under his belt, is a breath of fresh air. Unlike his previous films, such as Notting Hill and Love, Actually, this film has a more serious tone to it and is explicitly didactic. Didactic in the sense that it intends to teach and make the viewers more aware of global events tackled during the 2005 G-8 conference. The global event in question is the state of Africa. From the statistics in the movie alone, one can come up with inferences about the poor condition of the country. France created the Group of Eight, formerly known as G-6, for the six major economies in the world. In the annual summit meeting, the countries involved (France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Russia) discuss global issues and suggest solutions and proposals for the next year.

The plot revolves around Lawrence (Bill Nighy), a British civil servant in the financial division who works for the Chancellor of Exchequer. He meets Gina (Kelly Macdonald), a mysterious young woman in a café. After a series of awkward dates, he impulsively invites her to join him for the conference in Reykjavík, Iceland where the two pursue their tentative romance in various restaurants and hotel rooms. That being said, the film is reminiscent of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation in terms of the setting and arguably, the plot.

Gina is presented to the audience as someone who knows nothing about the conference and the issues tackled therein. This is evident in one of their dates when she asks Lawrence about the conference and adds that the only thing she knows about Iceland is that Björk originates from there. In the conference, the British government is pushing for more debt, aid and trade despite the opposition of the Americans. Lawrence’s area of expertise deals with the alleviation of poverty in Africa and he explains that a cow is more subsidized than the children in Africa. This obviously hits home as Gina embarks on a series of confrontational events with powerful people to help lessen, if not totally eradicate, the casual holocaust of death that is extreme poverty in Africa.

John Locke believes that in the objective world, knowledge rests on experience. This experience involves the interaction of objects in the real world as well as acts of the mind. In the latter part of the movie, conclusions about her staunch support of the movement are drawn based on the reason she went to prison: she hurt a man who hurt a child. It doesn’t matter whose child because she would’ve done the same thing otherwise. Is it possible that Gina reacts so strongly to the movement because she has experienced it? I believe Gina’s character was just as developed as Lawrence’s character was, albeit in a different manner. It is through her actions that Gina is revealed to the audience. Gina’s internal efficacy is stronger than her external efficacy because she believes that she can influence leaders and institutions to make some gradual changes. “The fact that the world's top decision-makers are, almost universally, protected from the problems they gather to solve is of course one of the great ironies of history.” (Stevens, 2005) Gina was obviously viewing things from the other side of the coin, or the tough side of the line if you will. Her entire approach was from the grass-roots level, speaking on behalf of the thirty thousand children, mothers and other people in need of immediate attention.

“The film is a political allegory about an everyman who tries to do good in high politics. In this case the everyman is a young woman who, through a set of coincidences, speaks up at the highest circles of international power.” (Tannenbaum, 2005) Gina is a person before she is a woman and for her to represent everyman eliminates the argument of prejudice against and the stereotyping of women. For Gina to be kicked out of the social gathering of heads after her remarks on the work, or the lack thereof, the prime minister has put into realizing the Millennium Development Goals means that she has broken protocol. In voicing out her sentiments, she is speaking not just for herself but also for Lawrence and the other people who have no voice or say on the matter. Yes, Gina speaks the truth. But the manner by which she delivers the truth is rather questionable. This begs the question of why? What is protocol? Is there a proper way of acting in public? Where do you draw the line between what is socially acceptable and unacceptable? The Oxford Dictionary defines protocol as “the accepted or established code of procedure or behavior in any group, organization, or situation. ” According to Hobbes, the community must obey the Leviathan if they want order. Who is the Leviathan? A Leviathan is a metaphor for the law-making body that everyone fears. Fear is a driving force that holds civil society together. It is a fact that we have been trained to act an indubitable way in public. When one breaks the rules, certain measures must be taken to preserve order. This preconceived notion of punishment has been etched in our minds so we function a certain way around other people. It is fear that grounds people. As I see it, there is nothing wrong with this system. I believe that manner must be given importance and steps must be followed to maintain order.

The film is overflowing with contrasts. For one, their age has been nothing but an indicator of the gap between the two. It is through Gina, however, that Lawrence realizes he has not achieved any of his youthful goals because he isn’t as young as he used to be to be able do those things. This manner of thinking, however, is changed in the latter part of the movie. Another contrast is in the way the lead actors react to certain events. Gina makes heartfelt speeches and in the process, puts other people to shame. Shame because they knew something was wrong and did not attempt do anything about it or shame because they were indifferent. Lawrence, on the other hand, uses logical arguments characterized by clear and sound reasoning to express and negotiate his statements. It is in this discrepancy that the two find something in common. Unlike Lawrence, Gina has an air of mystery that surrounds her and only partially disappears as the movie progresses. It is, unfortunately, during the end when some light is shed regarding Gina’s fight against poverty.

One unbelievable thing about the film is the setting of the G-8 summit. The 2005 conference was actually held in Gleneagles, Scotland. The host country was the United Kingdom under the presidency of Tony Blair. Scotland is an equally beautiful country although Hollywood must have thought it appropriate and more scenic to film in Iceland. Another flaw in this film is its oversimplification of politics. In my opinion, Gina’s act of confronting the chancellor and several other powerful officials is implausible but not completely impossible. In what can only be concluded toward the end of the film as the realization of the Millennium Development Goals by the other leaders aside from the British government, it is safe to say that Lawrence and Gina’s external efficacy has risen quite significantly.

For Kelly Macdonald to elicit varying heightened reactions from the audience is enough proof of how good an actress she really is. It was as if she wasn’t acting at all as she naturally and effectively conveyed her points and messages with such intensity both in the reel and real world. Bill Nighy was also successfully convincing as an awkward but reasonable bureaucrat. Moving on to the technical aspect of the film, Director David Yates, who is, undoubtedly, most famous for directing four out of the eight movies in THE Harry Potter franchise has done an excellent job to say the least. The music used, Damien Rice’s Cold Water and Starálfur by Icelandic band Sigur Ros, was very fitting as it contributed to the audial intensity of the film.

