FILM / An immaculate, serene vision

The Quince Tree Sun (U). . . . . . . . . .Victor Erice (Sp)

Blue Black Permanent (PG). . . . . . . .Margaret Tait (UK)

Splitting Heirs (12). . . . . . . . . . . . .Robert Young (UK/US)

Mr Nanny (PG). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Michael Gottlieb (US)

Night of the Living Dead (18). . . .Tom Savini (US)

The best film this week is a 139-minute documentary about an artist's vain attempt to paint the quince tree in his garden before the fruit rots on the bough. The Quince Tree Sun is audaciously low-key and inconsequential. For the first 20 minutes there is no dialogue or music; the painter, Antonio Lopez, doesn't even put brush to canvas. You just see him carefully preparing his tools and setting up his easel.

Unlike La Belle Noiseuse, another lengthy exploration of the painter's craft, there are no tensions between artist and model. This is simply a detailed chronicle of Lopez's daily life. A band of Polish decorators drifts in and out, fixing up his kitchen (and passing unimpressed judgement on the painting in progress). Friends drop by now and then to schmooze about the good old days and discuss their work.

Occasionally, there's a pan across the Madrid skyline. Eventually, Lopez gives up. He had waited for the moment when the quinces are gold and swollen - but the fruit perishes and the sun goes into hibernation well before his painting is done. If all this sounds like watching paint dry, read on.

The director, Victor Erice, is possibly even slower than Lopez. He made a spectacular splash with his first film, The Spirit of the Beehive, which established him as an international arthouse name. That was in 1973. Then he made one more movie, The South (1983), before resurfacing at Cannes last year with The Quince Tree Sun. And if one felt a secret disappointment that it was 'only' a documentary, it was also refreshing to see an important director (for Erice is still, despite his tiny output, a name to conjure with) addressing himself to the form.

Against all the odds, his film is fascinating. It's immaculately shot and framed (with the exception of a rambling video sequence). One friend asks Lopez why, when it rains, he can't work from photographs. He replies that there would be no point: he paints the tree because he loves it and wants to be near it, and the beauty of Erice's images makes you understand something of that passion. The Quince Tree Sun is about the importance of minute observation - Lopez bedecks his tree with white marks and plumb lines, and knows at once if a quince, ripening and heavy, has sunk by a couple of centimetres. And so it's not surprising that the film commands the audience to watch it closely too. Once you accept it, the serenity of pacing is deeply satisfying.

Of course, The Quince Tree Sun will not be to every taste. The Die Hard brigade will certainly see its acclaim (it has won a sheaf of awards) as another instance of the intellectual snobbery of film critics. I prefer to see it as demonstrating their own tunnel vision, because ideally there ought to be no reason why they shouldn't enjoy The Quince Tree Sun and Die Hard too.

The week's other art film, Blue Black Permanent, is an inevitably slighter but by no means negligible work. The director, Margaret Tait, beats Erice in the slowness stakes, having taken 74 years to get round to her first feature, although she has an impressive list of short films to her credit. Set in Orkney and Edinburgh, Blue Black Permanent chronicles three generations of mothers and daughters, hinging on a dreamy poet whose life is claimed by the sea she loves when her child is nine years old. The daughter, now grown up, relates these memories in an attempt to exorcise her guilt for the death. It's a delicate film with a strong sense of mood and seascape - the beginning, one hopes, of a distinguished career.

The pickings are thin at the popcorn end of the market. Splitting Heirs is an embarrassingly mirthless British comedy written and produced by Eric Idle - also miscast as a young man in his late twenties. He believes himself cheated out of his wealthy inheritance; the imposter, swapped at birth, is the brash, American-bred Rick Moranis.

The film fields the old naked- man-in-the-cupboard gag, the old nymphos-on-the-rampage gag ('Would you like to come up for a coffee or would you like to come up and screw me?'); it looks old-fashioned and sounds it with a steady drone of obtrusive, would-be funny music. The number of laughs at the press show remained in single figures, but one of them was elicited by a rare modern joke - a description of Miss Saigon as a 'sort of Sound of Music meets Platoon'.

It's almost matched by Mr Nanny, a vehicle for the chunky wrestler Hulk Hogan, playing bodyguard to a pair of mischievous rich kids who outsmart him at every turn. The film is dimly scripted and directed (by the auteur of Mannequin and the producer of Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III), but Hogan is a likeable screen presence.

Night of the Living Dead is George Romero's 1968 horror classic returned from the grave and re-filmed by Romero's make-up man, Tom Savini. The motive is the fact that the copyright had lapsed and other imitators were poised to move in. The new version is competent but pointless - emptied of the original's social comment, it becomes a straight siege piece, with the survivors holed up in an old farmhouse trying to stop the zombies crashing in. But it's hard to be spooked by the shuffling baddies when, as the heroine points out, you can escape from them by walking quite fast.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect