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  • George Lennox is a bus driver in Glasgow who tries to go about his business in a cheerful, helpful and understanding way. When a ticket inspector takes issue with a young woman over as little as 40p, George helps her out and lets her get away. Later, the Nicaraguan exile finds George and gives him a gift to say thanks, but doesn't stay around any longer than that. George is both concerned for her and attracted to her and keeps pushing, but she withdraws more and more. Messing up her lodgings, George gets Carla a new place and tries to get to know her, unaware of where his relationship with her will take him.

    A hard sell back in 1996 when it was released, not many people paid to see this and in a way it is still a hard sell now, perhaps appealing most to those who will always make the effort to see Ken Loach's work. The reason that it perhaps failed to grab an audience is that the film itself isn't sure what it is trying to do – and as a result is a bit fragmented and split. The film opens in a faltering way and it didn't convince me in how quickly it brought along George and Carla in the first stages. After this their relationship is a bit more convincing as it is brought on naturally as trust grows. At this stage Nicaragua is part of her character rather than the whole story. Gradually then suddenly the film becomes more about Nicaragua and George & Carla's relationship becomes the device to get him (the audience's eyes) into the country to learn all about it. I felt a bit like my interest in the people had been thrown out the window, and the vague attempt to make it about them towards the end didn't convince me. Loach directs with earnestness but he cannot make this work as either a political education or a character piece; varying wildly between being preachy and being touching.

    The cast try hard to find this middle ground and to their credit they do pretty well. Carlyle does well to bring out a real person in George, covering up the question marks early on. He is left a bit high and dry in the second half but does his best. The same could be said of Carla, who is a person in the first half and a journey in the second. Cabezas delivers the role as well as she can and is natural and convincing throughout. Glenn has an obvious role but he is a good presence. The rest of the support cast is solid enough but the problems is with the material, not with any of the cast.

    Overall then a fairly mixed affair that is as affecting as it is preachy. Easy to see why it failed to get much of an audience as it makes for an uneasy mix of ideas that don't really come off – failing to educate much more than on a superficial level and failing to produce a real character piece (that would have been better).
  • It is easy to overlook this Ken Loach film. Critics had not been so kind about the excellent Land and Freedom as they had been in the past, and Carla's song didn't fare that well either. It seems difficult to understand why. The inimicable brand of social realism is there as is the focus on the experiences and emotions of the individual. There is even the trademark visual in-joke.

    More than any other character in the recent past I cared for Carla. All performances are exceptional. What we have here is social realism that expands into political statement and ultimately human tragedy.

    If at all possible, try to see this film. Carlisle's broad Scottish accent may make it difficult to follow for the non-initiated, but persevere, and you will be rewarded.
  • I am a great admirer of Ken Loach, the way he can make you get emotionally involved in the plots of his movies and how he designs his movies so one can fully comprehend the social situation his characters are living. The atmospheres created by him show us examples of a social realism confronted by modern day people (especially in England).

    When I started watching this movie, I really had no idea of the turn it would take. When it turned out that "Carla" was from Nicaragua, and it was taking place in the time of heavy war, I didn't imagine the masterfulness with which he recreated the events. Since I live in Honduras, I was very well informed and concerned about the Nicaraguan revolution. All the scenes, the music and the whole environment really caused a great impact on me. I could swear I was watching a documentary instead of a movie. Living near that country and being in contact with its people helped me understand the hardships they went through. And the situation painted by Loach of how the Nicaraguans felt and reacted about the war was incredibly realistic!!

    Carlyle's character was superb!! He showed emotions that were very pure and sincere not only to "Carla" but to the whole situation. He was just too good a person, he showed us unselfish feelings that nowadays are very hard to find in our society, which is oriented mainly to material purposes rather than spiritual fulfillment.

    This is the kind of humanistic films that should be made to teach people about the "real world" and true, unselfish comprehensive and devoted love. A love that goes so deep that one is willing to do anything for the other's happiness and wellbeing... even if it means letting them go.
  • I am Nicaraguan by birth, but stayed away from politics while I lived in that country, although my family and myself experienced the anxiety, and sometimes the horror, of living under a totalitarian regime, even one supported by the US, such as the Somoza dynasty. Although I left for the USA three years before the final triumph of the Sandinista revolution, I visited the country many times during the Sandinistas' 10-year rule, and saw first-hand the good and bad sides of the revolution, as well as the economic hardships caused by President Reagan's (though Olly North and the CIA) support of the counter-revolutionary thugs called "contras", who decimated a whole generation of young people in that unfortunate country.

