A Common Thread (12A)<br/> Notre Musique (12A)<br/> Mysterious Skin (18)<br/> Five (U)<br/> Only Human (15)

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The Independent Culture

When headstrong 17-year-old Claire (Lola Naymark) learns that she is pregnant, she decides to give birth anonymously, prior to having it adopted.

A Common Thread (12A)

When headstrong 17-year-old Claire (Lola Naymark) learns that she is pregnant, she decides to give birth anonymously, prior to having it adopted. Her condition also prompts her to follow her vocation, quitting her supermarket job and persuading Madame Melikian (Ariane Ascaride), a local and revered embroiderer whose son has just died in an accident, to take her on.

The relationship between an older woman who has lost a child, and a young one having to cope with unwanted pregnancy, is the intriguing hub of this skilled and touching first feature by Frenchwoman Eleonore Faucher. The pleasure of the film lies very much in details, whether it be the snowflake intricacies of the pair's embroidery, depictions of nature around their rural town, the precision with which the two women dress or the subtleties of the growing bond between them.

Faucher complements her strong visual compositions with a beautiful string orchestration, and is ably assisted by the newcomer and the old hand (Ascaride is French film-maker Robert Guediguian's partner and muse). The result is a story as exquisite as its needlework.

Notre Musique (12A)

Taking its cue from Dante's Inferno, the impishly provocative Jean-Luc Godards' latest dialectic between politics and cinema is divided into Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. The first involves a dazzling 10-minute collage of news reels and movie images of war and genocide - shots of Vietnam and the Holocaust, for example, interspersed with Hollywood westerns. Purgatory, which makes up the bulk of the film, is set in contemporary Sarajevo and centres around a real-life literary conference that includes Godard himself, to which is tagged a fictional storyline involving an Israeli journalist and a French Jew struggling, in very different ways, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The setting of Paradise, a woodland occupied by hippies and surrounded by armed guards, feels like an ironic throwback to the anarchic setting of Godard's Weekend.

Throughout, we get the usual barrage of pronouncements and references, numerous reasons for scratching one's head (why are American Indians wandering around Sarajevo?). There is, though, should one choose to accept it, a worthwhile mission here: principally to reflect on the duality of human nature and the role of art in reflecting that.

Mysterious Skin (18)

Director Gregg Araki has always put the "indie" into the independent scene in the US, films like Totally F***ed Up and The Doom Generation being ribald, vibrant, violent - and so hysterical as to be a distinctly acquired taste; which makes Mysterious Skin, one of the most sensitive films yet made about paedophilia, even more surprising.

Based on the novel by Scott Heim, it follows the separate (but tragically connected) stories of two Kansas 18-year-olds: Brian (Brady Corbett), a shy, nerdish figure plagued by nightmares of alien abduction and desperate to know what happened to him when, aged eight, he passed out for five hours after a baseball game; and Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) the star of that game, now a cynical gay hustler, who retains rose-tinted memories of his sexual experiences, also aged eight, with the coach. One can't remember, one misremembers, Brian's frantic attempts to solve his mystery leading, inexorably, to painful revelations for both.

Araki adeptly weaves between their stories, then and now; his use of a subjective camera for their traumatic childhood experiences heightening the sense, as Brian's alien scenario horribly suggests, of "invasion", and his depiction of the angry, self-reliant, potentially self-destructive Neil providing a raw, unprecious edge. There is hope in these troubled teens, but hope that only their inevitable meeting can facilitate. To say that it's a lovely film does no injustice to the subject.

Five (U)

The Iranian Abbas Kiarostami, currently being celebrated with a retrospective at the National Film Theatre, is a director constantly, and for the most part invigoratingly reinventing his medium. His last film, 10x10, was shot entirely inside a car driven around Tehran, using the restriction to create an intimate account of women's experience in that city. Five, however, feels as though it would be more at home as a video installation in an art gallery, than in a cinema.

It is composed of five vignettes, shot in digital on the shore of the Caspian Sea: a piece of driftwood is tossed and broken by the waves; people stroll along a promenade; dogs linger by the water's edge; a procession of ducks waddles in and out of view; at night the moonlight is reflected in the shimmering water, to an accompanying cacophony of toads and crickets. The mood is different each time - from the quirkiness of the chilled-out dogs, the hilarity of the ducks, to the contemplative calm of the final, 25-minute sequence. The latter, which gives the viewer space and time to essentially reflect away from the screen, highlights the problem with the work, because such latitude doesn't feel like the point of cinema at all. It's fine and dandy as an exercise, but I hope Kiarostami moves on quickly.

Only Human (15)

Having met the Parents and the Fokkers, one might not feel the need for another film on the age-old dilemma of introducing your man to the folks. Nevertheless, this slapstick, often bizarre Spanish take on the subject elicits its share of chuckles.

The hapless protagonist here is Palestinian Rafi (Guillermo Toledo), who flies to Madrid to meet the family of his Jewish fiancée, Leni (Marian Aguilera). The scene is set for torment, confusion and chaos, less because of the cultural divide, than because the Dalinskys are barkingly eccentric - including a loopy granddad with his loaded army rifle, a boy who has woken up wanting to be a rabbi and a belly-dancing sister who tries to seduce Leni's man. Nor does it help when Rafi drops some frozen soup out of the seventh-floor window on to the head of a passer-by - who may or may not be Leni's father...

Also out this week

The Take (NC) Documentary about Argentina's economic collapse.

What the #$*! Do We Know!? (12A) Over-hyped, poor documentary on quantum theory.

Paradise Grove (15) Very unfunny "Anglo-Jewish" comedy.