Dying with a vengeance

Also showing; DON'T FORGET YOU'RE GOING TO DIE Xavier Beauvois (18) A SUMMER'S TALE Eric Rohmer (U) MULTIPLICITY Harold Ramis (12) JANE EYRE Franco Zeffirelli (PG)
Click to follow
A s you might have gathered from its title, Don't Forget You're Going to Die is no picnic. But those words - cool, blunt and startling, like the film - carry an ambiguous warning that shifts in tone with the picture. Don't forget you're going to die, because you are no more than a smudge on history and nothing you do will be of any significance? Or don't forget you're going to die because that's the only way you're going to make the most of life? It's really just a slightly more sophisticated way of asking whether your glass is half empty or half full.

For Benoit (Xavier Beauvois, who also wrote and directed), you might say that the glass is in pieces on the floor. He's an art student whose life starts to crumble as national service looms. He tries a few ruses to dodge the military, like pretending to be gay, and a drug addict. And he attempts suicide, which is when a blood test reveals that he is HIV positive. His initial despair is fleeting. Then he starts to court death, hooking up with a junkie named Omar (Roschdy Zem) who introduces him to two exotic friends, Helen and Caroline - Omar's pet names for heroin and cocaine. Benoit and Omar take drugs, smuggle drugs and take more drugs. For variety, they share prostitutes, as we see in one unsettling scene that is most definitely neither stimulating nor simulated.

The film's controversial reputation precedes it, though Beauvois is clearly striving for celebration rather than scandal. Benoit's fervent Romanticism is mirrored in the picture's depiction of the sensory tour which he embarks upon, from the early scenes of squalor and darkness to the bright-eyed affair he conducts with Claudia (Chiara Mastroianni), a girl he meets in Italy. Benoit's allusions to Byron are telling; Beauvois understands that self-aggrandisement and the knowledge of one's death are often mutually exclusive.

So there is a nihilistic poetry in Omar's demonstration of how to smoke crack, filmed without glamour or disdain (think of the Zen sandwich master in Diva, but replace his baguette with a bong). And despite the length of the scene, and the stillness of the camera, there is an urgency in Omar's - and Beauvois's - meticulous attention to detail that is both funny and entrancing. However, fans of Trainspotting may be alarmed to find that scenes of drug-taking are not always accompanied by fast cutting and pop music.

Beauvois disappoints us only once, at the last hurdle, when he shoots a climactic sequence the way Benoit might have liked it shot: in tragic slow-motion. It's as though someone took Beauvois aside and said: you've made a very honest film about grabbing life by the scruff of the neck - but, erm... don't forget you're going to have to make the audience cry.

The elderly director Eric Rohmer is often commended for his acute understanding of young hearts. To which you ache to reply: yes, but does he have to keep understanding young hearts over and over again, without progressing as either a film-maker or a story-teller? And then along comes A Summer's Tale, and you have to eat your words. Not that it marks any sort of radical departure for Rohmer. (You'll never find a car chase or a gangland slaying in one of his films.) But he pursues his themes, moves his camera and directs his cast with such piercing intuition and clarity that you can become drawn into the movie against your will.

Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud) is a pretty young graduate holidaying in Dinard, where he has sort of arranged to meet his sort of girlfriend, Lena. Gaspard is like that; he's a sort of musician too, though the sea-shanty he's toiling over suggests he should sort of quit sort of immediately. He starts hanging out with Margot (Amanda Langlet), a student who is spending the summer waitressing. They walk and talk and flirt together, and Margot has enough savvy to rebuff Gaspard's cumbersome advances. But that's OK: another local girl, Solene (Gwenaelle Simon), wants his body. She and Gaspard begin their own little romance, which is just dandy until Lena (Aurelia Nolin) finally shows up.

"I'm curious about people," Margot tells Gaspard at one point. "No one is totally uninteresting." That could be Rohmer speaking. His knack is for bringing compassion and emotional complexity to the most trite situations. You could find a predicament like Gaspard's on at least two stages in the West End right now. But Rohmer is more interested in stripping away Gaspard's facade than exploiting his discomfort, revealing not the hapless puppet we had expected, but a master puppeteer capable of surreptitiously manipulating those around him - at least until his strings start getting knotted. The protracted takes and gentle volleys of dialogue create a kind of harmony out of the emotional discordancy, so that it takes you a while to notice that the romantic entanglements have gone as haywire as Gaspard's hair.

Here's a problem. What do you do when you spend so much time trying to support your family that you don't have any time left to actually be with them? Do you cut your hours? Find another job? Find another family? No, you get yourself cloned. In Multiplicity, Michael Keaton is offered this treatment by a professor who witnesses the blue-collar boy getting in a flap over work. The prof's offer isn't a scientific gesture - just a friendly one, much as you might recommend your housekeeper or child-minder to a harassed chum. And at first, things are easy. Keaton 2 takes charge of work, while Keaton 1 expands his quality time at home. But Keaton 2 is a clone alone - he needs a pal. Enter Keaton 3, who represents the feminine side (he can bake), and Keaton 4, the inner child.

The concept of the clone is actually an accurate representation of the workaholic personality, and the picture initially appears to be setting itself up as a critique of an over-stressed society. But really it's nothing more than another showcase for Keaton's slim talents. One Michael Keaton is more than enough for anyone to take. But four? In a movie with three- and-a-half jokes in it? Go forth and multiply.

Franco Zeffirelli's film of Jane Eyre is gloomy and soul-less, but it's never so bad that it feels like a Franco Zeffirelli film. Charlotte Gainsbourg makes a sturdy, defiant heroine and William Hurt is endearingly gruff as Rochester, despite that familiar moment of dread, just before he opens his mouth, when you wonder what accent he's going to try and get away with this time.

All films are on general release from tomorrow