    I watched this movie last night and was impressed by how true to life Ken Loach managed to keep it. Although to some people it might appear as propaganda, my own experience tells me that everything that was depicted in the film (as far as the situation in Nicaragua in 1987 is concerned) was very realistic. The enthusiasm, especially among the poor and young for the revolution was true, I saw it with my own eyes. The fervor of the literacy campaign volunteers was admirable, even though some of them were targeted as "strategic" targets by the contra forces. Also targeted for destruction were health centers (which had never before existed in many remote villages), grain silos, tobacco sheds, etc., in the areas bordering Honduras, which is where Carla's family lives. The nighttime contra raid was very realistic, I must say, even though I myself never had to live through one. But I knew people who did. The cruelty of the contras depicted in the movie was well documented by American and other media at the time.

    Oyanka Cabezas' portrayal of the young woman is remarkable, and Robert Carlyle's young bus driver is spot-on. The role of Scott Glen as a reformed CIA agent, although good, is the only one I could find fault with for being a little political and perhaps preachy, but I think his comments were based on facts.

    In summary, I enjoyed the film very much. You don't have to be political to appreciate injustice, poverty, love and human decency. These human vices and virtues are all very well portrayed in this story. Kudos to all involved in its making.
  • Ken Loach is a remarkable storyteller. Notice how subtly Carlyle's George changes from a loveable lout to noble lover; now find a recent Hollywood film that accomplishes something even close. Moving dramatically from the grey grime of Glasgow to the green pandemonium of Nicaragua in 1987, this film charts a remarkable story of how international politics becomes an international dance of love becomes international politics.

    The reviewer who argues that the film glorifies the Sandinistas has it all wrong (except perhaps in the world of doublespeak where simply to treat the Sandinistas with sympathy is to glorify them . . .) Loach rather glorifies the kind of loving devotion that leads George to make a remarkable self-abnegating gesture at the end of the film. Even as I believe that the film is primarily about the love between Carla and George, I am happy for the legions of viewers in the U.S. who, upon watching this film, might be inspired to investigate what the U.s. was up to in Nicaragua in the 1980's. As Noam Chomsky so calmly puts it, U.S. involvement in sponsoring terrorism against the Sandinista government is a completely "non-controversial" issue (underlying strong, though naturally unenforceable acts of censure against the U.S. from both the World Court and U.N.). In the film, Scott Glenn has a few nice moments articulating this position. Very worthwhile. And when we finally hear Carla's song, it is moving indeed.
  • jtur885 December 2001
    I will always recommend a picture that reflects the reality of a place, and Carla's Song shows Nicaragua very authentically. That, in addition the fact that the film was a quality piece overall. You will see the Nicaragua that I saw, very faithfully represented (I'm not talking about the politics, an issue I will stay away from. Just the reflection on the feel of the country.) As the story developed in Scotland, I said to myself "I just know this is going to turn into a hokey travelogue when they get to Nicaragua". But that's not what happened. Bravo!
  • I saw this first at the Watershed in Bristol, a celebration of that city's twinning arrangement with the Nicaraguan town of Puerto Morazan. The town had just been devastated by Hurricane Mitch and the ensuing floods, yet the resourceful people of Morazan had emerged from the disaster without loss of life, and yet again they got on with their lives. They are used to this, after generations of bouncing back from flood, volcano, earthquake, military dictatorship and the hegemony of the global megacorporations backed by the US government. And their representatives tell us that Ken Loach's film gives their small voice a hearing.

    This is my favourite amongst Loach's films. It combines its political message - an important one - with comedy and a touching love story. It should be better known.
  • A very beautiful and touching movie. Shows characters in a very sensitive way. A realistic film about people and the effect of terrible traumas (war) on them. It felt very sad. The movie really moved me what doesn't usually happen. Very recommended.
  • juneebuggy12 April 2016
    I really enjoyed the first part of this movie which takes place in Glasgow Scotland following Robert Carlyle as a double deck bus driver who falls for a Nicaraguan woman after she gets caught not paying the fare. "George" takes Carla under his care, finds her a place to live and her story slowly comes out as they fall in love.

