The Girl in the Cafe

On Wednesday, the leaders of the world’s seven largest industrialized nations and Russia will convene in Gleneagles, Scotland for the 2005 G8 summit. In Britain, this is big news, as both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have placed African development high on the conference agenda, and will be pushing the United States to put up more aid. This past Saturday HBO premiered The Girl in The Café, a joint effort with the BBC that presents the struggles of a fictional British G8 delegation in a similar position. It’s a straight-to-TV drama that grafts a simple romance story onto a fairly radical critique of the anti-poverty lip service usually spouted by the industrialized world.

The plot? Pathetic overworked British bureaucrat meets beautiful and mysterious girl. He soon invites her to accompany him to the G8 conference in Reykjavik. After reading a stack of her escort’s conference documents, she becomes the ball’s radical Cinderella, stridently advocating for the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (which aim to eradicate third world poverty, hunger, etc.) until she is thrown out of the conference. You know, a classic love story.

Even though Richard Curtis (Notting Hill and Love Actually) serves as screenwriter, the actual romance part of the story seems a bit dull and uninspiring, especially standing side-by-side with the sharp denunciations of the hypocrisy and callousness exhibited by most of the Western polity to suffering in the developing world. The female lead obviously has a thing for far-fetched charity cases, both in love and humanitarianism. The movie closes with white on black text reminding viewers that next week, millions of lives could be saved if only eight men display a bit of political courage. (Hint, hint.)

The film, and the development agenda it champions, has been getting a lot of attention in the U.K. as the conference grows near. Of course, it’s hard to say why that is, but it seems safe to say that pop-culture efforts like Café or Bob Geldof’s Live8 have gone a long way towards increasing awareness about the G-8 conference and the issues surrounding it. Café is perhaps a more mature way to raise these issues than a series of rock concerts. The gatecrasher’s words shame both her antagonists and the film’s viewers. And the producers hope that their audience’s outrage will shame the G8 into action.


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