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

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test