FILM: ALSO SHOWING

The Lost Son (18) Chris Menges; 102 mins The Mummy (12) Stephen Sommers; 115 mins The Debt Collector (18) Anthony Neilson; 110 mins Simon Birch (PG) Mark Steven Johnson; 113 mins Made In Hong Kong (15) Fruit Chan; 108 mins
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The Independent Culture
The French actor Daniel Auteuil has been making films since the early 1970s and has won awards all over Europe for his work. Chris Menges's The Lost Son is his first English language film, and his performance as private detective Xavier Lombard is as unfettered and clean as any you will see this year. It is a masterclass in quiet and intent.

Lombard, once a Paris police detective, now lives alone in London, in a Soho flat. He smokes a lot, and likes to watch people in the flats opposite embracing their future with new babies and lovers. Lombard has few friends, and so welcomes a call from an old colleague Carlos (Ciaran Hinds) who invites him to meet his wife's wealthy Austrian family. They contract Lombard to trace their adult son Leon, errant for a month but with a history of absences and drug addiction. Lombard finds a video showing child abuse, and determines to track down its originators to establish Leon's involvement.

Menges has already made two tender films about children, A World Apart, and Second Best, and so his careful handling of the paedophilia theme here is to be expected. The Lost Son is not breath-held but purposeful. Nowhere will you find the syncopated stagger of so many films devoted to people smashed into kindling.

I'm thinking particularly of Joel Schumacher's 8mm, which had Nicolas Cage as a private detective sent to confront the makers of a snuff movie. That film circled the same themes as The Lost Son - innocence gnawed at, a detective with only the warmth of his skin left to offer by the close - but with such blood-sticky hysteria, that the two films couldn't be more different.

Menges's film shakes us aware by finding calm in its central character, and Auteuil makes what always would have been a good film, superb. As a performer, Auteuil has always been intent on his character's objective, which is not as obvious a criterion for an actor as it sounds. Auteuil suits Menges because the two are concerned with action. They let the interior life of the film speak through what people do rather than what they play or imagine.

You can see this all the time in Auteuil. How he watches a football match on the television, or dismisses a cigarette, turning his shiny, tiny eyes to working the script. His character emerges through minute movements - a quick smile, a blink suggesting the wringing out of some tears, an optimistic glance around a bar, the swallowed turning of a phrase. Menges responds by rarely showing Auteuil in close-up. He is often shot from the side or behind, through the dirty window of a car, at the corner of a crimson-shadowed Soho street. Menges is confident enough to realise he doesn't have to monitor this man to bring him to us whole.

The Mummy has been touted as a kind of Indiana Jones meets The Evil Dead, which sounds absorbing enough if you like that kind of thing (I do). It opens in ancient Egypt, with high priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) buried alive for seducing the pharaoh's favourite mistress. In the 1920s, clumsy librarian Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), her blithering brother (John Hannah) and strong-thighed adventurer Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) stir up trouble by uncovering Imhotep's decomposing body and the curse that accompanied his horrible incarceration. Although the tongue-in-cheek script is pretty rudimentary, there is some fun to be had here thanks to the special effects (a million flesh-eating scarabs, Thebes plundered by ill, shuffling corpses) which look comfortingly expensive, but might frighten the very young. I just couldn't work out how Imhotep got dubbed evil. All he did was fall for the wrong woman. Spotty old Romeo had it easy in comparison; he only had to get through a couple of days in Mantua, whereas Imhotep has been cramped for 2,000 years with only heiratic ostraca and a few alabaster vases to keep him going.

In The Debt Collector Billy Connolly plays Nickie Dryden, once a brutal Edinburgh loan shark, now ostensibly rehabilitated as a popular writer and sculptor, and husband of a middle-class journalist (Fran-cesca Annis). But Dryden's old arresting officer Keltie (Ken Stott) won't forgive him so easily. Keltie is furious that Dryden should now have everything he hasn't - love, a pretty house, attention, prospects, gentility. Anthony Neilson's first feature opens with a terrific flash-back confrontation between Connolly and Stott in a snooker club, Connolly hissing the hiss of the masochist, Stott hot under his 1970s wig, trussed into a young man's jacket. This scene would work best on the stage, as would all the better scenes in the film - Neilson is a stage writer, and keeps his eye on the intimate at all times, even when his films tip into melodrama. Connolly, with his regal hair and exhilarating flatness, makes a complex hard man. His Dryden has dampened his affection for deception, but just how much, we are never quite sure. Neilson hasn't thought through Keltie's psychology either, and so this character's increasingly unpleasant behaviour feels at worst an infantile shriek, at best the expiation of some kind of guilt over being alive.

Simon Birch was born so small he fell out of his mother during a prodigious sneeze. It is 1960s small-town America and the tiny Birch (Ian Michael Smith) is just about tolerated by his community, finding a good friend in Joe (Joseph Mazzello) and always looking to God for some explanation for his littleness. All this is based very loosely on John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, and does have some of the whimsy and strange impulse of Irving's book. But with its shiny Cadillacs, marigold leaves and ceaseless score it emerges too sentimental to recommend.

Fruit Chan's second feature, Made in Hong Kong, was shot on film stock he stole before Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997. It has the atmosphere of something ungoverned. It tells the story of a relationship between young punk Chung-chau (Sam Lee), a terminally ill girl and a simple-minded boy. Angsty in style, this is a wistful film, full of dream-groping, cacophony and loss. Even its sexy, bold protagonist's name provides contrast and assertion - Chung-chau means Autumn Moon. Chairman Mao called China's yelping, suspicious youth his Morning Sun.

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