Although The Girl in the Cafe was never released in theaters due to speculations of lack of funds for advertisement and marketing, the film turned out to be breathtakingly beautiful nevertheless.

What makes the film so resonant is its ability to influence and transform thinking through drama. The issues highlighted in the movie, even if it was filmed years ago to coincide with the 2005 summit, are as salient as they are today. Yes. It is possible to see the film as influential aside from entertaining. In one way or the other, the film has spoken to the hearts and minds of a myriad of people to do what they can regardless of their position or social class. All in all, The Girl in the Café has broken several stereotypes to prove and reinforce the belief that in this battle, we are, indeed, not alone.

“Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great, you can be that great generation.”

-Nelson Mandela, 2005


Stevens, Dana. (2005, June 24). You look so cute when you stamp out world poverty. Retrieved from

Tannenbaum, A. (2005, September 14). Richard Curtis' the girl in the cafe. Retrieved from

- Margaret Iris Gallardo


Mico Quijano said...

I reckon how laughable I was, shedding a tear or two over a film who abused the liberty of providing its audience with argumentum ad misericordiam. Indeed, The Girl in the Café merits credit for being an effective drama – so effective that it made me temporarily forget my real take on the various issues it conveyed.

For all his altruistic intentions, I have nothing but respect for Richard Curtis. His passion for the Make Poverty History campaign is to be admired, perhaps even something to be emulated. But I’m afraid I am not one to unite with the cause, because I believe it was conceived for all the wrong reasons.

The British campaign was launched following the country’s assumption of the G8 presidency on January 1, 2005. In fact, BBC One’s broadcast premiere of The Girl in the Café on June 25 of the same year was actually part of the movement’s build-up in anticipation of the 31st summit in Gleneagles, Scotland on July 6. Similar crusades exist in other countries as well, some under the same name and some under different names, as they are all part of the larger Global Call to Action Against Poverty international campaign.

Debt, trade, and aid – like a cliché, these words were repeatedly echoed in the film by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It comes as no surprise that these, too, are the campaign’s central demands: trade justice, debt relief (drop the debt), and development aid (more and better aid). But what do they really mean? And how exactly can they bring about change?

The idea behind trade justice rests on the premise that the current world order which supports free trade as a system of trade policy contributes to the growing economic gap between first and third world countries. This occurs primarily because the playing field works in favor of the former. For example, tariff barriers can be as four times higher in developed countries than in developing countries. Advocates therefore push for equal level of access to markets, regardless whether it is owned by the United States or is situated in the Philippines.

Debt relief, on the other hand, refers to the partial or total forgiveness of debt, or the decelerating of its growth. While the term was widely perceived as domestic debt until the 19th century, it came to be used and understood as Third World debt since the dawn of the 20th century, specifically after the Latin American debt crisis.

Mico Quijano said...

Finally, in international relations, aid is the voluntary transfer of resources from one country to another. In most, if not all, cases, aid is given by a developed country and is received by a developing country. Development aid, however, should be distinguished from other forms of aid such as humanitarian, as the former is provided for long-term development goals while the latter is usually offered in times of war or natural disasters, with the short-term objective of alleviating damages.

Make no mistake though, for these demands are packaged with strings attached. While the call for trade justice aims to address the flaws of the free trade policy, its supporters fail to acknowledge that the economic system in which the policy itself operates is exactly the flaw. While debts may be pardoned, privatization and structural adjustment reforms are imposed – conditions which in the long run shall result to more debt, and so the cycle continues. And while aid is willingly provided, the recipient’s national interest is compromised, albeit unwillingly in this case. Alas, in debt, trade, and aid lies a promise of change that is far-fetched. I suppose to label it charity would even be a stretch, and so I shall settle to calling it a sham.

“It is deeply wrong that 30,000 children should die each day because of poverty. But it is equally wrong to suggest that eight men in a room, however deep their pockets or willing their hearts, can simply wave a magic wand and make it all go away.” (Vine, 2010) I thought her argument was hinting on something promising, until I saw that she was a conservative. As expected, she didn’t actually go for what I had in mind. Instead, she talked about oversimplification, which was a point raised by Ms. Gallardo herself. As regards this issue, I have to concede that yes, the alleged solution to poverty and the complex political processes involved therein were oversimplified and presented as one-dimensional. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t take it against the film. I think it would be impractical, if not impossible, to cover minute details of such a big event like the G8 conference. The Girl in the Café simply sought to explain a jargon in layman’s terms. Besides, I believe it was not part of its intention in the first place. As I have discussed in length earlier, it was clearly a propaganda film, and you should not expect it to provide a comprehensive account of eliminating poverty if it can convince or influence its audience easier by doing otherwise. Furthermore, as far as I’m concerned, oversimplification of themes wouldn’t even matter when you already disagree with the message in the first place.

Karl Marx made it clear one hundred and fifty years ago: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” I intend to offend when I say that you would have to be a lunatic if you still haven’t realized that genuine change is not possible in the hands of any government or institution controlled by the capitalist class. Even the leaders of the United Kingdom were not as noble as they were depicted in the film.

But Gina’s actions were. You could say that she was inappropriate or improper, but that doesn’t strip her of being brave and noble. Then again, however dreamy it is to imagine that change can be effected in the system by one or two people, it will simply never be the case in real life. It would take millions of Gina to do so. And yes, it can’t be impossible. It must be possible.

faysah said...

Part 1:

As expected, actors Bill Nighy and Kelly McDonald’s performances were nothing short of spectacular. Unfortunately, the competence of the director and the cast may have done little to salvage a plot riddled with clichés in which poverty is romanticized and an ordinary but charismatic heroine whom the common folk can identify with stands up to a pool of elite decision-makers whom the public loves to hate. Such a story line is not just targeted for soppy idealists who would buy the whole package of limiting a complex issue such as world poverty into questions of social justice, it is also a critique of the world’s most developed countries that are continuously being blamed for the socioeconomic disparities between highly industrialized economies and those who are grappling with poverty. Such a theme turns the supposedly romantic flick into a political propaganda with serious overtones. This commentary would take note of two issues namely the policy options of the G8 which are trade, debt, and aid as a response to poverty in Africa and the role of individuals and pressure groups in global politics as represented by Gina’s character.

