Danny's little girl

Roald Dahl's Matilda Danny DeVito (PG) The Umbrellas of Cherbourg Jacques Demy (PG) Through the Olive Trees Abbas Kiarostami (U)

In Roald Dahl's Matilda, Danny DeVito returns to the snarling, primal energy of Louie De Palma, the character he played in the TV series Taxi. It's been too long since he sleazed it up on screen, and it's easy to forget what he can do with a crummy sneer and an even crummier wardrobe. He's a cigar-butt of a man; he fills the screen with his terrible odour. He plays the father of Matilda (Mara Wilson), a gifted child who's making secret trips to the library at the age of three. The scenes of her wheeling a cart full of books back and forth 10 blocks might have a Toy Story effect for adults - "so this is what children get up to when adults aren't looking" (though any parent who fantasises that their child spends every spare moment in the library needs to take a reality check).

In a lovely twist on the fears of modern parents, Matilda's Mum (Rhea Perlman) and Dad fret because their daughter isn't watching enough television - "There's nothing in a book that you can't get on TV faster," argues DeVito, buoyed by his own terrible logic. He and Perlman give the picture its crude, obscene vigour; the more appalling they become, the more we crave them. And though DeVito makes us feel grubby for relishing these ghouls, he serves huge dollops of them anyway -- he's like a short-order cook who gets a kick out of the muck he fries up, and a bigger kick out of seeing people devour it.

DeVito directed the film too, and he knows that when Matilda starts school, the demotion of her parents to the background could make the film sag. So he goes for broke with Miss Trunchbull (Pam Ferris), the hideous headmistress who thinks nothing of applying her shot-putting and javelin expertise to the classroom, hurling children out of windows. DeVito shoots her like the demented matriarch of his first film, Throw Momma from the Train, all obscene eyes and gasping pores. After that, and his second film The War of the Roses, and now Matilda, there's a case to be made for DeVito as dysfunctional America's very own portrait-painter.

Despite Ferris's sweaty conviction, the film loses something in the second half, perhaps because the idea that your teacher is a sadistic monster will never quite be as terrifying as the suggestion that your parents neither want nor love you. Roald Dahl's book, and DeVito's film, are ferociously radical in this sense: they hint that your real mother and father may not necessarily be the best people to bring you up - a shocking suggestion for some of us, a tragic fact for others.

When the picture descends into a straightforward war, with Matilda employing new-found telekinetic powers to crush Miss Trunchbull, the tone becomes slack and indistinct, though the thrill you take from the beautifully paced and photographed opening half-hour carries you through. It's fitting that Paul Reubens, best known as Pee-Wee, should turn up in a dry cameo: much of Matilda runs on the same choreographed chaos as Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. DeVito shoots almost entirely from grotesque low-angle shots, and the set design indicates that somebody vomited over the camera lens. The only thing uglier than Matilda's parents is their wallpaper.

More crimes of interior design in a new print of Jacques Demy's 1964 musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, where turquoise co-exists with orange as though it were the most natural union in the world, and you emerge from the cinema with a crushing migraine. Catherine Deneuve stars as Genevieve, the dreamer whose romance with Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) is cut short when he's drafted for military service. When he returns years later, everything has changed: she's in love with someone else, he's in love with someone else - but they're still singing. Like Evita, the picture is wall-to-wall with music. But unlike Alan Parker's film, you'll hunt long and hard for verse or chorus here - Michel Legrand's sumptuous score has an abundance of melody, but the "songs" are simply dialogue set to music. Demy's writing is as fizzy as his eye for colour: he can't resist popping lines like "I don't like opera - all that singing gives me a pain" into the mouths of his perpetually warbling cast. Deneuve, meanwhile, is simply breathtaking; you can believe that grown men would be moved to burst into song at the sight of her.

Abbas Kiarostami's Through the Olive Trees is an acquired taste. And no, that isn't a euphemism for "avoid at all costs". The film is a gentle zoom in on Hessein (Hossein Rezali), a bricklayer who lands a part in a movie that is being shot in a village wrecked by earthquake. There are tremors in Hossein's heart too, over his co-star, who happens to be the love of his life. Give the characters a little time and they elbow themselves into your affections; Kiarostami's subtle comedy may be just the ticket for when you're sitting at home surrounded by relatives you want to tar and feather.

`Matilda' and `The Umbrellas of Cherbourg' on release from tomorrow; `Through the Olive Trees' on release from Fri 27 Dec

Ryan Gilbey

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone