Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

[Minor spoilers.] I've said it before, but no bad movie is quite as painful as a good movie that was within reach of greatness and missed the mark. "The Girl in the Café" is a good movie about a diplomat whose romantic awakening spurs him to conscientious political action. The problem is, it begins as a better movie, a very well-acted romance about this icy civil servant and the patient young woman who begins dethawing him after a chance encounter in a coffee shop. So much of their relationship is communicated in precise nuances of gesture and body language that we watch in fascination as it unfolds, awaiting the big romantic flourish at the end as the man finally reaches the end of his emotional arc and comes vividly to life; instead, the romance gradually fades into international politics about extreme poverty in Africa until the romance is barely even attended to in the final scenes. The characters debate an important international issue, but the movie fails to make the matter nteresting; at one point the young woman points out that all the diplomatic reports would be more compelling if they had pictures of the starving and suffering, and it occurs to us that the same could be said for the movie itself. Like the flipside of John Boorman's recent "In My Country," an outspoken and deeply felt movie about a dull romance that gets in the way of interesting politics, here we have a quiet and intellectual movie about some dull politics that get in the way of an interesting romance. It's hardly impossible to succeed at both, and "The Girl in the Café" comes close. For over an hour it seems to be headed for somewhere really pleasing, but it takes a wrong turn at Reykjavik.

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