Solution to world poverty has remained elusive. The film reminds the audience of this as Lawrence and Gina discuss the conditions in some impoverished countries where dying of hunger and unsanitary conditions is common. The issue is clearly a matter of human security wherein struggling to survive because of economic depravity is the norm. This economic insecurity is also a form of violence called structural violence in which people can die even without the intentions of others to kill them (Nicholson, 2003:128). It is then justifiable for people to be alarmed because of the increasing casualties that this dilemma brings about. This commentary does not take it against Gina if she wanted to see something concrete that would solve the problem. But wanting to solve the problem is a different matter altogether from actually undertaking specific measures to address it.

faysah said...

It must be remembered that no matter how well-off these developed countries may be compared to the developing world, they also face the universal dilemma of scarce and limited resources. Therefore, it is simply unreasonable to expect them to indiscriminately extend help towards other countries without giving it much thought. Trade will always be looked upon with suspicion because of the issue of a non-levelled playing field where developing countries would complain about being put at a disadvantage. Debt is another thorny issue because due to the state of the economy in question, it is inevitable that the debt will be incurred at high interest rates since the risk of not being able to pay the debt is high. Any unilateral move such as a default or moratorium would only aggravate interest rates making it more difficult for the state in the long run. It might then further exacerbate the economic crisis of the developing world. The option left would be aid. Gina’s dialogues with the chancellor and the prime minister make it seem that pouring aid in order to relieve these economies is the “right thing to do.” I would argue that this point undermines the political agenda of the film with the rather presumptuous notion that the solution to the poverty of developing countries is solely contingent on the decisions of the G8. Aid, no matter how well-meant, will never be sustainable in the long run because of the issue of scarcity. A state might as well give up its sovereignty if it survives only through aid. Rather than granting aid as a means to address poverty, institution-building as well as enhancing administrative capacity of these weak states must be the priority agenda in order to help developing states embark on a more sustainable path toward development (Fukuyama, 2004).

Gina’s line about dying mothers and babies relies too much on emotional persuasion and encourages the viewers to do the same. However, as difficult as it is for the ordinary folk to relate to figures such as the prime minister, he is right when he says that the problem is a complex one. This is not intellectual arrogance but merely a statement of a fact. Such a complex dilemma like world poverty would not be solved by a simplistic unilateral decision on the part of the G8. People, including do-gooders such as Gina would have to realize the complex nature of the problem and the necessary knowledge it would take to address it. I am not saying that the G8 leaders have the answers while the common folks are ignorant goody-toe-shoes. But knowing that you want to end poverty is not enough. An intensive study on the problem and the implications of possible policies must be undertaken and cannot be dependent on feelings of sympathy alone. It should be remembered that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

My main contention on the movie is that Gina’s character makes it seem that world leaders from the G8 hold the key to the developing world’s development while these states are passive and helpless entities at the mercy of their industrial matters. Thus, by a perverse turn of events, this make the film sound condescending in its message that the G8 has to solve the developing world’s problems for them. While I am quite sure that the film meant well in trying to bring up the agenda of world poverty as a main theme, its appeal to the viewers’ sense of righteousness makes the plot platitudinous. It does not bring anything new among a pool of movies which have continuously capitalized on poverty to evoke strong reactions from viewers. Policies cannot be constructed from purely abstract normative notions of what ought to be. It has to be grounded on the institutional capacity of states and international organizations and realistic conditions.

Fukuyama, Francis. 2004. State Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Nicholson, Michael. 2003. International Relations: A Concise Introduction. New York: New York University Press.

F. Abdullah

Ginx Petterson said...

When is a film a success? Is it good enough if it feels realistic? If it’s based on a true story? If one can relate to it? Or if it pushes someone to, as Sir would say, “gumulong gulong sa labas”?

How was The Girl in the Café? Was it good enough? Ms. Gallardo pointed out that it is overflowing with contrasts. The divergence between themes of tender romance and objective politics somehow makes one feel that one or the other is lost in such a setting, and yet they work. Add in those conversations that took its viewers on a rollercoaster ride, first hysterical with giddy laughter then squirming with discomfort. But then again, how can one know happiness without knowing sadness? How could the film effectively make its viewers recoil away during Gina’s noble, yet misplaced speeches without establishing Gina’s playfulness in the beginning’s scenes of their flirtatious dates?

I particularly appreciate the contrast of placing Gina’s character in the world of a character like Lawrence. This conveyed the film’s message on two fronts: there is your slap-in-the-face hard cold statistics meant to guilt you into action (as you find in Lawrence and his number crunching), and there is the subtle real life kind of pain and drama (I’m pertaining to the kind you feel in Up In The Air with George Clooney) meant to push you into going beyond the every day of real life (because there is supposed to be something more that we can do as individuals, such as Gina, who grabs the opportunity as it is presented to her).

Audiences have been saturated with images of poverty so much that, one must admit, they have lost their original impact. Glamorized poverty has become the usual thing, people have become used to it. Which is, of course, the problem in the first place. Those who have never experienced such kind of suffering get used to poverty just being there, without the second thought that those who double over with pangs of hunger thrice, four times, five times a day can never be used to it. The allowance that the movie gives as it opens the world of politics to viewers has also been effective in bringing back the impact of how horrible poverty is. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, performed well by Ken Stott, is the character that plays up this impact over the concrete statistics that is laid down as a foundation as we go back over and over these numbers throughout the film, carrying more and more weight every time it they are brought back. Feeling the Chancellor’s frustration (as well as Lawrence’s) as they continue to push for their well-intended Millennium Development Goals and yet fall short of influencing others to their call, heightens the literal life-or-death consequences of the G8’s actions, or rather, inaction. It may be called oversimplification, and yes, it could be the case, but the plight of our politicians has been shed some light on through our British underdogs. It is indeed problematic to make it seem like eight men in one room can solve world poverty, but personally, the film only gave me the impression that they can’t. Which is precisely why I feel that though, as Ms. Gallardo mentions, the movie had been intended to coincide with the real G8 Summit, the film’s target audience lies in the non-bourgeoisie as well—the middle class, the masses, just like Gina. I had the impression that the movie was trying to empower me—me, who was not a politician, no position, no titles, yet capable of making a difference as long as I made the choice to do so (a choice that some world leaders could not make).

