FILM / A plea of innocence: Other new releases

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The Independent Culture
Based, like every other movie these days, on a bestseller by John Grisham, Joel Schumacher's The Client offers a smooth delivery of all the familiar components - the innocent out of his depth, the forensic jousting, a whiff of conspiracy. This time, the innocent is an 11-year-old boy called Mark (Brad Renfro) who witnesses a suicide and hears a deadly secret.

Its courtroom spats take place between Mark's lawyer (Susan Sarandon), a plucky outsider who's divorced, an ex-alcoholic and a teeny bit feminist, and the ego-crazed big-shot (Tommy Lee Jones) with political ambitions and a rumoured penchant for Biblical rhetoric that hasn't survived the rewrites too well. Its conspiracy is all about the Mafia. The acting is good fun (Tommy Lee Jones almost resists sending up his role), the pace is reasonable and it adds up to an agreeable alternative to consuming the book.

Eight Seconds offers a hostage to fortune with its first sequence: a herd of steer thundering towards camera. It's a load of old bull. The film's title refers to the time a rodeo rider must stay on his mount, since this is a biopic (verging on hagiopic) of the rodeo star Lane Frost (played by Luke Perry, with a haircut so unfashionable it must have caused him physical pain).

For anyone less than utterly besotted with Frost's career, Lane provides unpromising plot material (he won a few contests, got married, won a few more, died in an accident) that has not been touched by the smallest hint of interpretative skill or wit. John Avildsen's film is so bogged in cliche that it's not even mildly amusing - it leaves you numb.

Despite its unappetising title, L'Enfer proves to be engrossing stuff - a no-frills yarn about a hotel manager (Francois Cluzet, as Paul) whose nagging jealousy of his beautiful young wife (Emmanuelle Beart as Nelly) gradually curdles into paranoia, rage and full-blown insanity. There are a couple of shocks in store, but the biggest surprise is that this taut little study in obsession is the work of Claude Chabrol, who has been seriously below par since his New Wave work. If Paul's hotel becomes a place to avoid, L'Enfer is definitely worth the detour.

This week also sees re- releases of films by two of the older French directors who were uncles to the Nouvelle Vague: Robert Bresson and Jean Cocteau. Jean-Luc Godard used to ask people 'Have you seen Orphee again recently?' - the possibility that someone might never have seen it at all being too horrible to contemplate. Not everyone adores Orphee as Godard did, but it's hard to warm to people who are wholly immune to it. At once silly and magnificent, Orphee is more than a conjurer's display of the tricks discovered by Melies: it's one of the most magical films ever made. In the same NFT season, you can also see Le Testament d'Orphee, Cocteau's farewell to the medium he graced.

In the modern era AP (After the Pythons' Holy Grail), it would take a soul of fierce purity not to titter at the opening of Bresson's Lancelot du Lac (1974), in which knights clomp around knocking off each other's heads and fake blood spurts by the litre. The rest of the film is unmistakably Bresson's work: austere, spiritual, almost perversely heedless of the obligation to entertain. The fruits of such restraint can be transcendentally fine, but this melancholic revision of Arthuriana is not for the unconverted.

A more sumptuous approach to spiritual matters comes in Mandala, directed by Im Kwon-Taek, which opens the ICA's 'Seoul Stirring' season of Korean films.

Shot in a wide-screen format, Mandala is a kind of Buddhist buddy movie in which the heroes are a randy monk and a pure monk. Its theme - the opposition between the ascetic and the worldly paths - is played out through its visual contrasts of remote monasteries and modern-day Seoul. Asceticism has the best pictures: the rural sections of Mandala are ravishing.