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Ravenous Antonia Bird (18) n Varsity Blues Brian Robbins (15) A Kind of Hush Brian Stirner (15) n The Italian Job Peter Collinson (PG) Mouchette Robert Bresson (no certificate)

ROBERT CARLYLE'S latest venture, Ravenous - a voluptuous tale of cannibalism, cowardice and cupidity in the Wild West - is worth seeing for one terrifying scene alone. I can't tell you much about it, because that would spoil the twist. But it occurs early on in the film and, like all those great moments in cinema when an "innocent" character is exposed in a flash of comprehension as the enemy, it has an orgasmic momentum. You wait to exhale, but the groin-stirring horror just goes on. And on.

Unfortunately, director Antonia Bird (or someone, for this is a film with a chequered production history) doesn't know how to handle a climax. Each and every time we start to feel anything, we get palmed off with fiddle-dee-ree music and a knowing quip. Presumably we're meant to see this as jagged, postmodern irony. In fact, it's the script equivalent of those stickers that boast "You don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps".

Like many vampire movies, which is essentially what Ravenous becomes, this can be seen as a fable about illicit sexuality, with troubled Boyd (Guy Pearce) struggling to resist the "immoral" lure of another man's body. If so (and the two central characters do end up in each other's arms) it's the only theme that isn't spelt out. Christianity, Western capitalism - all these are "explained" by having the wicked cannibals spout kindergarten Nietzsche. Ravenous remains a sticky, disturbing piece. But only just.

Varsity Blues is an odious, exuberantly shot coming-of-age "comedy" that has Dawson's Creek star James Van Der Beek as Mox, a sensitive Texan jock forced to do battle with his ruthless, red-neck football coach (Jon Voight). Beek is a bit of a heart-throb. God knows why. His face resembles a hastily assembled collection of comedy props - Eddie Munster eyebrows, and the most gormless jawline this side of Russ Abbott.

There are more pressing problems, however. Varsity Blues wants to pretend that winning doesn't come at a price - if the right man's in charge, everything'll be OK. Par for the course, maybe. If you think back to genuinely angsty youth films such as Splendor in the Grass or The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, you realise how few modern ones risk their heroes choosing failure over success or, more accurately, the ordinary over the exceptional.

It's called friendly fascism. Women (including a teacher forced to endure an entirely gratuitous sexual humiliation), fatties, blacks and cripples are all simply there to make Mox look good. And is the film likely to do well? You betcha.

In A Kind of Hush, six boys, all entangled in smelly King's Cross, are united by their experiences of sexual abuse and desire for revenge. "Oh no, not more child abuse!" grumbled one critic before the press screening. In fact, the film compares well with last week's The War Zone - its messy energy is far more illuminating than the latter's graphic gloss. A Kind of Hush doesn't rely on its looks or our desire to peek-a-boo into miserable lives. So it's a little earnest, and a lot obvious, in places. It works.

Surely it was The Italian Job - made way back in 1969 - that inspired Margaret Thatcher's career. A heist led by an aspirational cockney (Michael Caine), who makes use of but does not defer to a string of chinless wonders? A theme song extolling "The self-preservation society"? Sinister threats regarding immigrants, ("all the Italians in England will suffer," mutters Caine; "we'll drive them into the sea.")? It's a right-wing manifesto! And maybe this is paranoia talking, but note how the plan fails because a black man is entrusted with the driving...

The weird thing is that Caine (one of those men on whom mascara sits heavily) just comes over as bossy manager material. Noel Coward, meanwhile, as the con backing the project, is a joy to behold. A marginal, lawless figure, both in terms of employment and (presumed) sexuality, he's in fact firmly ensconced in the mainstream, his desires neither repressed nor comic (he makes jokes; he isn't one). A vision of deviance way before, maybe still before, its time, it turns the rest of the picture on its narrow-minded little head.

Mouchette, Bresson's classic 1966 portrait of a delinquent peasant girl, has much in common with Truffaut's Les Quatre Cents Coups, but where the latter is mercurial, Mouchette is like a beautiful piece of lead. Les Quatre Cents Coups whirls in sync with modernity; in Mouchette, the fairground where the teenager enjoys her one pain-free moment seems like an aberration. The medieval landscape grinds such reprieves to dust.

This is a view of France we rarely see and a reminder of how communities stick together only to keep the weak out. The surprise is that such hopelessness is somehow consoling. Mouchette is an unlovable, fish-eyed creature, but her right to feel is unquestioned. By taking conventional love (whether romantic or parental) out of the equation, Bresson reveals a host of unnameable emotions, all pointing the way to an alternative mode of existence. The world cannot be changed, Bresson suggests, even as he offers us the shock of the new.

Charlotte O'Sullivan

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