    Carla is emotionally tortured, as a Nicaraguan refugee she has witnessed much violence and devastation in her country's civil war. Eventually George buys them tickets back to Nicaragua so she can look for her family and a former lover, who was brutalized by the Contras during an ambush.

    I didn't like the second half of this as much, although the volatile environment of the country is well portrayed it just didn't hold my interest. The characters got vague as this become more of a political vehicle then the drama/romance we had with in the first part.

    In their search to find Carla's boyfriend they meet up with (Scott Glen), a bitter American aid worker who helps in the mystery of where her boyfriend is. As the war and violence takes over their lives, both of them have to make decisions. Ultimately I came away underwhelmed about the whole thing even though I think this movie was meant to move me on some level.

    I always enjoy Robert Carlyle, he does a great job here and was the main reason I watched this. 3/18/16
  • One of the biggest problems of European and Northamerican movies about Latinoamerica and its problems, is that most of the those have strong neocolonialism "poor latinoamericanos, they are so poor, have so big troubles, the governments are always guilty and they need our help (Europa or Northamerica) to continue",and this movie is not an exception of it. Ken Loach is known for the high and strong social and political views in his movies,but here the neocolonial look is clear, and you can see it at trough all the movie and at is best, when a Scotish Bus driver, who drives perfect machines in good roads, drives a 5th class bus trough a typical rural road in Latinomarica (the worst road in the UK is not the half of one of those), and with a single gun defeats a trained army,something that none of the locals has done, it looked like Rambo with social beliefs, and it is great to have movies about these subjects, but please, not with this prejudgment.
  • valis194930 October 2010
    In CARLA'S SONG, Ken Loach focuses his brand of UK social realism on The Contras and Sandinistas. The film recounts the story of a Scottish bus driver, played by Robert Carlyle, who falls in love with a beautiful woman from Nicaragua. She has been physically and psychically wounded in the revolutionary conflict of that country, and they both journey to Nicaragua in an attempt put her life back together. At face value, this seems like a weak or far fetched premise for a film, yet CARLA'S SONG demonstrates a very real and intense chemistry between the two lovers. Robert Carlyle is most convincing with his extemporaneous ad libs and off-hand comments, and they really added a sincere warmth to his character. However, subtitles were desperately needed for the Spanish speaking parts of the film, and a large chunk of the Scottish dialog was nearly uninterpretable. Overall, CARLA'S SONG renders an accurate portrait of 1980's working poor in Scotland, and a realistic view of the Sandinista Freedom Fighters as seen through the prism of a world class love affair.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    (SPOILER) So Carla will stay there, with her disfigured, mute ex-lover. This was not a surprise, and was not interesting. When I say not a surprise, I don't mean it in a praising way or to call it organic or inevitable given the rest of the story. It's inevitable and predictable only from the viewpoint of the script's very dutiful political consciousness. It wouldn't be noble, uplifting, inspiring, etc. etc., for Carla to opt out of the struggle and go back to Scotland with George.