Ginx Petterson said...

Critics to The Girl in the Café are quite divided as well. Either they hate it or love it. I do understand that it could bring out the cynic in you, or could bring out the hopeful in you. Yet how can I choose whether I myself am for it or against it? How can I have any amour for the painful practicality of separation between Lawrence and Gina? How can I detest the clear call to action that man is capable of many great things as long as he chooses it? How can I have hope when in the end you can lose the courage to reach out to a person who you love, what more to a person who is dying in another continent? How can I feel hopeless when the temptation of the ideal feels oh-so close behind the doors of choice?

If the film stirs one well enough to go out on the streets to demand from the Leviathan, or to start writing letters to as many government legislators one can reach to influence them for policies parallel to one’s interests, will that lead one to say that the film was a success?

The perceptive use of British humor in this film is an aspect that I could never doubt. Audiences don’t know what hit them. They begin to watch it with expectations of more dry wit, and indeed, they do get it—along with a side order of the difficulties of world politics. And I think that was the intention of the film. It took on the point of view of Western characters who have never in their life experience how it is to fret that you may die of AIDS or hunger every single day you wake up. The more you can relate, the more you’ll feel about it, right? And supposedly, the more you’ll want to act for/against it. The mass of audiences who get to watch this film are either part of the higher ups (like those found in the film), or others who are too caught up in the day to day to think of such world concerns. But no matter where along the spectrum they fall, this film stirs viewers (whether negatively or positively) and everyone still walks out much more informed about other world realities than they were before. In its digestible format, the apathetic may not be as apathetic as they thought.

This is what makes The Girl in the Café a success.

This comment has been removed by the author.
Rosie said...

The Girl in the Café began as any romantic comedy would, a chance encounter between two characters both engaged in their own lives, both trying to find a way out of them. It was funny, light, and relatable; until they flew to the G8 Summit, that is. All the settings conveyed the right amount of tension and drama, the soundtrack reflected the mood of the characters, and the actors were very convincing. Bill Nighy did tremendous justice to the awkward technocrat it was almost hard to believe he played the rebellious has-been singer in Richard Curtis' 2003 film, Love, Actually.

The first aspect of the film I found interesting was that no matter what Gina said, Lawrence never stopped her from talking. As Ms. Gallardo said, age was only the start of contrasts between them. For all the differences in their characters, Lawrence chose not to interfere, implying that deep inside he actually wanted her to speak out. She was doing something that Lawrence, getting on in years and deeply entrenched in the system, could never do. It was the self Lawrence lost long ago, something he constantly admitted by saying he did not become the man he wanted to be when he was young. It was clear that he wanted to make a difference, but he had already forgotten how.

His source of redemption was, interestingly enough, a young woman with an intriguing past. Because of personal trauma Gina empathizes with the children in Africa who could have better lives if only the leaders of the G8 Summit would let them have it. The premise feel like a bit of a stretch, but debate requires we suspend disbelief for now.

Gina was treated unfairly at several points, notably during the cocktail scene where she confronted the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister. But being treated as a "non-entity" didn't stop her, and that is perhaps her most admirable characteristic. She represents those of us whose judgments are not influenced by the system precisely because they are outside it. Things are more black and white for her: this is wrong, this is right, so do the right thing. It gets complicated once you take into consideration the different interests and objectives of each stakeholder, but then the film was not meant to explain the intricacies of how our leaders run the world. It was meant to spur people like Gina, both sufficiently engaged and sufficiently detached, into action.

The Girl in the Café as an agent of political socialization is ineffective only if we take it at the literal level. At the literal level I can honestly say that it does not spur me to "action," action here defined as the emulation of Gina's dignified outbursts. I am not any closer to standing up in the middle of a keynote speech and giving the speaker a piece of my mind, no matter how right I think or know I am because that remains disrespectful at best and insolent at worst. I believe in acknowledging authority and that there is a time and place for everything, including even the noblest of protests. This is why my visceral reaction was to cringe at the intense scenes and to will for Gina to keep quiet. Besides, it is honestly unrealistic to assume that she would have that much of an impact; to influence power you must also wield it.

Rosie said...

Looking at it from a broader perspective, however, Gina's actions can be a very good metaphor for social action. Everybody can do something if they choose to. That is ultimately what the film is trying to tell us: "Stand up and speak out. Now before it's too late. You too can make a difference." It basically gives hackneyed slogans a different take, and we must commend it for that.

There are still two questions that linger in my mind as I try to understand this romantic-comedy turned propaganda film with a more-or-less-implied fairy tale ending. First, where should obedience to protocol end and spontaneous expression begin? And second, what should you be willing to risk to see the change you want to see in the world?

On protocol, I believe that there is no clear answer. The modern world is governed by procedures, and we cannot live otherwise. A Gina speaking out of turn every single time would be anarchic, and others might follow the lead, but eventually they will come up with a way to organize these protests, and the system would just reassert itself. Gina's technique, again at the literal level, would perhaps only be effective the first time, before she is bodily removed from the hall or banned from gatherings altogether.

On the other hand, the different levels of risks involved all probably serve to prove what Mr. Quijano said in his comment. "… genuine change is not possible in the hands of any government or institution controlled by the capitalist class."

If someone of commensurate authority interrupted the Prime Minister and said what Gina was saying, I would not have reacted the same way. Gina did not belong in the system and it could neither create nor destroy her. As she said herself, she had nothing to lose by speaking out. But a person of commensurate authority who would dare go against the tide when they had everything to lose would be more impressive and convincing. Such bold self-sacrifice would certainly get more attention. But, as the film implies, this never really happens. And Gina’s actions make the message explicit: change relies on those outside the system.

But the system is there for a reason. And those who wish to change the world must inevitably become a part of this system, no matter how disdainful they are of it. There are all too many real world examples. The Girl in the Café is an engaging film because at the end it provokes us to ask ourselves whether or not we still have enough idealism left in us to feel that genuine, large-scale change is something we can truly believe in.

