Casanova (12A) <br/> Pavee Lackeen (15)<br/> Aeon Flux (15)<br/> The Forest for the Trees (NC)

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The Independent Culture

Casanova (12A)

Halfway through this entertaining, no-brainer of a romp, it occurred to me that there never was, but there really should have been, a Carry on Casanova. Imagine the fun that Sid James would have had as the serial seducer, with Kenneth Williams as the long-suffering Venetian Doge, Charles Hawtrey as a cuckold, Hattie Jacques the Mother Superior and Barbara Windsor making those gondoliers lose control of their poles. But if we can't say "Oooh, madam" at the Carnivale, we can at least declare "Oooh, Hallström".

Lasse Hallström, whose films (The Shipping News, Chocolat) sometimes drown in whimsy, has decided to let his hair down, and has taken some serious thesps along for the ride. While the recent television Casanova combined wit and sauciness with a distinct melancholy, this account of the Venetian adventurer is never less than upbeat.

Heath Ledger throws off the shackles of his repressed gay cowboy from Brokeback Mountain to play Casanova as a cocky young stud, who doesn't have one nun unless he can take the whole convent and shows little more than passing interest in his infamy. Yet two contrasting influences force Giacomo undercover, as it were: marauding Inquisitors (Jeremy Irons and Ken Stott) and the spirited, independent Francesca (Sienna Miller), whose enlightened hatred of the legendary lover makes her a hard woman to woo.

What ensues is a handsome farce. There is plenty of disguise and dissembling, some extremely broad playing from Oliver Platt's "pork-fat mogul from Genoa" and, more surprisingly, from Irons, and some good-natured repartee. In fact, there is far more innuendo than frolic. Sound familiar? Perhaps we can regard this as the missing Carry On after all, albeit with far more beguiling leads.

Pavee Lackeen (15)

Pavee Lackeen means "traveller girl" in the language of the Irish Gaelic travellers, people who endure the prejudice of what is known as Ireland's hidden apartheid. And the girl in question is Winnie Maughan, a 10-year-old who lives with her mother Rose and siblings in a caravan on a roadside in Dublin. Delicately balanced between documentary and fiction, Perry Ogden's affecting film follows the family's fortunes, and in particular Winnie's, as they struggle to become rooted in a society that simply doesn't want to know.

Having enlisted the Maughans to his project, Ogden achieves a naturalistic weaving of written script and improvisation, founded on the family's actual experience. We watch the self-possessed Winnie as she is suspended from school for fighting, comically pesters shop assistants about Russian videos and hair extensions, gets caught shoplifting and glue-sniffs with local boys. Meanwhile Rose, an indomitable single mum, fails to get a council house in a safe area.

This is absorbing, heart-rending territory. And Ogden shows that a cool, honest gaze is all that is required to earn our compassion.

Aeon Flux (15)

Charlize Theron has been excelling in her warts-and-all portrayals of late - the real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, and the heroic victim of sexual abuse in North Country. But Theron is back to being beautiful, and bland, in this altogether lifeless sci-fi dud. Theron's Flux is a rebel assassin whose target is a supposed dictator with a surprising secret. Acrobatics, perfect hair and slinky outfits don't compensate for a script that, like the population of Aeon's future world, suffers from too much cloning.

The Forest for the Trees (NC)

Melanie (Eva Lobau), a young teacher from rural Germany, starts work at a city high school. Newly single, and alone in an unfamiliar place, she works hard to fit in, introducing herself to neighbours and fellow teachers, a new face bearing gifts. But there is no reciprocation. Her idealism is belittled by her colleagues, she is bullied by her new charges, and the one neighbourhood friend she thinks she's made is less than sincere. And the more Melanie tries, the more excruciating the experience for all concerned.

It's a shame that, at present, only Londoners have a chance to see this perceptive, painfully sad account of loneliness and alienation, because it's the rare kind of film that might nurture a little understanding of those around us; in this case, those too awkward and fragile for the cut and thrust of social interaction. It also gives a glimpse into the potential hell of being a teacher.

Exciting newcomer Maren Ade uses a digital video that lends an uncomfortable immediacy to Melanie's unravelling, creating a mood that is tense, unsettling and dispiriting.