    Please let me be clear, I am not objecting to the script's sympathy and engagement with the Sandinistas. I am not objecting to a film having a political outlook, nor do I object to that outlook being on the Left (which is my own standpoint anyway). What I do object to is conditioning the characters' choices according to an imposed external view of what is okay, rather than what has been developing in the story.
  • jboothmillard16 July 2016
    Warning: Spoilers
    I think I'd seen a trailer for the film a long time ago, I remembered it mainly because of the leading actor, I was certainly interested to see what I would make of it, directed by Ken Loach (Kes, Sweet Sixteen, Looking for Eric). Basically set in 1987 Glasgow, Scottish bus driver George Lennox (Robert Carlyle) meets Nicaraguan woman Carla (Oyanka Cabezas), living a precarious, profoundly sad life in exile. They do eventually get closer, the first time they are about to make love George is shocked to see Carla's back is scarred, she explains that she is suicidal because her boyfriend is missing and her family has dispersed, George decides to take Carla back to Nicaragua to find out what has happened to them. Once there, Carla is haunted by nightmarish memories, she and George are thrown into the middle of the war between the United States and the Sandinistas, there is a mystery over where the boyfriend is, but Carla's American aid worker friend Bradley (Scott Glenn) is the key to his whereabouts, Carla does find her family in the end. Also starring Salvador Espinoza as Rafael, Louise Goodall as Maureen, Richard Loza as Antonio, Gary Lewis as Sammy, Subash Singh Pall as Victor, Stewart Preston as McGurk, Margaret McAdam as George's Mother, Pamela Turner as Eileen and Greg Friel as Keyboard Player. Carlyle, in between the time of Trainspotting and The Full Monty, gives a charming performance, Cabezas as the exotic refugee is alright, I agree with critics that their time in Scotland is interesting, but once they get abroad the film goes a bit downward, I have to be honest that I got a little bored, even with war stuff going on, overall it's a fairly forgettable romantic drama. It was nominated the BAFTA for the Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film, and it was nominated the BAFTA Scotland Award for Best Feature Film. Okay!
  • Oyanka Cabezas' character was never in doubt as the film unwound; she was completely believable. Indeed the film took us on a journey from a care-fee bus driver in Glascow (Robert Carlyle - "The Full Monty") to the CIA-operated civil war in Nicaragua where Cabezas seeks her former lover who has been brutalized by the CONTRAS. Loach did a masterful job capturing the atmosphere of that bleak episode. He allows us to catch a glimpse of what changes would or may occur in humans if given the opportunity to escape poverty and ignorance. But the forces that would maintain the staus quo are far too powerful to allow the Nicaraguans to reach that goal. If only we could understand Carlyle's English; the easiest for me to comprehend what he was saying was when he was speaking with Cabezas, whose English was halting, yet understandable. If only Carlyle did not drive that bus in Nicaragua - - - somehow I knew that was meant to be.
  • Carla's Song (1996) was directed by Ken Loach. The time is Glasgow, 1987. Robert Carlyle portrays George Lennox, a decent enough guy who drives a bus. He meets and falls in love with Carla (Oyanka Cabezas), a beautiful young woman eking out an existence as a street busker.

    George (and we) learn quickly that Carla has had horrible experiences because of the Contra war in her native Nicaragua. Hoping to help Carla find the answers to vital questions, George brings her back to Nicaragua to find her former lover, who was wounded and captured, and who may be dead.

    This is the first movie I've ever seen that depicts the Contra war for exactly what it was--a U.S.-driven attempt to crush the Nicaraguan revolution. It wasn't subtle at the time, and it isn't subtle in the film. The CIA and the White House considered Nicaragua "The threat of a good example," and they used force to re-establish U.S. dominance.

    I was in Nicaragua--although not in the war zone--in January, 1988, just months after the events in the film were taking place. Loach got it right--the enthusiasm of the people, their hopes for a better future, and their attempts to survive continual attacks from the U.S.-trained and U.S.-supplied Contras.

    The drama of Carla's life--past, present, and (we assume) future--is the link that holds the film together. Nicaragua was--and is--filled with women like Carla. There are ten thousand movies that someone could make to tell their stories. Ken Loach has made this film about Carla, and he has done a service to all Nicaraguans and to us.

    Notes: We saw the film on DVD. It would work better on a large screen, but I don't know if it is ever shown at festivals or even at Nicaraguan solidarity events.

    The Glasgow dialect is almost incomprehensible to our ears in this movie. It was much easier to understand the Nicaraguan Spanish!

    Personal note: one of my friends, Anita Setright, plays the part of a member of the U.S. solidarity organization Witness for Peace. Anita is a U.S. citizen who drove an ambulance in the war zone during the Contra war. She never knew whether the road in front of the vehicle contained a land mine. She is one of the bravest people I know.
  • "Carla's Song" tells of a quixotic Glasgow bus driver (Carlyle) who befriends a troubled Nicaraguan refugee (Cabezas) and embarks upon an odyssey in which she must stare down the demons of her past. A gritty, visceral, and very human cross-culture drama, "Carla's Song" builds depth into its characters and realism into the film as it explores Carla's past through the ravages of Nicaragua's civil war (Circa 1978ish) searching for the resolution she so desperately needs. An excellent watch for realists into foreign films. (B+)

    NOTE: The DVD I watched has no CC and only a part of the Spanish language dialogue was subtitled which, combined with accents, dialects, and slang in both Scotland and Nicaragua, made for language problems which interfered with the enjoyment of the film.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Back in 1969, director Ken Loach made one of the best coming of age films, which is currently ranked in the number seven spot of ten films for the British Film Institute. That movie is called 'Kes', and is about a boy and his falcon. Criterion even added it to their collection. It was then that Mr. Loach came into the spotlight from directing television series to feature films and fell into his own unique style, which was focusing more on characters than anything else really.

