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Tierra Julio Medem (18) Ma Vie Sexuelle Arnaud Desplechin (15) Roseanna's Grave Paul Weiland (12)
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The Independent Culture
"I have a vast imagination," announces the divine and/ or schizophrenic hero of Tierra, "Enough for several worlds." You could say the same of the picture's director, Julio Medem, who has the ability to create magical, disquieting mysteries out of the most simple or prosaic materials. Tierra is a fable with a mystical theme that manifests itself in symbolism that could be dismissed as rudimentary if it weren't executed with such audacity. A director tackling a story about a man who thinks he's an angel is on thin ice when it comes to depicting religious images such as lost sheep or stray lightning. Or, in one scene, lost sheep struck by stray lightning. But Tierra works because it is completely informed by the wide-eyed world- view of its hero, Angel (Carmelo Gomez), a serious young man who finds himself torn between two women: the highly sexed teenager Mari (Silke), who wants his body, and the timid housewife Angela (Emma Suarez), who touches a deeper need in him.

The film begins with a voice-over from the heavenly half of Angel - the voice in his head, with whom he is in constant conversation, and who physically materialises in later scenes. Some viewers may experience unhappy echoes of the BT adverts when Angel's spirit appears beside a girl while she is talking to him on the phone. You can imagine his catchphrase, too: it's good to talk to yourself.

At first, we can't be sure whether Angel is who he claims to be, or just a few strings short of a harp. The script feeds our uncertainty with tantalising titbits. Like the security guard who recognises Angel and says, "Remember me? I used to wear a white uniform." Does he mean that he worked on a psychiatric ward? Or at passport control into heaven?

Angel has traded his wings, if he ever had any, for a job as a pest controller, fumigating vineyards ridden with woodlice. It would be a sluggish film- maker who didn't attempt to conjure something sinister out of this mundane activity and Medem doesn't let us down. Faceless in their white protective suits, Angel and his colleagues resemble a post-nuclear militia as they sweep across the barren fields, breathing poison into the soil with their vacuum cleaner snouts.

It's this soil that Medem pays most attention to, depicting it in burning reds and browns as though it's on fire beneath the blank white sky. He comes across as a mixture of John Ford and... well, I hesitate to say David Lynch only because any film-maker who knows the definition of the word "surrealism" earns that comparison these days. But Medem shares that director's knack for pitching an image or a line of dialogue so squarely between absurdity and horror that you can never be sure how to react.

Music is usually a reliable indicator of what a director expects you to be feeling at any given moment. In Tierra, even that can't be relied upon. Alberto Iglesias's melodramatic score frequently seems to be wrestling with the images, suggesting that we should be moved even as what you are seeing feels absurd or alarming. It can be refreshing to be lost in film in this way, to not know where your next emotion is coming from.

Ma Vie Sexuelle appears to carry a couple of sub-headings. Take your pick from Paul Dedalus's Journey or How I Got Into an Argument. The former suggests something epic, which is inappropriate as the biggest journey that the young teacher Paul (Mathieu Amairic) embarks upon is down the road to buy some groceries; he's your classic art-movie hero - a worrywart who can't finish his doctorate or leave his girlfriend or smoke enough cigarettes or stop coming out with pretentious proclamations. And the latter title has hints of the whimsical, which may be closer to the mark, though it promises a levity that the film would benefit from. Neither sub-heading can change the fact that Ma Vie Sexuelle is three hours long, covers much the same ground as last month's Portraits Chinois and feels like soap opera with style. The running time isn't justified but there is a splendid performance from Amairic, who works wonders with a character you'd cross a speedway track to avoid.

I felt great pity for Jean Reno in Roseanna's Grave. This dopey-looking actor, familiar to audiences from his work with Luc Besson, though surely born to play Lenny in Of Mice and Men, can be moving and subtle at his best. But not in this film. Here, he's required to rush around the Italian village of Travento, frantically trying to ensure that his neighbours go about their business safely. You see, there are only a few plots left in the local cemetery, and he's promised one to his dying wife (Mercedes Ruehl), so if too many people pop their clogs then... oh, aren't you exhausted already? Any hopes of the comedy turning black, as it should have done, are dashed by the sunny photography and Saul Turteltaub's sentimental screenplay. It's left to Trevor Peacock as a craggy gangster to hint at what the film might have been in more unsparing hands. Reminded that he once cut the ears off a hostage, Peacock scoffs. "Ear", he says, emphasising the singular, "And he got it back"n

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