Cinema: Looking for love? You might find it in Camden

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The Independent Culture
This Year's Love (18)

David Kane; 108 mins

Holy Man (PG)

Stephen Herek; 114 mins

News From the Good Lord (no cert) Didier le Pecheur; 110 mins

Foreign Land (no cert)

Walter Salles; 100 mins

David Kane's This Year's Love is a comedy about a group of men and women in their early thirties who live in Camden Town, north London, and are trying to have relationships with each other. There's a defensive cleaner (Kathy Burke), a paranoid tattooist (Douglas Henshall), a philandering drunk (Dougray Scott), a fragile magazine collector (Ian Hart), a brattish trustafarian (Jennifer Ehle) and a flighty shop assistant (Catherine McCormack). Over three years, they live on coppers, see each other naked, sting and are stung, make few commitments, feel sometimes weighty and sometimes jubilant, and suck the life out of their cigarettes.

Burke apart, you wouldn't necessarily want to take any of them home, except perhaps to study their faces - Henshall with his empty-socket stare, McCormack with her euphoric smile-lines, which sit on her face like a kind of phosphorous. This Year's Love is a very intimate film, largely because it is unambitious. It isn't interested in life's tragedies but adores its messes, its flesh and dandruff and being inappropriate for the night. The scenes of couples getting out of bed and looking for their socks are so convincing that you can smell their morning-metallic breath. There is a brown duvet.

Although the script is actually very tight and quite contrived, there are unspoken moments in This Year's Love that feel emotionally uncertain and unforeseen: like any one of the actors might lose the anchor of self-consciousness, and do something lovely and unexpected and naughty. Burke is particularly good at this. She can be both accurate and sudden. In one scene, she wakes up in bed being self-deprecating ("Don't panic, you've woken up with a fat bird"), and then suddenly laughs like someone happy, with her whole life waiting. This anarchy is exhilarating. The fact that nobody gets to say anything particularly expressive or grand or hunted or boring is quite an achievement in a two-hour film about being demoralised and delusional in your personal relationships. It's as though Kane is absolutely fixed on the littleness of being with someone - the day-to-day turmoils served up by actors absolutely capable of moment-to-moment simplicity. Kane was more vulnerable, sadder, in his superb television film Ruffian Hearts (1996), which examined how it was to be lonely, to have your heart "going dark by 5 o'clock". This Year's Love is snappier, but like Ruffian Hearts, it never hobbles after false emotion.

In Holy Man, Eddie Murphy plays a nomadic pilgrim called G who accidentally meets a patronising television executive (Jeff Goldblum). G is so charismatic and non-materialistic that Goldblum decides to employ him as a salesman on his hideous shopping channel, in a (very) bizarre attempt to boost the ratings. Surprise, surprise, people tuning in to buy mats and chainsaws actually like G talking about how little they need mats and chainsaws. The more he tells them that they don't need either, the more they want both.

Soon they're switching on to hear G talking about anything, and believe me, there is nothing G feels nothing about - fruit, early mornings, long- haul flights, virtue, salsa. The media tries to align him with various religious groups - surely he is something Eastern and vague and open-handed? A Jesuit says that G is clearly familiar with the teachings of Jesus Christ. The claim is not substantiated. (At no point is it suggested that G might just be strange.) Soon, the lines are jammed. Goldblum is very jolly, and gets off with Kelly Preston, a marketing adviser with cheerleader- bouncy hair.

Holy Man tries to be cynical about consumerism, and might have been, had it managed to explain just why the public love G so much that they want to buy the chainsaws and rugs he clearly hates. The film is thus about honesty, but isn't honest itself. Sometimes it's very funny ("He's the biggest thing to hit home shopping since cubic zirconia") and at times almost like David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, especially when Goldblum talks about his salesman father, who failed to hit his targets because "he started to push and get sweaty - they can smell it". Holy Man is at it best when it's blatantly interested in the consequences of making your daily bread in a world of sales and make-believe. During its lapses from the formula, the film is passable. It is less so when finding out what G's bag is, and the bit about the love interest, and who gets to keep the condo.

As is traditional, Goldblum gets to take his top off and show that long, long torso toasted the colour of dirty moccasins. Goldblum is so huge that Preston looks like an astonished little dolly next to him. He is grotesquely sexy, and a fine stooge for Murphy, who, as usual, is full of whizzing optimism and tenderness - a Tigger who has risen above his fear of Heffalumps.

Brazilian director Walter Salles's Foreign Land was made in 1995, but now has a brief re-release thanks to the success of his latest film, the Oscar-nominated Central Station, which opens here in a couple of weeks. Salles follows a writer (Fernando Pinto) who is delivering a package from Brazil to Lisbon. There, a waitress (Fernanda Torres) battles with her drug-addicted boyfriend, but determines never to return to Brazil. Cordial but rather exposing, this ostensibly simple story is a great companion piece to Central Station, which is as careful, as smoothly performed and confident.

News from the Good Lord is Didier le Pecheur's 1996 black comedy about a widow (Maria de Medeiros) who is grieving the death of her writer husband. Two of his biggest fans want to meet God, whom they believe wrote the novel on which all of our lives are based. They rope in mediums and cops to help locate Him through everything from prayer to sex. A peculiar, outrageous, busy film, mindful of Woody Allen's Needleman character, who was fond of saying "God is silent. Now if only we can get man to shut up."

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