    Over the years, Loach has shown us the good and bad sides of ourselves, usually using some sort of political or social backdrop to tell his story, which is the case in his 1996 film 'Carla's Song'. This film is almost like two films in one, as it drastically takes a turn mid way through and offers up something different. The film follows a Scottish bus driver named George (Robert Carlyle), who wants more out of life than driving a bus and coming home to his fiancé. He seems to be a good man and thoughtful as he allows people who can't pay the bus fare on his ride. Perhaps he feels like a superhero to them, making the world a better place for people less fortunate than him.

    He soon crosses paths with a Nicaraguan woman named Carla (Oyanka Cabezas), who he immediately seems very fond of, even though she can't afford to pay the fare for his bus, but he looks the other way. After their first encounter, he begins to see her everywhere, which we soon realize, he is pretty much stalking her. He never releases a creepy vibe, but we all know it's there, as he is very persistent to get to know her without being violent. It's a very strange and odd feeling to watch this character unfold, as we might expect something awkward or sadistic to happen at any moment.

    Even when Carla pushes away his advances and tells George that she has a boyfriend back in Nicaragua that she hasn't seen in a while, he buys her and himself tickets to go find him, even though they are having a very weird love affair. This is where the film changes, as these two people enter Nicaragua during the U.S. backed Contra war against the Sandinistas. George finally sees all of the horrible chaos an destruction that Carla has been through by traveling to her home, as they look for her family and lover.

    This is where George sees Carla for who she really is, and it takes a toll on him. Carlyle is great in this role and very different from his work in 'Trainspotting' and '28 Weeks Later'. You never know if you want to like or root for George, and Carlyle plays this mysterious "every man" to a tee. While the acting is spot on, the story and narrative loses its balance from time to time here. It's hard to focus on the first half of the film, and then change into something as drastic and chaotic as these two characters wander the streets of a war torn Nicaragua. Loach does tend to surprise us though with the abnormal ending and twists, which most filmmakers and studio executives today would not allow, which makes 'Carla's Song' such a unique film, despite its flaws.
  • Without any money and financial support, how could it possible that Carla ran away from Nicaragua and across the Atlantic Ocean and landed in Glasgow, England? Where she got the money for her long journey? Who helped her to get through the British customs? Did she get any sponsor to help her making all this possible? By viewing this film, we could easily see that she was totally alone, a stranger in a strange land.

    By judging from the film's scenario background, we also easily understood that she was just an ordinary country girl in Nicaragua, so where she learned the English language and could achieve the level of even an interpreter to be so fluently to translate between two totally different languages orally? We didn't see any proof that she got a very good education background where she grew up, yet she could speak and understand English so well.

    Then, let's talk about this bus driver's character. By judging his job performance, he could barely stay with his job as a bus driver, suspended due to his so opinionated attitude to almost anything. He was just a poor sod with limited means for a normal living. Yet during this insecure period, he seemed to be not worry at all and still could afford drinking coffee or beer as other guys in Glasgow. He already got a girl friend who loved him very much, yet he changed his heart and fell for an illegal alien from Latin America. A guy who got limited means even for his own living, yet he still could afford buying two tickets for this Nicaraguan woman and accompanied her to go back to her country.

    Then another of the unavoidable logic problem comes up: He already knew she got a lover in her motherland. One of the main purposes why she wanted to go back was to look for her boyfriend Antonio, yet this Glasgow native who once was a bus driver, would have such a big heart and interested in helping her finding her old boyfriend? This guy is either a pea-brain moron or a complete idiot; there's nothing in between and, where's the logic?

    Now here comes my last logic101 question: Why Carla escaped from her war-torn country and migrated to England; what's the purpose of doing so? By finally made a friend with the bus driver, who later became her temporary lover, then with his support (for her air ticket fare and other general expenses) she would again return home with this white man.

    What made her consider running away from her Nicaraguan country in the first place would have become no big deal once she made acquaintance with the skinny and jobless white guy and then made her strong enough to go back to her country? Why she left and why she decided to go back? Why she simply stayed in her country and did the search by herself? Did she use the bus driver only for her financial support? By making a new boyfriend in England, then it would make her going back to where she came from? Why she chose England to escape to? This film in certain way is not a bad film, but so many nobody-questioned against the basic logic questions simply put me not to be so easily convinced of its believability besides its absurdity.