Cinema: Also showing - She mops his floors, but he wants much more ...

Besieged (PG) Bernardo Bertolucci; 92 mins Message in a Bottle (12) Luis Mandoki; 132 mins Out of the Present (U) Andrei Ujica; 96 mins Side Streets (15) Tony Gerber; 131 mins The Brylcreem Boys (12) Terence Ryan; 107 mins The Misadventures of Margaret (15) Brian Skeet; 92 mins

Bernardo Bertolucci's Besieged is basically a two-hander. It isn't as small a film as it pretends - the credits roll for some time - but certainly the impression it gives is of something dream-born and quietly cradled. Thandie Newton plays Shandurai, a young African refugee living in Rome. She pays her way through medical school by working as a live-in housekeeper to a British pianist-cum-composer, Kinsky (David Thewlis). He is in love with her, and tells her so, in a clumsy moment of disclosure. Newton rejects him, telling him that she is married, and that her husband is a political prisoner back home. Kinsky withdraws, and the pair pad about for months, equally baffled by each other - sometimes bristling and separate, sometimes observing one another with inexplicable joy. Eventually, Kinsky responds to Shandurai's situation with an act of profound kindness.

Besieged is a tactful film. Bertolucci spends most of his time scrutinising the pair at work - Shandurai mopping floors, Shandurai at her books; Kinsky playing Mozart and Chopin and jazz. In this almost pedantic way, the film draws us into the routine established by the couple - the simple routine that by the start of the film has already given birth to love.

It is extraordinary that with all its watchfulness, Besieged never feels voyeuristic, unlike Bertolucci's last film, Stealing Beauty. Its greatest achievement is Kinsky, who could so easily have been creepy - a misanthropic Englishman, safe in the chrysalis of his inherited home, circling this pretty, timid black servant. Instead - and this is as much Thewlis as Bertolucci - Kinsky is one of the most wrenching, tender characters imaginable. Not pitiful, but upright, with every scrap of his fabric revealed; a man turned inside out. For the first time in his career, Thewlis appears comfortable with his charisma, his complex face decoded and imaginative as Newton stares at him, and he at her. There are moments when you hold your breath, feeling unusually close to the story's canvas, just inches from its possibilities.

In Message in a Bottle, Robin Wright Penn plays a glum divorcee who finds a bottle on a beach in Maine containing an unsigned love letter. She returns to Chicago obsessed with the author of the letter, impressed by his seriousness. Penn tracks the stranger down. He turns out to be a widower (Kevin Costner) - a gloomy boat-builder by day, and just as gloomy by night.

Message in a Bottle isn't a bad film. It's just a little faded - nowhere the hurry of the kind of love it professes to examine. There is, however, something winningly melancholy to be found in every shot, every shuffle. It plods along carefully, adding the requisite amount of foot-notes to its hokey plot, and even hauls in Paul Newman as Costner's scene- stealing pa.

The problem is Penn, a skilled, choosy actress who usually appears in far smaller films. She seems uneasy playing the mainstream love interest. Her already blonde hair has been curled to look like Meg Ryan's in City of Angels - a thatch of ringlets somehow insincere around Penn's clever jaw. Costner is fine. There is something appealing (hateful to admit, I know) about Costner's mediocre face and unspecific body. Costner is at his best when playing careful and hushed - the kind of man who might flick to the obituaries before looking at the headlines.

Out of the Present is a documentary by the Romanian film-maker and essayist Andrei Ujica. It is the first film to be made in outer space, and chronicles 10 months on the Mir space station in 1991. While commander Anatoli Arzebarsky and his crew waft about the ship drinking fizzy pop upside down and gazing at the moon out of their back window, the Soviet regime collapses beneath them. The film consists of footage from the mission, shot by the crew, meshed together on earth by Ujica, along with his own footage of the mayhem that precipitated Gorbachev's disintegration.

A lot of the space stuff is very funny. We see a female researcher swimming through the air in a long, ruffled nightie, her hair wildly romantic, as though Kate Bush had snuck on board to re-shoot the video for "Rocket Man". It turns out that they are terribly superstitious up in space. The crew clutch wormwood sticks at blast-off (such a panicky, devouring rumble!) and eat bread and salt on arrival. There's something gloriously amateur about the craft itself - all gear-sticks and bits of sticky tape and spacesuits covered in badges of the sort you're given for trying hard in the swimming team. It's like something an assiduous nine-year-old might build for his Action Man.

Side Street, a Merchant-Ivory comedy, follows 24 hours in the lives of five sets of immigrants living in the different boroughs of New York. They are all appealing - a handsome Romanian butcher and his stressed wife; a West Indian couple feuding over a Cadillac; a nervous taxi driver (Art Malik) putting up with his ageing Hollywood-star brother; a sensuous but spoilt Puerto Rican girl looking forward to a local beauty pageant; and the flaky daughter of a Spanish designer, hiding from her creditors. Gerber connects the groups with some ingenuity, but there is really only enough material here to sustain a shorter film.

I tried and failed to find something good to say about The Brylcreem Boys for the 1996 London Film Festival brochure. On second viewing I can still honestly say that it is one of the worst films I have ever seen, and that the usually sepulchral screening room was alive with laughter at its awfulness.

Set in neutral Ireland during the Second World War, it has German and British PoWs sharing a camp. The Nazis goose-step in cream polo-necks and the Brits tune into Churchill's greatest hits. It features some preposterous performances and Lord of the Dance goings-on at the local bar. Enough said.

The Misadventures of Margaret is nearly as bad, only less funny. Parker Posey stars as a barmy New York writer. Bored with her British husband (Jeremy Northam), she travels to France to research the diary of a sex- mad 18th-century teenage girl, whom we witness bonking a gardener with the chunkiest bottom you've ever seen. Altogether ill-advised and frankly peculiar.

In the turgid Dance With Me, a young Cuban (played by real-life Cuban star Chayanne) travels to America and becomes a dancing star. Problem: Chayanne can't dance for toffee, but I don't think we are supposed to have noticed that.

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