The Girl In The Cafe (Review)

Kan een film de wereld veranderen? Dat is een vraag die Ingrid, een Nederlandse uit London, eigenaresse van de website The Girl in the Cafe, zich stelde. De film zelf stelt een andere vraag: Kan liefde de wereld veranderen? Om deze vragen kracht bij te zetten organiseerde Ingrid het project The Girl on Tour, waarbij een DVD versie van de film The Girl in the Cafe over de globe reist om een antwoord te vinden in de recensies die de uitverkoren kijkers na het zien van de film beloofd hebben.

Due to the project’s scope my Review is in English.

The Girl in the Cafe

Can Cinema change the World? That’s a question from Ingrid, a dutch woman who lives in London, and owns the website The Girl in the Cafe, asked herself. The movie itself is asking another question: Can Love Change the World?

To empower these questions Ingrid organised the project The Girl on Tour, a DVD version of the film The Girl in the Cafe that is travelling around the globe to collect answers in the form of reviews by the chosen viewers, who promised to make one after seeing the movie. Due to the scope of the project my review will be in English. (Excuse me for the possible incorrect use of grammar, as I am not a native speaker)

What does it mean to have a relationship?

The Girl in the Cafe is not a stereotype Love Affair movie. It is a slow movie (like slow food) about social beings in a networked society. The main characters are Lawrence (Bill Nighy) and Gina (Kelly McDonald).

Lawrence is a middle aged Governement Financial officer, single, workaholic, who is working for the British G8 team, who are preparing for a conference in Reykjavic. He is a nervous, imbalanced, cerebral type of person who struggles with his mind and his body.

Gina is a young woman, who could be his daughter, as she is at least half of Lawrence’s age. Her identity is mysteriously vague. A former student, but which study? No job? But why and how does she make a living? No context. She is just beautiful, enigmatic, a shy projection screen for the unfulfilled desires of Lawrence. She is the trigger Lawrence needs to go beyond his daily self.

The two meet by accident in a Cafe. The typical English Cafe where people come to have coffee and tea and a small lunch, not a pub. As the Cafe is crowded to the max Lawrence has no other choice but to ask Gina if he can join her at her table. When she agrees it is the start of a uneasy conversation of the usual type when strangers are forced to join their private space in public. The question is: Will something happen?

It is clear that Lawrence is a loner. He is not a swinger and shy and very uncomfortable with himself in his own way. After the short conversation he says goodbye, starts to walk towards the exit and changes his mind. It is clear that he needs all the guts he has to ask Gina if she would like to have lunch with him another time. She says Yes once more.

An interesting detail in this scene is the static use of the camera. Even the sound is focused on the two of them, all background talk and noise hidden around the audiospace of the table where they are sitting. I mention this because in the next scene, where Lawrence is in the middle of a meeting of the G8 team, the camera moves much more dynamically to make us feel that this is the place where big political business is going on.

After the meeting he asks his boss if it is OK for him to go out alone for lunch. That’s OK. Funny enough, and a little surreal, his boss and colleagues happen to go to the same restaurant where Gina and Lawrence have their first date. And you know that they are going to talk about it and make some jokes. Lawrence boss, the Chancellor, eventually drops by their table to say to Gina that all is fine with him, as long as Lawrence is not disturbed in doing his job.

Lawrence boss has a good feel for the situation. He might even know Lawrence bettter than he knows himself. Disturbance is on its way, but we will have to wait for some time before its is going to be apparent.

When Lawrence and Gina meet each other again he tells her a story about a dream he has had a few times before. In the dream he is visited by the Rolling Stones. Keith Richard even asks him why he should not try to play his guitar. With a smile Lawrence says that he refused. By telling this story he reveales something of a struggle going on inside him. A battle between his seemingly boring, disciplined, responsible self and the shadow of his true self that inhabites desires which are, to a certain extend, unknown to him.

His colleagues try to tease him a bit at the office. Young Girl. Lawrence. Ho ho ho… A woman on the team neutralises the situation by saying that the girl is certainly one thing; beautiful. Something lingers underneath the surface, but we do not know what it is or what it will be.

So much is clear, darkness, the unknown, the hidden part of the consciousness is doing its best to get something going.

Can our lives be changed by love?

When Lawrence asks Gina to join him for the trip to Reykjavic she says yes again. He is allowed to take one extra person with him as company. His boss and colleagues are still joking about the situation. Lawrence is relieved when she says yes, a bit as if he wouldn’t otherwise get a second chance. For what? He is dating, but is that what he is looking for, a woman, love, a relationship or true self? What his colleagues don’t know is that he met her at a Cafe.

When they arrive at the hotel in Reykjavic there is no single room for Gina. They have to share his hotel room. They agree that she will sleep on the couch.

The scenery and locations in this part of the film are beautiful nature from Iceland and the anonymous, subconscious, landscapes of hotelrooms, hotel-restaurants, conferencerooms and elevators. It is not the beauty or the cleanlyness of these places that impress us, but the indifference of such spaces. Life or Death is of No importance for them, a metaphor for things to come.

In the hotel the G8 meeting is on its way. It is the year 2000. The date and place are fiction. What is not fiction are the Millennium goals of the conference. Will the decisions made there make poverty history, stop the daily starvation and death of 15.000 children (3 per second) and go beyond a well crafted compromise that lies between Aid, Dept or Trade for Africa?

At this point we begin to realise that we know much, very much about Lawrence, but very little about Gina. And we are not the only ones. Who is she, what is she? Is she terra incognita? Is she a trojan horse? Is she a love virus? What is happening?

Maybe the first thing Lawrence discovers about her, when she lies sleeping on the couch and he passes by in the morning, is that she wears old ragged underwear and that she has a tattoo of a small bird on her shoulder. Does this bring us any further?