Petersen said...


We have here two people who, in a series of odd and questionable circumstances, end up involved in the G-8 Summit. On the other end is an aged man who works as a finance guy of the Chancellor of Exchequer and on the opposite hand, a young girl with whom the guy shares a moment in a cafe. We also have in the film, two halves that divide the over-all divisible mood of the narrative. In the first few sequences we see the romantic comedy aspect of the film; on the latter part, we see a propaganda arising from the story. Conclusively, David Yates's The Girl in the Cafe works both as double-purpose film -- it provides Richard Curtis's (who wrote the script) comical quirks and whims to be established somewhere along the narrative; and palpably enough, it serves as a didactic medium to raise awareness of then, the upcoming G-8 Summit
as well as the issue of poverty and its effects on a global scale.

As pointed by Ms. Gallardo's entry, the effectiveness of the selection of both main leads in the film lies in the contrast they so apparently exhibit. They are like magnets who have, in a peculiar sense, still attracted each other even if they possessed the same magnetic poles. Applying the suspension of disbelief, we do not eagerly devote our time into questioning as to why Gina, a beautiful -- not pretty, as pointed out -- young lass, alone in a cafe, entertained a seemingly creepy and pedophile-looking old man in her table. However, for me, at least, I still would like to question the motives of Gina for doing what she did, romantic-wise, in the story. During the cringing moments of the film where she utterly spoken out her side to the 'big men' of her nation -- and maybe, even of the whole world -- we notice convincingly the battle she was braving herself through and through. Here was a golden opportunity to speak up, voice out, and be heard. Was this her main intention in joining Lawrence in Reykjavic, or was it genuinely just out of her attraction to her newly found friend?

Petersen said...


Technically, what won me most in this film is its effective editing technique. Its use of abrupt cuts (think of the awkward dates scenarios) from here to there of the film's space and time emphasized, in a humoring manner, the reversal of their traits and persona if we were to base it from the common old man and young lass. Lawrence acts chidlishly and twitches in almost every opportunity he is given to converse while Gina acts more matured and appears, as if, the more experienced individual in love and life, generally. Even the gripping final sequences of the film, the parallel of Damien Rice's Cold Water alongside the telephone conversation that leads the closing of the film to an open-ended finale is to be credited for the effective and just-right cuts. What also is to be celebrated is Bill Nighy's perfect portrayal of Lawrence as we are offered what should be offered by the character he was privileged to play. Kelly Macdonald's speeches were also silencing both in the reel and real world -- which is the end-product of good acting.

Yes, there are a number of flaws the film is to be criticised about but they are to be forgiven rather than be temperamentally exploited and dissected. After all, the film works most as a romantic comedy rather than its ambition to be a wholly propaganda film so I think the few errors -- even if it was the oversimplifying of politics, the wrongness of the setting, and so on -- are to be overlooked rather than be strongly discussed.

The intention of the film, I would greatly assume, was to be an effective tool to support the "Make Poverty History" movement and to raise awareness and even participation to the 2005 G-8 conference. Watching it six years later after it was widely released, the film is still powerful as it must have been in its original period of screening. Yes, change and progress could not be achieved overnight. But even just a tiny flicker of hope that the film -- and specifically, Gina's character -- rekindled in the seemingly dying flame of optimism we have, might just be what we all need. A reaffirmation that both in the filmic and realistic realm, there exists still a Gina who will disregard ethics and proper manners -- and for some, just about everything there is to be disregarded -- and step up just to fight for what is right.

Juan Carlo Tejano said...


I rarely really focus on the minute details of any film, even those films we have seen in class, but it is also rare for any film to be so effectively eloquent in the most miniscule of details within its setup. The film quite undoubtedly was beautiful in almost every aspect – from its political activism to its personal and more romantic acting – and at all levels – from the larger issues tackled such as the milieu of extreme and real poverty in the African continent to the smallest and most microscopic specifics such as the diagonal seating arrangement Lawrence and Gina found themselves in at the café where they first met. Indeed, it was as if the film’s internal universe conspires to build up a deeply and intensely emotional ride for viewers; the film takes the audience to a breathtaking view of the small things that go on inside the big world of international politics.

With such salience presented for the narrative’s specifics, the viewer is left with no option but to keep asking after watching the film: Why was this detail chosen? Why was this specific detail focused on by the filmmaker? What makes this detail so relevant to the larger issue presented in the film such as world hunger?

First, therefore, we ask: Why was the film so deeply emotional? Could it not have been instead informative? Why was a love story chosen over a documentary to deliver the message of world poverty? Clearly, the movie capitalizes on the human emotion by making everything seem so real through empathy. The film does this by tapping into uncomfortably familiar human experiences. This, as I see it, was the film’s technique; its main objective was never really to inform the audience comprehensively of the issue of the millennium development goals (MDGs) but to use familiar emotions and channel these emotions into a feeling of social responsibility and ultimately into political action. From the very beginning, we are taken into the realistically awkward first few dates of Lawrence and Gina. It presents quite a different love story – between that of a much older and awkward man and a more mysterious, younger, and more aggressive woman. This technique hits the audience’s soft spot; the audience actually relates because real love stories are never really like those portrayed by traditional media. Love and relationships are always awkward at the start as portrayed effectively by Lawrence’s extremely believable hesitation to ask Gina out at the café. Thus, the viewers are immediately conditioned to believe how real the film’s love story is, which will later be useful in portraying as well how real the global situation of poverty is and how real the daily deaths of children are around the world.

- Juan Carlo Tejano

Juan Carlo Tejano said...


