Film: Also Showing

Gadjo Dilo (15) Tony Gatlif Le Bossu (15) Philippe De Broca Metroland (18) Philip Saville The Life of Stuff (18) Simon Donald

GADJO DILO doesn't open in an especially auspicious way. We see Stephane (Romain Duris), a young Parisian, tramping down a long, icy road, somewhere in rural Romania. His shoes are coming to pieces. His quest for Nora Luca, the gypsy singer whose music he discovered through his father, seems wilfully obscure. But once Stephane blunders into a Gypsy village after a drunken night with Izidor, an old man he meets crying and cursing in the snow, the film-making takes wing. The old man, whose own son has just been arrested, treats Stephane like a surrogate child and promises to verse him in the ways of the gypsies.

Under Izidor's patient, if eccentric, tuition, Stephane learns gradually about the habits, superstitions and, above all, the music of his hosts. By a neat reversal, he is the outsider. The Gypsies regard him as a potential rapist, murderer or thief. Presumably, they must have felt roughly the same way about the director, Tony Gatlif, but this, thankfully, is not one of those films in which the director peers in at his subjects as if he is shooting an ethnographic documentary. Gatlif, himself of Gypsy origin, never patronises his subjects. There are only two professionals in the cast, but he elicits magical performances from kids and old folk alike. The music is mesmerising. There is a warmth and humour to the storytelling which makes redundant any accusations that he is packaging exotic images of a disenfranchised community for the delectation of Western cinema- goers.

It is intriguing to compare Gadjo Dilo with Emir Kusturica's wildly imaginative Time Of The Gypsies. Every character in Kusturica's film seems to be either a cripple, a vagabond or a psychic, but here there are no freaks, only human beings.

Bizarrely, no French film-maker has made a decent version of The Three Musketeers. (Even Bertrand Tavernier*s D'Artagnan's Daughter was a bit of a misfire.) Nevertheless, sumptuous swashbucklers are fast becoming French cinema's stock-in-trade. Le Bossu, loosely based on Paul Feval's 1857 novel, doesn't break much new ground, but is acted and shot with such magnificent braggadocio that its lack of originality is never a problem.

Fabrice Luchini, last seen as the sardonic consumptive in Yves Angelo's Un Air Si Pur, makes a supremely oleaginous villain in the Richelieu mould. Vincent Perez leaps hither and thither like a latter-day Douglas Fairbanks while Daniel Auteil's character, an acrobat-turned-swordsman from the provinces who briefly masquerades as a hunchback, seems like a cross between Cyrano and D'Artagnan. He tends the abandoned baby who soon blossoms into the beautiful Aurore (Marie Gillain.) Who cares about the cliches when the storytelling is so vivid?

The sheer swashbuckling scope of Le Bossu provides a stark contrast to the narrowly focused Metroland. This adaptation of Julian Barnes's novel of the same name might best be described as a suburban morality tale. Chris (Christian Bale) is festering somewhere in the commuter belt, playing happy families, when his old friend Tony (Lee Ross) thinks that he ought to be out having fun.

The film-makers largely ignore early chapters of the novel. We get only flitting glimpses of Chris and Tony as the precocious, cigarette-smoking young rebels in school blazers whose favourite hobby is antagonising the bourgeoisie. Most of the action is set in the Seventies, but it cannot be said that the period is reconstructed with any great verve or imagination. Chris and Tony sport the usual, egregious Showaddywaddy-style haircuts. Chris, who has opted for marriage and career, wears ties with big knots while Tony, who hasn't, wears denim and goes to punk concerts. Callaghan- era newspapers and old copies of the Radio Times are strewn all over the place to remind us that we are indeed stuck in the Seventies.

There is plenty that's likable about Metroland. In particular, the late- Sixties Paris interlude is very endearing. Having fled England, Chris (played with blundering charm by Bale) works as a barman but aspires to be a photographer and Left-Bank boulevardier. With his scarf draped around his neck, he even looks a little like Jean-Pierre Leaud, the star of all those old Truffaut and Godard movies. Back on home soil, the storytelling is less assured. Chris still regrets splitting up with his old Parisienne flame Annick (Elsa Zylberstein.) Perhaps she did wipe the coffee off her mouth with her hair, but she still came close to his ideal of the perfect French woman. Given that he is now stuck in a dreary marriage (Emily Watson has the thankless role as his wife), his nostalgia isn't hard to understand. There's a whole world waiting out there, and all he wants to do is stay at home in suburbia. Metroland is amiable enough, but, like Chris himself, the film-makers show a dispiriting lack of ambition.

Simon Donald's debut feature, The Life of Stuff, is a profoundly depressing Glasgow gangland drama. It may well have made a riveting play but that doesn't mean it translates to the screen. Performances and direction are pitched at such an overwrought level from the very first scene that the film has nowhere to go. The claustrophobic settings (almost the entire story takes place in a deserted warehouse) don't help. Nor does the melodramatic music, which sounds like a pastiche of one of John Barry's James Bond scores. Ewen Bremner and Gina McKee do their best as two hostages trapped in the basement. The former is in his Y-Fronts and has shaved his head with a Bic razor and some bleach in a forlorn bid to conceal his identity. The latter is groggy from booze. Donald's shock tactics (explosions, torture, ferocious bloodletting) soon leave you so numb that the dark humour and occasional forays into metaphysics hardly even register.

Ryan Gilbey

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