A Far Off Place (-). . .Mikael Salomon (US)
Champions (PG). . . . . Stephen Herek (US)
In Cold Blood (18). . . Richard Brooks (US)
For a film about post-coital tristesse, Apres l'amour is remarkably diverting. The director, Diane Kurys, has the gift of detecting the incongruous and absurd in situations that seem to their protagonists deadly serious - a clandestine quickie in a car betrayed by the steady rhythmic squeaking of a rubber toy, a frantic hospital dash made more worrisome by the fact that the man doesn't know which 'wife' he'll find there, the babysitter discreetly trying to extract payment from a couple in the throes of a blistering row . . .
All this is as well because none of Kurys's characters are particularly likeable. Isabelle Huppert holds the centre of the film as an independent- minded, emotionally detached writer who is involved, in a rather desultory fashion, with two men: Bernard Giraudeau's rugged, irascible architect and Hippolyte Girardot's spaniel-eyed rock musician. Both are wimps happy to keep two menages on the boil; both have children by other women who, unsurprisingly, are hysterical about it.
Apres l'amour is elegantly scripted, shot and performed (Kurys is a director of unquestionable talent) although it's also infuriating to watch these people hurtling pell-mell down endless blind alleys. The story is messy, circular; it begins and ends with Huppert's birthday party, and it is clear that the passing year has brought the assembled guests scant wisdom. All the same, it stands out (not a titanic feat, admittedly) as one of the few new adult films in London.
An idyllic wildlife park where animals roam free till disaster strikes . . . heard that story pitch somewhere before this summer? A Far Off Place is co-produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin company, but remains refreshingly free of tie-in burger promotions, collectable plastic dinosaurs and waffly platitudes about tampering with nature. It's set in Zimbabwe and its baddies are good, old-fashioned, low-tech poachers who butcher elephants for their tusks and shoot at defenceless children from helicopters in the time-honoured manner.
By unfortunate programming, A Far Off Place is preceded by Trail Mix-Up, a Roger Rabbit cartoon - otherwise always excellent news - wherein the bunny plays boy-ranger with Baby Hermann with enjoyably holocaustic results (the planet appears to combust spontaneously at the end). This rather takes the mickey out of the main feature, which bursts with eco-pieties: it tells us, twice, that no animals were harmed in the course of filming.
And the plot is a mite improbable: two teenagers, one from Zimbabwe, one American, upon finding their house incinerated and parents shot, decide not to take refuge in a friendly gamekeeper's nearby house but to trek 2,000 kilometres across the Kalahari Desert, guided by a friendly Bushman and stopping only twice to grab a quick gulp of water; this decision poses a slight problem for animal-lovers, too, since the cute baby elephants are soon phased out in favour of the occasional scorpion and vulture. But it looks spectacular (being directed by Mikael Salomon, a distinguished director of photography - he shot The Abyss, Backdraft and Far and Away) and means well.
The week's other children's film was known as The Mighty Ducks in a previous incarnation but has been retitled the bland and forgetable Champions (inexplicably, since Ducks did well enough in America). Emilio Estevez plays a brash, ruthless young lawyer with a personalised JUSTWIN license plate (an off-the-peg character that would automatically go to Tom Cruise in a movie with a proper budget) who is caught drunk-driving and sentenced to community service, coaching a laughably inept little-league hockey team.
The director, Stephen Herek, made Critters and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and brings a lively, amusing touch to the early scenes. The kids are blue-collar, inner city, bright, not too bratty; Estevez displays a nice, sharp-tongued cynicism about the benefits of this intended bonding experience ('one of you will probably write a book about it one day in prison').
If only the ducks kept laying eggs; but, no, the story cops out into one of those Hollywood films that says 'It doesn't matter if you lose', but makes darn sure its plucky little underdogs wind up on top (theme song: Queen chanting 'No time for losers / 'Cos we are the champions').
Two revivals: The Vanishing (the fine original, not the remake) and Richard Brooks's 1967 film of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. The latter may be trying to surf on the wave of recent films about cold-hearted murderers (it's about two ex-cons who slay a family for a small fistful of dollars), but looks a little old-fashioned beside them. Its strengths and glories are the spectacular photography (it's shot in that wonderful, nigh-obsolete format, black-and-white CinemaScope) and the edgy jazz score from Quincy Jones.