The second question to point out and ponder on is why the character of Gina was chosen to be the aggressive, uncompromising persona in the film. Lawrence being a heterosexual male and his incompatibility with a male partner aside, could the role of Gina not have been personified more effectively by a stronger, more opinionated man? Could the role not have been played more believably by a grim and determined genuine activist? What is the importance of Gina’s history in prison? Gina’s role is assigned to a female whose character as portrayed in the movie seems to have no activist background because the film wants us to believe that Gina is clueless about the issue of global poverty. This became useful in making the audience believe how “out-of-protocol” and irrational Gina was when she furiously spoke her mind during the G8 evening gatherings. In fact, even her sex as a female plays a role by tapping into the viewers’ stereotypes of women as ignorant and opinion-less on the important issues. Had it been a male like the politicians and technical experts portrayed in the film or had Gina been a genuine tibak or activist, we would have easily justified in our minds the fact that Gina simply spoke against poverty. This is why we kept cringing at what Gina did, because it was believably unbelievable. It was also important that Gina was portrayed as some sort of a norm-breaking persona by the fact that Gina went to prison and even by the simple yet salient detail that she has a tattoo; this was the key to making the audience believe how aggressive and rule-breaking Gina is. Thus, the film presents an important reality through Gina’s situation: Only the male formal political actors and activists have a consequential say on the social issues of today while the women and the rule-breakers have none but irrational outbursts of opinions.

Finally, questioning Lawrence’s character relevance is also important and noteworthy. Why was Lawrence chosen to be the civil servant in the film? Why was he characterized as an awkward and balding old man? The simple answer is because this is the situation of many civil servants and intellectuals today: Despite having the technical knowledge and information on statistics that clearly portray that there is something wrong with this world of ours, bureaucrats and scholars have no balls to act. Just as Lawrence had no balls to ask Gina out, the people in the sector he represents are also virtually voiceless in the big issues. As such, people like Lawrence are left with nothing but the option of negotiation. Without integrity, they are left only with compromises.

All in all, needless to say, the film has been an effective tool for pushing viewers into political action. The film gives us hope that indeed we can influence the politics of today by ending with Britain’s and arguably G8’s strong commitment to fulfill the MDGs. It gives hope for both the voiceless such as Gina and those who choose to be voiceless such as Lawrence. The film has done this by tapping into the barest human emotions through the realistic, believable, and familiar love story of Gina and Lawrence.

- Juan Carlo Tejano

Liane Candelario said...

Part I

The accolades would be thrown later. The first on my agenda is to blatantly point out one thing that I profusely dislike about the movie, and that is, love. And no, not the concept itself but on how thatconcept was used.

I’ve watched the movie with much fervor, the story being so gripping it actually sends one person to cringe, or laugh, or even cry at the expense of finding one’s emotions to mimic those of the characters. Fair enough, the issue tackled by this movie is entirely a universally shared experience. Even though most of us are luckily not acquaintances with severe hunger, or abuse, or injustice, or death, we know that somewhere out there, millions are not so lucky to have the same conducive life conditions. Now, with such an important and powerful message, I am greatly disappointed how everything has to be cozily bundled up to a love story. Again.

Parallelizing this argument for instance, sure, I could forgive Blood Diamond on how it tackled the gruesome civil war in Sierra Leone because it was a Leonardi DiCaprio-led franchise after all and we couldn’t really expect such noble motives from the capitalist-driven Hollywood. But a BBC film franchise fueled by a strong anti-poverty advocate like Richard Curtis? Why does a message as pertinent as this have to be compromised by a love story? At worst, I see it as an underestimation of the global audience who here is deemed to be only capable of listening as long as you flavor the story with romanticized fiction. At best, I see both as distracting or misleading to the real issues.

Yes, I do admire Lawrence and Gina and on how they unequivocally fell in love by virtue of awkward serendipity in a packed coffee shop. What I don’t understand is why I need that love story for me to know what the G8 is or to realize how herculean the efforts and challenges are needed to make this generation accountable for a better world. It comes as a double-edged sword with the sceenwriter Mr. Curtis tasks Gina to say “show, don’t tell”, that if Lawrence would put pictures of little kids dying slowly with their ribcages poking out of their skin then maybe it would grab the world leaders’ attention more effectively than just stare at non-empathetic figures we call ‘statistics’. The film certainly didn’t give its own preaching due justice.

But anyway, if that’s how director Yates and screenwriter Curtis wants to package the global message, then so be it. Analyzing it without a normative perspective of trying to point out what should have been the movie, I daresay that the it has more than fulfilled its obligations to raise awareness to the issue, if not to just for a mere few hours, educate and enlighten audiences regarding the plight of the weak and the poor.

Liane Candelario said...

Part II

There are three things that have generally caught my attention. First, I deeply admire how power politics and how process of political work and negotiation is realistically portrayed in this movie. I can’t say that I am knowledgeable to what it must really feel like to attend to conferences of such paramount scale or to be part of a government or political team, but watching The Girl in the Café made those experiences seem more relatable for me. There’s too much work to be done, too much at stake, so little time, so many diplomatic protocols that must be observed, and most of all, so much negotiations and agreements to be reached. Everything is in whirlwind motion, and I bet in real life it goes the same way.

The second would be the interesting character contrast that Lawrence and Gina present as a duo. More specifically, I’d like to think it’s the pragmatist versus the idealist. At first, the constant conflict between these two philosophies proved to be quite unsettling, until I realized that the best way to make peace with it is to understand that both of them have simply lived in two different social structures and hence are not to be blamed for whatever rationality they deem to be best fit to behave. Lawrence is submissive and abides to the rules or work and conduct because he is tied to a bureaucratic hierarchy, while on the other hand, Gina is outspoken and fearless because experience had made her more, should we say, hands on with the cause that she is more than willing to go to prison for.

The third and the last would of course be the controversial issue of propriety. I personally have cringed at the sight of Gina constantly bashing the high-ranking diplomats and political figures. In fact, there are times when I cringed before she even did it just because of sheer anticipation- because I know she’s bound to do so anyway. Does that make me an inherently bad person? Not to be defensive, but I don’t think so. My stance is that not everything should be made an indicator of whether or not you are pro or anti the cause. That wouldn’t be fair. Moral codes of conducts versus ideological battles are something that should rightfully be compartmentalized and what I would vehemently call as being mutually exclusive. Just because you don’t want to shout what’s wrong or right in a formal setting doesn’t make you any less of an advocate.

What a controversial movie indeed. Though, I’d still say I’m not a fan of the love story.#

Fiona Arevalo said...

