In Britain this would be Ken Loach territory, but Zonca, without pulling any punches, manages to infuse his material with a bleak poetry, thanks largely to the soulful performances of his two leads. Elodie Bouchez (previously seen here in Les Roseaux Sauvages and Clubbed to Death) is wonderfully wide-eyed as the extrovert Isa, whose favourite phrase is "c'est cool"; the initially more docile Marie (Natacha Regnier) gradually reveals a frightening depth of frustration and rage. Working its way under your skin, this film never quite lets on where it is going, until the simple but heartbreaking final shot, which highlights the contrast between the dream lives of women like Isa and the ones they end up living.
Perhaps yesterday's young Turks are always destined to turn into today's old fogies, but next to The Dream Life of Angels, Claude Chabrol's Rien Ne Va Plus - his 50th film - looks every bit as staid and lazy as the "cinema du papa" which the director and his Nouvelle Vague colleagues rebelled against 40 years ago. Isabelle Huppert plays Betty, who tours France with her older accomplice, Victor (Michel Serrault), swindling lonely businessmen out of a few thousand here and there. Huppert is always worth watching, especially when called upon to show off as many different looks and personalities as Betty's various scams require. The relationship with Victor is tantalising - the hint that he may be Betty's father is borne out by the fact that the script is by Chabrol's daughter Aurore. But when, like all movie conmen, Betty and Victor get greedy, they find themselves at the mercy of cartoon gangsters in a West Indies-set climax that could have been lifted from any old straight-to-video American thriller.
While Chabrol has made a career of Hitchcock hommages, the current fashion in Hollywood is to remake the master's works outright. While we prepare ourselves for the dubious prospect of Gus Van Sant's Psycho, Andrew Davis, director of The Fugitive, has taken it upon himself to turn Dial M for Murder into A Perfect Murder. True, Dial M was one of Hitchcock's creakier efforts, and the screenwriter Patrick Smith Kelly has come up with a couple of clever new twists - not to mention a murder in an Amtrak sleeping compartment that seems to have strayed in from North by Northwest. No one does sophisticated malice better than Michael Douglas - his icy scenes with Gwyneth Paltrow, the wife whose murder he is plotting, are like a snapshot of the private life of Gordon Gekko. And David Suchet, as the detective who picks up the pieces after the "perfect murder" goes wrong, deserves an award for the first-ever sympathetic Arab-American in a Hollywood movie. But this is one of those big studio films that get so carried away showing off their budget that they end up stabbing themselves in the back. Why, for instance, would the penniless artist Viggo Mortensen accept $500,000 to kill Paltrow when his enormous down- town warehouse studio (borrowed for the film, the credits reveal, from its real-life owner, Dennis Hopper) is clearly worth at least twice that?
A dire warning of the dangers inherent in directing a semi-improvised film with your wife as co-writer and leading lady, Henry Jaglom's Deja Vu is a hopelessly contrived love story set in Jerusalem, Paris and London. It is about an American woman (Victoria Foyt, aka Mrs Jaglom) and an Englishman (Stephen Dillane) who bump into each other so regularly that they decide they are destined to fall in love. In support, Anna Massey and Noel Harrison have a couple of nice incidental scenes as a bickering married couple with fond memories of sweet rationing, but for the most part Jaglom's improvisational approach simply results in ludicrously repetitive dialogue (sample: "It's irreplaceable. It's something that can't be replaced"). As toe-curlingly embarrassing moments go, the repeated group sing-songs of "The White Cliffs of Dover" are matched only by the appearance of Vanessa Redgrave, done up like Steve Harley in his Cockney Rebel days. Jamais Vu would be a better idea.
Watching Hamam: The Turkish Bath is an experience akin to visiting one: languorous, hypnotic, slightly soporific. This Italian-Turkish production is the story of Francesco (Alessandro Gassman), an uptight interior designer who travels from Rome to Istanbul to sort out his late aunt's estate, only to discover that he has been bequeathed a hammam. It is a determinedly languid affair - at one point Francesco dozes off mid-conversation at the dinner table - but as the hammam works its spell on Francesco, we gradually succumb to the film's beguiling melancholy. Who would have thought that Istanbul could be so laid-back?
All films on release from tomorrow
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