FILM / Eye for an eye, truth for a truth

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The Independent Culture
In a dull movie landscape, Careful (no certificate) shines like a glorious beacon in a grey and costive world. It's set in the early century, in an imaginary Swiss mountain village where avalanches are set off by the bleat of a single lamb. The inhabitants - all surveyed through a livid orange miasma - live on tiptoe. 'Lower the sheepskins]' (to muffle the sound) is the muted cry, when there is cause for celebration.

But, despite the strictest precautions, disaster lurks round every corner - one character loses his eye as a baby to the brooch on his mother's bosom, then has the second one pecked out by the bird on his cuckoo clock. And, out of the fear, steamy, incestuous passions ferment in every family, with tragicomic results.

Directed by Guy Maddin (interviewed opposite), the film is startlingly original, but can be best summed up as a crazy quilt of Expressionism, early David Lynch, old Universal horror flicks and German mountain films of the Thirties. It's a hand-tinted, almost silent movie (there are high-poetic intertitles as in a D W Griffith melodrama), stuffed with flugelhorns, lederhosen and sundry Alpine kitsch. A little of this goes a long way and the film is slightly over-indulgent at 100 minutes. But Maddin carries it off, partly thanks to his great pictorial sense and crazed poetry, partly because he ploughs ahead, arrow-straight and without a trace of smirking camp.

Taylor Hackford directed An Officer and a Gentleman and produced La Bamba, which successfully sold Latino culture to the Hispanic and crossover markets. Now he's trying to repeat the trick with Blood In Blood Out (18), a three-hour Latin-American epic about the criss-crossing fates of three blood brothers from the East Los Angeles ghetto. One heads for a life in prison, another becomes a radical-chic artist and heroin addict, the third joins the narcotics squad.

It's a fast-moving, high-octane movie, oozing blood, drugs and testosterone, and an admirable attempt to give this subject the treatment normally reserved for self-important rural epics or historical VIPs. But the script is too keen on its exploitation / prison-flick strand, at the expense of the other two characters, and its three hours don't achieve the big cultural fresco to which they aspire.

The Anglo-Russian co-production The Assassin of the Tsar (12) has been cooling its heels for a couple of years (it was first shown in Cannes in 1991) and it would be nice to report on a neglected gem. Malcolm McDowell plays a mental patient convinced that he is the murderer of two Tsars; Oleg Yankovsky, the doctor attending him, decided that the only cure is to re-enact his fantasies.

Soon, these blossom into full-costume flashbacks with McDowell and Yankovsky playing the killer and his victims. It's a curious, slow-moving piece that fumbles towards the idea of history as an unresolved collective neurosis, but doesn't work it through. Nice to see two fine actors, though, notably McDowell - one of our most sorely under-used stars.