Part I
It is rare indeed to experience a film that successfully blends comedy and romance with a strong social and political message; The Girl in the Café emerged victorious in such attempt. Judging it from the title itself, one would presume the film to be a love story, which it is, partly. Lonely old man meets a stunning young lady in an unlikely dating place, kept in touch, went out for a few more dates then invited her to go to Reykjavik with him for the G8 summit. At first, one would think that the story is pretty much usual—two unlikely strangers meet then they fall madly in love with each other. But this thought changes as the G8 summit enters the picture. This serves as the film’s ultimate turning point from romantic comedy to political allegory. The romantic relationship between Lawrence and Gina continues to unfold, but it is the social and political side of the story that gradually dominated the final portion of the film. Once you strip away the backdrop of the G8, the film is pretty bare as there isn’t much story present.
Like what Ms. Gallardo has mentioned, the film could be seen more as influential and inspirational rather than entertaining. Richard Curtis as an advocate of the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign was able to utilize the film to raise awareness of the existing global poverty. Yes, it may be true that the film oversimplified politics, but I see it more as strength rather than a weakness for the film. By doing so, the complex intricacies and jargons of international politics are reduced to layman’s terms, hence an everyman would be able to follow and comprehend the film’s message. This is consistent with what the film is trying to achieve—to inspire the viewers, increase their internal efficacy and eventually mobilize them to take part in this universal combat against global poverty. The danger in this however lies in the reception of the viewers. While the film finds strength in oversimplifying the issue and how to address it, the harm is inflicted to the audience. If one becomes overly sympathetic with the film and with Gina in particular, he may think that lobbying and protest are the ultimate keys to solving world problems. At the same time, he may be misleadingly fixed with the idealistic notion that such acts translate to positive results when in reality, protests are barely listened to by authority. The question that inevitably emerges here is whether or not an individual and commoner like Gina can single-handedly make a difference in the world.

Fiona Arevalo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bulawi said...

David Yates’ The Girl in the Café is a light romantic comedy film relative to those shown earlier in the course, which however is not a deterrent as it, like the others, manifested factors for political socialization. In the film, we see a rather older man fall in love with a younger woman which sparks off a roller-coaster love story leading to the guy taking the girl to his work in the G8 Summit in Iceland ultimately ending with the G8 giving priority to the UN Millennium Development Goals and the fight against extreme poverty. All in all, The Girl in the Café is a rom-com with undertones, political and otherwise, that, as was in the blog entry, reflected the writer’s view on the fight against extreme poverty.

What we see in the film is generally a brief overview, and as such is a simplification, of the workings of the G8. It is in this setting that we find, in spite of all the protocols set, Gina speaking directly and frankly about how her leaders should give a much greater importance to the battle against extreme poverty among other the other points being discussed in the summit. She is however punished in spite of her good intentions. She still is, in a way, successful as is seen in the ending scene of the film. This then leads us to the question of protocols and rules and when not to abide by them. Ideally, rules are there to be followed at all times as a consequent punishment is meted out to those who do otherwise. In Gina’s case, despite knowing the subsequent reprimands of her actions, she chose to go against the protocol as she believed that something could be achieved and she would be able to make clear her point in the face of her separation with Lawrence.

What we see in the film is generally a brief overview, and as such is a simplification, of the workings of the G8. It is in this setting that we find, in spite of all the protocols set, Gina speaking directly and frankly about how her leaders should give a much greater importance to the battle against extreme poverty among other the other points being discussed in the summit. She is however punished in spite of her good intentions. She still is, in a way, successful as is seen in the ending scene of the film. This then leads us to the question of protocols and rules and when not to abide by them. Ideally, rules are there to be followed at all times as a consequent punishment is meted out to those who do otherwise. In Gina’s case, despite knowing the subsequent reprimands of her actions, she chose to go against the protocol as she believed that something could be achieved and she would be able to make clear her point in the face of her separation with Lawrence.

It is true and rather ironic that while many people die needlessly, the solution to their difficulties is in the hands of only a few people, some of which do not even have the problem of extreme poverty at the top of their priority lists. Most of our actions do not have the leisure of leaving a big impact afterwards. Still, every action, however small, could be of help. In the end the movie poses a question of how far would we be willing to sacrifice in order to see the attainment of what we believe in. Gina’s answer was everything as she sacrificed her freedom to save the child who was “hurt”, and her relationship with Lawrence as was seen in the film. However, not all of us, myself included, have a resolve as strong as hers. Still, this should not be a deterrent for us to pursue that which we believe in.


Fiona Arevalo said...

Part II

Many of us cringed as we watched Gina oddly and impertinently speak up and throw her judgments to the Chancellor and then to the Prime Minister. My visceral response stems out from the unlikelihood of finding myself in the same gritty situation. As Ms. Gallardo had pointed out, a certain protocol exists and determines our behavior. We do not just break from this so-called protocol in the fear of being penalized for such. Apparently, Gina claims that she’s got nothing to lose; by contrast, Lawrence’s job and credibility were endangered by her misconduct. Gina who’s from outside the political realm seeks to inject influence into the system without any inhibitions. Her limited knowledge about the intricacies of the system, allows her to rely on her emotion and experience alone to know where she stands. On the other hand, Lawrence whose life and expertise lie on bureaucratic politics is constrained by what he knows. It is impossible for him to act that way for more is expected from him.

Lawrence and Gina, for all appearances is a mismatched pair. Lawrence is the aging, uptight man who clearly thinks before he says something, while Gina is the young, free-spirited woman who voices out whatever comes to her mind. Nevertheless, the film lacks character development, particularly on Gina’s role. We learn a lot of things about Lawrence but almost nothing about her: we do not know what’s her work, does she have a family or why she developed an interest in Lawrence. More importantly, the script did not explicitly state the reason as to why she’s speaking against all odds; even the revelation of her hurting of a man who killed a child is not an enough and deliberate proof as to where she’s coming from. This led to several interpretations by the audience.

Overall the movie was successful in stirring up the emotions of its viewers. It raised awareness of the issue of global poverty but did not fully explore the complexities of dealing with it. The film somewhat romanticized the results of one’s altruistic endeavor to bring about positive change.

