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The Girl in the Cafe is one  of those wonderful, little-heard of films that you nearly click away from, the start is so slow, with such eye-averting awkwardness.  Then it picks up, the awkwardness smooths out, the painfully shy find a voice and it ends with a thrilling powerful speech. Gina, with a back story of her own, confronts the most powerful men in the world, speaking the core truth of her being — as it should be for all of us– nothing is more important than protecting a child.

As she snaps her finger every 3 seconds while she talks to them — the rate at which a child dies in the world– they, and we, are riveted; as if hearing this figure for the first time. Her delivery, without histrionics, is the delivery of the innocent: powerful, moving and damning.

 

David Yates, the director, better known for his Harry Potter movies, has set Bill Nighy, as Lawrence, and Kelly Macdonald, as Gina, in what seems at first to be a sweet-sad story of a May-December relationship.  And is Nighy a December!  He doesn’t have the rugged good looks of an older Eastwood, or DeNiro.  He just looks worn and washed out.  It turns out he’s a senior member of Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer.  On his way with his boss to Reykjavík for the G-8 summit, he screws up his courage and asks Gina, who he has met just days ago, at a cafe,  to go with him.

There are opportunities for a few chuckles as his colleagues realize he’s brought a date along, and opportunities for a few breath-taking views of Iceland’s landscape (of which there could have been more.)  But the tension is, or the double tension, will they share some coital moments in the only bed in the room, and will Gina’s reproofs of the G-8 ministers get her kicked off the island, and Lawrence fired — for bringing a “plant?”

As Kelly Macdonald says in the added features on the DVD, there doesn’t seem to be another film like this.  And why not?  It is engaging, sweet, probably inexpensive to make, and takes on enormous problems in the world without shifting into the anger of frustrated authoritarians who, while condemning the evil they see, really believe that they, given power, would be so much different.

If films like this were the environment the film-going public swam in, instead of the vengeful, blood-letting, smarter-than-the idiots films we have today, what great things might come about?

You won’t be unhappy at all with the 95 minutes spent in viewing, and you will want to run her speech several times.

 

At a richly set banquet table, wine goblets, dessert plates, and well dressed men and women. The host begins to make a perfunctory speech, promising that the poorest of the poor will not be forgotten. Gina interrupts him, and is told that heckling is not one of the traditions of these meetings.

What are the traditions then?  Well crafted compromises while ignoring the plight of the poor?

Perhaps we can talk about it later?

I doubt it.  I imagine I’ll be thrown out later. It’s probably got to be now. I don’t know how much the rest of you ladies know about what’s going on, but my friend here tells me that while we are eating, a hundred million children are nearly starving.  There  millions of children who would kill for just the food that fat old me has left on the side of my plate.  Children that are so weak that they’ll die if a mosquito bites them.  And so they do die.  One every three seconds. [She snaps her fingers.]  There they go.  And another one.   Anyone who has kids knows that every mother and father in Africa must love their children as much as they do.  And to watch your kids die.  To watch them die.  And then to die yourself in trying to protect them.  That’s not right

And tomorrow, eight of the men sitting round this table,  actually have the ability to sort this out, by making a few great decisions.   And if they don’t, some day, someone else will.   And they’ll look back on us lot and say, ‘People were actually dying in their millions, unncesessarily, in front of you, on your TV screens.  What were you thinking?  You knew what to do to stop it happening, and you didn’t do those things.   Shame on you.’

So that’s what you have to do tomorrow.   Be great instead of being ashamed.  It cannot be impossible.   It must be possible.

 

She is taken from the room…

The closing scenes will make you cry.  You hear a bit more about Gina.  The G-8 does the unexpected.