Sunday, August 14, 2005

HBO is still showing their awful original movie The Girl in the Cafe. It's about a young woman who singlehandedly shames the G8 summit into throwing enormous amounts of money at Africa in order to "save the children," and it's a kind of summit of awfulness. Its awfulness is that special, lofty kind of awful known only to those familiar with the magnificently awful work of its author Richard Curtis, the British writer-director whose previous film, Love Actually, was awful in an almost hypnotic way. The Girl in the Cafe isn't nearly as ambitious, because it has a different purpose; it sacrifices Curtis's trademark aesthetic awfulness in the service of political awfulness.

The film was made to coincide with an actual real-live G8 summit in early July 2005. The ever-helpful CNN even produced a documentary on the G8 summit that featured segments of the film to help "explain" the "issues" to confused viewers.

TGITC presents us with characters who have no personalities at all except to serve as megaphones for the writer's political viewpoints, which are, as survivors of viewing Love Actually could tell you, leftist and anti-American; the effect is something like an Ayn Rand novel, only with all the dialogue spoken by toddlers. The adversaries are the thick-headed Americans and the Euro politicians who need to curry favor with them.

The stupid obstuse Americans speak in their stupid flat American accents singlemindedly about such abstractions as "economic growth" and "free trade"...demanding that aid to Africa "work" as if the mere act of throwing money wouldn't suffice.

In fairness, Curtis's script doesn't caricature the American point of view: The arguments out of the Americans' mouths are those that any person with a grasp of economics greater than that of a five-year old might use. But because Curtis--like socialism itself--is trying to appeal to the five-year old in all of us, the Americans, the only grown-ups in the film, must play the heavies. (Recall the scene in Love Actually whose primary political complaint was that Tony Blair had been "bullied from pillar to post" by those Mean, Mean Americans. They pick on kids who are smaller than them! It's not fair!) It's somehow significant that the previous role of female lead Kelly MacDonald was...Peter Pan in Finding Neverland.

The dialogue is designed to appeal to the simplest sort of understanding that human beings can possibly have while retaining the ability to feed themselves with a fork.
"There are cows in Scotland that are subsidized to the tune of L12,000 a year." And my favorite, "You should have more pictures in these papers so you can see what you're talking about." Me, I'm hoping for future G8 summits narrated by cartoon animals.

While Curtis may have little or no faith in Western politicians and their commitment to the poor, he retains a messianic faith in the UN Millennium Goals, which promise to "eradicate extreme poverty and hunger" in the world. Period. Provided, of course, that the Goals are "fully funded," which is the crux of TGITC: There can't be any half-measures when it comes to starving children, dammit. Just shut up and give 'em all your money--to be administered by the hard-working public servants of the UN, of course--or else you're a thug.

Now, it would be cruel of me--indeed, thuggish--to point out that, so far this millennium at least, the most suffering, starving, deprived children in the world are in North Korea, a country completely unmentioned or untouched by the Millennium Goals. Or that millions of children are in imminent danger of starvation in Zimbabwe only because that country is run by a vicious monster who deliberately ruined his country's agriculture for political reasons. But public criticism of North Korea and Zimbabwe is too...how shall I say...American, so we'll have none of that.

The best review of the politics of The Girl in the Cafe is from an actual African, President Jean-Claude Shanda Tonme of Cameroon, in a slightly different context (the recent Live 8 concerts). Surprisingly, President Tonme doesn't agree with the Curtis toddlers. He sounds, more surprisingly still, like one of the grown-ups:

Neither debt relief nor huge amounts of food aid nor an invasion of experts will change anything. Those will merely prop up the continent's dictators. It's up to each nation to liberate itself and to help itself. When there is a problem in the United States, in Britain, in France, the citizens vote to change their leaders. And those times when it wasn't possible to freely vote to change those leaders, the people revolted.

In Africa, our leaders have led us into misery, and we need to rid ourselves of these cancers. We would have preferred for the musicians in Philadelphia and London to have marched and sung for political revolution. Instead, they mourned a corpse while forgetting to denounce the murderer.

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