Lawrence has talked a bit with Gina about what the conference is about and how it goes. How the Americans are disturbingly dominant. How they are trying to work out their well crafted compromise.

When Lawrence and Gina sit at the breakfast table in the restaurant of the hotel, the Chancellor and a high German official walk by. At that point Gina starts to talk to Lawrence’s boss and asks him some undecent questions about how much they are doing their best to really make a change. The Chancellor, who is a highly skilled diplomat returns the questions with: You seem to have a lot of knowledge, but too little knowledge of complex things. He smiles and goes off with the German official.

When he meets Lawrence in the mens room he is furious. Does she think I am not doing the very best I can…? If there is one person who does it’s me! It becomes clear at that point that Lawrence does not know anything about her. A little later another colleague tells Lawrence that Gina has to leave. She has become a security problem.

Looked at from a diplomats view Gina is a naive, idealist woman. But in some peculiar way her words have changed something in the attitude of the British G8 team. In their negociations on global economy, terrorism and other subjects they seem to want to strive a little more beyond the usual compromises.

Still Lawrence has orders to send Gina away. Be he ignores these orders. The question for us viewers is why is he doing this. It is obvious that events are heading towards some sort of disaster and that this will ruin the conference, his job, his career, his life. That in short time his easy, well organised life will be blown to pieces.

Which part of him is doing this. Is this a matter of Self. Of choosing for a true self or a false self. For convention or for freedom. For Life or for Death? For Love and Relationship?

Although he’s been forbidden Lawrence takes Gina to an important dinner party. The conference is halfway and the team needs a break. Just before they attend the party there is a scene where he helps Gina to zip her eveningdress. It is a moment of intimacy. More intimate than the scene where she gets into his bed, just to lay by his side (nothing happens). It is a moment where we can feel that they can relate in some way. Just a little bit deeper than before. The gestures are small, zipping a dress that does not quite fit. Lawrence has, somewhere on the way to Utopia, decided that he wants to be a real person who can stand for something.

Although his colleague protests to the fact that Gina comes to the dinnerparty and wants to send in the securitymen, Lawrence talks himself out by telling that Gina will behave. To behave is also the subject of a talk Gina has with one of Lawrence’s female colleagues. In the talk this woman reveales herself by telling that one of her 3 children has died from a motorcycle accident. She denies her vulnerability and pain by adding the phrase that such things happen everyday, as if it has no meaning for her. Personal vulnerability ignored in a global environment.

Shortly after they arrive at the diningroom. The prime minister is going to give a speech. A speech which has more concern with the state of the souffle than with the state of the world. The prime minister starts to talk and after a few sentences Gina interrupts him and calls him a liar.

That’s where my version of the DVD suddenly stopped to function.

As far as I have heard or read, after this scene something happened that made the G8 conference move into a more positive direction… but does it matter?

What is more important is the question if one person can change the world by being true to his or her’s self. In this way the movie tells another story that is far more important than the story that is seen on the surface. A story about the human condition.

Are we not all searching for a way to follow our heart and our true desires? Maybe, maybe not. One thing is for sure, there are forces inside a human being that are much greater and stronger than our surface personality and when neglected will find a way to bring us back on the real track of our lives.

There is no wrong or right, or bad or good, life cannot truly be seen in such terms, it’s only about true or false. Can our lives be changed by love and relationships? If you want to avoid that, beware for The Girl in the Cafe.


If we connect to ourselves and to others by establishing a relationship it becomes almost impossible to behave irreponsible and without thoughtfullness. To understand we are one (world) is to live from a new and fruitfull perspective. Only the technocrat will ignore this fact as he has lost such connection with himself and his environment. Only Love can Change this. A love that is confronting when needed. This is the central message of The Girl in the Cafe.

Still the Chancellor is not quite wrong to say to Gina: You seem to have a lot of knowledge, but too little knowledge of complex things. Buut also for him Knowledge is not enough, we need to be living from the heart to contact and practice wisdom.

Is this movie a good one? It surely is a True Movie, but it is floating between good and bad. The actors and the filmmakers did a very great job, nothing to say about that, which must have been a tough job as the theme is very serious. Bloody serious in fact. That is one of its weaknesses, the movie could use some extra humour.

I like the initiative of The Girl on Tour, but I do think this movie should be seen in a theatre. As a DVD it cannot spread its wings. Certainly not on a computerscreen as in my situation. You have to be in the middle of the experience, with Dolby stereo.

The greatest problem for non native speakers is the fact that the DVD has no subtitling. Both of the actors, aspecially the character Gina, have a strong accent. This situation makes it very hard to understand exactly what is been talked about in the beginning of the movie or what they are saying at other points in the dialogue.

But then, these are details. The Girl In The Cafe is a film with a lot of potential, I wish it good luck on its further travels through space and time.

The Girl In The Cafe On Tour | The Girl In The Cafe Official Website | Bill Nighy | Kelly Macdonald | Make Poverty History | Corin Redgrave

2 Reacties

  1. Hoi Huub
    Heel erg bedankt ! Ik ga er morgen even een stukje aan wijden.
    Bedankt voor je deelname. Ik heb je recensie gelezen, maar vond je het nu een goede film of niet? Ik kan het niet helemaal achterhalen:-)
    Wat het einde betreft, de Prime minister maakt op TV bekent dat ze inderdaad voor het hele pakket aan eisen gaan. Dit zou in het echt een historisch ogenblik zijn, maar het is in het echt helaas niet zo gegaan. Aan het einde belt Lawrence Gina en vraagt haar de tv aan te zetten om dit nieuws te beluisteren, dat is tevens het einde van de film.

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