Film: Also Showing

the children of the marshland jean becker (pg) taxi gerard pires (15) n the astronaut's wife rand ravich (18) n scrooge brian desmond hurst (u)
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FOR THOSE who still cherish the memory of Eric Cantona's kung- fu kick at Selhurst Park some years back, it should be noted that Jean Becker's The Children of the Marshland boasts the spectacle of the footballer- turned-actor throwing a wobbly in a French bar and punching out a gendarme. Clearly he hasn't lost that aggressive edge, though one can't envisage quite so many action replays this time around.

It's untypical of the film, in fact, which is an otherwise gentle pastoral comedy of Thirties France. Haunted by his combat experiences, noble-souled labourer Garris (Jacques Gamblin) has settled in the Marais, a quiet region near the Loire, getting by on odd jobs and looking out for his friend, the roly-poly drunk Riton (Jacques Villeret) who's still lamenting his wife's defection.

Written by Sebastian Japrisot, who also scripted Becker's more harrowing One Deadly Summer, the film is both a touching tribute to friendship and an unashamedly nostalgic portrait of French provincial life.

Taxi is also from France, but there any resemblance to the above ends. It's basically about razzing around the streets of Marseilles in fast cars. Former pizza-delivery boy Daniel (Samy Naceri) takes up a new job driving a taxi, where he can indulge his tendencies as a speed freak. He eventually runs foul of incompetent flic Emilien (Frederic Diefenthal) who cuts him a deal: in return for his driving licence, he will help the police catch an elusive gang of German bank robbers. Written (just about) by Luc Besson, the film ventures an uneasy mix of boy-racer stunt driving and foiled romance - Emilien can't score with his leggy Amazonian boss, Daniel's big night with his girlfriend is endlessly postponed - but it fails to hide the emptiness at its core. While Taxi fairly burns up its 85-minute running time, any memory of it dissolved almost instantly upon leaving the auditorium.

Rand Ravich's debut The Astronaut's Wife is a morbid psychodrama which pays homage to (or, more accurately, rips off) Rosemary's Baby. Following a two-minute blackout while repairing a satellite in orbit, astronaut Spencer Armacost (Johnny Depp) returns to earth, retires from Nasa and moves with his wife Jillian (Charlize Theron) to New York. Jillian, haunted by the deaths of Spencer's co-pilot and his wife, starts wondering what happened during that fateful two-minute darkness: is the man who returned really her husband or has she just been impregnated by a monster from outer space?

The picture looks stunning, from Allen Daviau's dark-toned cinematography to the heartless burnish of Jan Roelf's production design). The couple's apartment is worth a Wallpaper feature all on its own. Theron, her hair cropped Mia Farrow-short, and Depp keep the beauty factor high, though they can't inject much life into the alien terror plot, which withers and dies inside the film's vast, implausible settings.

Likewise, the best thing about Dreaming of Joseph Lees is its look, this time a sepia-soaked picture of rural Somerset in the 1950s. Shy secretary Eva (Samantha Morton) has nurtured a lifelong passion for hercousin Joseph (Rupert Graves), a geologist who lost a leg while working in Italy. When he returns to the West Country Eva falls for him all over again, though her loyalty is compromised by the attentions local pig farmer Harry (Lee Ross) has been paying her. The film plods through this tale of simple country folk with an almost embarrassing lack of fire, relying fatally on Zbigniew Preisner's lachrymose score for its urgency and the amiable but lightweight pairing of Morton and Graves.

Completely underwhelming.