Emile (15); <br></br>Fubar (15); <br></br>The Sorrow and the Pity (nc)

An Ian McKellen vehicle or a four-hour documentary on Nazis? No contest...

It's a rare treat to see Ian McKellen in a film that doesn't have him acting opposite elves or shape-changing super-villains, but his performance is the only treat to be found in Emile (15). He plays an awkward, sequestered academic who returns from London to Canada to accept an honorary degree, decades after he left his brothers behind on the family farm. While he's in Canada he stays with his only surviving kin, his estranged niece and her daughter, but he's haunted by memories of his brothers, and he realises how deeply wounded they were by his departure.

Much as I'd like to believe that the characters' emotions were repressed below the surface, I couldn't guarantee that they had any feelings to repress. McKellen strolls on a beach, irons his shirt, and generally potters around the place, becoming a little fonder of his relatives in the process, but that's as intense as it gets. In one scene we are, literally, watching paint dry. And McKellen's own doddery performance, skilled as it is, doesn't perk things up. With deadening regularity his character slips into a flashback, like Scrooge dropping in on Christmas past, and sees one after another of the tragedies that has befallen his family - and yet he never seems any more affected by them than he would be by one of his many bow ties coming undone. There was more true feeling in The Lord of the Rings and X-Men.

Also from Canada, Fubar (15) is an improvised mockumentary about a pair of mullet-headed, heavy metal-loving losers who spend their days draining cans of Pilsner, vandalising bus shelters and falling over: it's Wayne's World remade by the Jackass team, except with none of the entertainment value.

Budget-wise, more money was spent on beer than on anything else. The least bad bit occurs when the pretend headbangers cross paths with some genuine specimens, two of whom have an unstaged bare-knuckle boxing match in a pub car park. At that moment it's embarrassingly obvious how much better Fubar would have been if the director had fired his actors and made a real documentary instead.

For the Woody Allen worshippers among us, The Sorrow and the Pity (nc) is the film he drags Diane Keaton along to in Annie Hall, ignoring her protest that she's "not in the mood to see a four-hour documentary on Nazis". I can't say I was in the mood for it, either, but Marcel Ophuls' portrait of life in Vichy France is considerably more watchable than its title - and Keaton's summing-up - might imply. Made in 1970, it adopts a tone of calm but steely enquiry, as Ophuls conducts lengthy, penetrating interviews with a terrific cast of characters, from the British secret agent who worked as a drag queen and lived with a German officer, to the fat and unrepentant Nazi who puffs a cigar and wears his medals on his lapel. Factor in a wealth of unbelievable archive footage from anti-Semitic feature films and newsreels, and you come out wondering how Ophuls crammed so much into a mere four hours.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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