-AREVALO, Nina Fiona Vianca S.

therese said...

Part 1

It is easy to get caught up in the very obvious political issues tackled in Girl in a Café - the G-8 and their diplomatic negotiations, and how the entire affair can be evaluated using different perspectives in International Relations. It is easy to get caught up evaluating the film by looking at all these factual elements such as the G-8 or these politicians and whether they have been presented in the film as consistent to how things actually are outside the big screen. So far we have asked – is this idea accurate or is the presentation of the idea too emotional? Was it able to present the entirety of the issue or did it oversimplify? What I want to point out following such a discussion is that if we allow ourselves to get caught up in the film’s factual contexts, we are limiting ourselves to what other underlying ideas might be present. We will be expecting the elements of the film to be operating within the standards we have set – standards based on what is factual for us – and when the film fails to be a pretty accurate representation of real life, we say it is ineffective , or at the very least we think less of the film. In this particular film I think such an evaluation will be extremely insufficient and inappropriate. Like Mr. Quijano, I find the agenda of debt, aid, and trade too pretentious, but as much as the film tries its best to be a tool for propaganda; as much as it even features an actual event (the G-8 Summit), I believe that the film has much depth to it if we go beyond the obvious political content and examine the less explicit but nevertheless provocative ideas within the film.

In this way, Girl in a Café is like Gina - or perhaps it is the other way around. Miss Gallardo takes it against the film that it presents an oversimplified view of politics. That the film does so is quite obvious, I agree. However, the simplicity of the film can also be seen as one of its strongest points, as it was in its simplification through which it expressed most effective messages - very much like Gina. Here is a seemingly simple, innocent girl who literally walks into the middle of a very important conference and starts saying all these things in a manner that someone sensible would actually be mortified to emulate. She defied all protocol and judging by the things she said and the manner by which she said them, we assume she doesn’t know much about the workings of politics and how complicated things get. Indeed, watching her, we get the impression that she has a very simple view of things: she knows these men in the summit are powerful, and she perhaps somewhat naively thinks that if they are truly committed to eradicating extreme poverty, they will do whatever it takes. We cringe because she doesn’t act consistent to how people are expected to ask in such situations – but would she have been able get her point across any other way? Miss Gallardo feels that Gina’s intentions were good, but her manner was “questionable” because she chose to defy protocol. It is true that protocol exists to establish authority and order. Yet when the current order is inefficient, and when authority no longer listens, is sticking to protocol still appropriate?

therese said...

Part 2

We look at Lawrence, who was the epitome of the constant, the routine, having been entrenched in these political institutions long enough for him to master protocol. Obviously he shares the same sentiments with Gina, and obviously he has long since been working for the same cause, but unlike Gina he operated within the parameters of the system – in this case, the bureaucracy. Who was it who created more impact? To the audience, at the very least, it is Gina who elicits more reactions – and she is far more compelling and more confronting precisely because of her startlingly simple approach, uncluttered by the tediousness of protocol and uninfluenced by institutional rules and regulations. On the other hand, it is an irony that those who have been considering all this time the gravity and the complexity of the problem (that is, those government officials such as the Minister of the Exchequer) were the first to be burdened by its complexity and almost yield to compromise; Lawrence later on identifies that that is exactly the problem: “we get into the habit of always compromising, and therefore, we always get compromised.”

Thus, as much as Girl in a Café has its issues, particularly the advocacy of aid, debt, and trade, it provides surprisingly resonant insights about the nature of protest, particularly protest against status quo. When protocol becomes both a reflection of status quo and a tool by which status quo is perpetuated , and when status quo doesn’t work, does it really pay to get caught up in its complexities?

-- Therese Buergo

royalprincerpineda said...

It’s funny how an old bureaucrat found his love in the person of a mysterious young woman. Indeed, one may consider it a fairy tale (but in this case, a May-December fairy tale). Lawrence and Gina started to play beautiful music as they met by chance in a café shop. The love story may sound typical, yet the film brings the audience into something that’s more worthy of discussing: the political aspects of it.

A protest is one great action an individual can take in order to defy the existing status quo and eventually make a change in the society. This maybe a manifestation of the political efficacy of an individual, that is, he/she understands politics that enable him/her to participate (internal political efficacy), and he/she is able to influence authority as he/she participates politically (external political efficacy). Ms. Gallardo said that Gina exhibited great internal political efficacy, yet not that much external political efficacy, and I have to agree with it. Gina made many of us in the class cringe as she delivered her protest for the poor children in Africa in front of the leaders of the G-8 Summit. That was one brave act for a nobody in a conference of the most powerful people in the world. Did she move the leaders to respond? In the movie, there were allusions to a change of priorities of the G-8 leaders in the conference, and it seemed that Gina was successful in attaining her goal.

Yet, was it really that easy? Is world politics oversimplified in the film? Just like most of my classmates would say, I think that the movie, though it’s not its intention, oversimplified the process in a convention like the G-8. Many other factors were ignored purposely just to suit the filmmaker’s agenda of “Make Poverty History” through the character of Gina.

Actually, the real source of debate in the movie is the context of Gina’s protest. Did she do the right thing? Certainly, yes. Fighting for the rights of the people in Africa to live is a noble cause. But was she in the right place and at the right time? No, I don’t think so. There is a certain protocol in each situation especially that the event is a G-8 Summit. Speaking out your sentiments to the Chancellors, Presidents, and Prime Ministers wouldn’t be that easy if you don’t hold any position or power. Lucky for Gina, she wasn’t thrown out of the hall in a violent manner. Yet if you’re in some other place where the protocol of authority is not disregarded, a protester such as Gina might be subjected to coercion just to be controlled. For society to maintain order, these protocols should be followed; otherwise, anarchic would be the term to describe the scenario.

Still, the movie is a good romantic-comedy infused with an allegory to significant political events. I particularly like Lawrence’s awkwardness at first toward Gina, and Gina’s valor in fighting for what she thinks is right despite the existing protocols. And the sound track—how tender it is to my ears. #

-Roldan P. Pineda