Hot on the heels of his sterling collaboration with Hanif Kureishi, The Mother, Roger Michell has directed another mature, psychologically intriguing British film, Enduring Love (15). Adapted from Ian McEwan's novel by Joe Penhall, this begins with a tour-de-force visual set piece, before segueing into a stalker thriller-cum-discourse on the nature of love. It's fair to say it packs a lot in.
McEwan's opening chapter - in which a group of men try to rescue a boy from an out-of-control balloon, only to be hoisted skywards themselves - is cited by many as the best they have ever read. It is certainly so well visualised as to be ready-made for the screen. Michell delivers the scene with verve, before coming back down to earth for the messily emotional fall-out. Two factors prevent Joe (Daniel Craig) from putting the incident behind him: guilt about his role in the mishap, and the fact that another participant, Jed (Rhys Ifans), has fallen in love with him. With a potential stalker on his hands, Joe expects, but doesn't receive sympathy from his girlfriend Claire (Samantha Morton), leading to his increasing paranoia and the slow deterioration of their relationship; in turn raising the question, which is the more enduring love, that between a "committed" couple, or the love of a madman? Penhall's script omits the book's teasing suggestion that Joe could be imagining the whole thing, instead constructing a concrete, and complex relationship between the two men, the playing of which is the highlight of the film: Craig lending physicality to an otherwise cerebral figure, Ifans maintaining an air of menace amid the vulnerability and wretchedness.
The Forgotten (12A) could have been plucked straight out of The X-Files; in other words, "the truth is out there" in a slice of unadulterated sci-fi hokum. Fourteen months after the death of her son in a plane crash, Terry Paretta (Julianne Moore) is still knee-deep in grief, when her photographs and mementos start to disappear; worse, Terry's husband (Anthony Edwards) and shrink (Gary Sinise) declare that the boy is actually a figment of her imagination. When Terry meets the father of a girl in the crash, who doesn't recall having a daughter at all, she becomes suspicious. Who would want them to forget their children? And why? This is a remarkably silly film, which would even make Mulder give up the ghost and go fishing. That said, there are a couple of genuinely thrilling moments, a handful of chills (courtesy of Linus Roache as an eerie extra-terrestrial) and the ever-excellent Moore plays the emotional notes for all their worth.
Perhaps Beyond the Sea (12A) was not the best way for Kevin Spacey to take his temporary leave from Hollywood. Rarely have I seen a film made with such dedication and professionalism, that is so unspeakably pointless.
Darin was the Fifties rock'n'roller turned Las Vegas cabaret crooner, who declared that he wanted to be "bigger than Sinatra" but didn't come close. As director and actor, Spacey runs through the singer's life, from poor upbringing in the Bronx, to fame with hits such as "Splish Splash" and "Mack the Knife", career demise and premature death. Spacey sings very well and choreographs some cute dance numbers; but the overall approach is - like the singer - dated, while the actor is far too old for the part. Moreover, Darin is simply too forgotten and too dull to be a viable subject for a biopic. Now Sinatra, that's a different story.
One also wonders about the target audience of My House in Umbria (12A). Maggie Smith is Emily Delahunty, a fruity romance novelist and lush living in Italy, who is caught in a terrorist attack on a train and invites her fellow survivors to recuperate in her Umbrian home. While it's a treat to hear Smith despatch such lines as "love expired for me on the wall of death", Richard Loncraine's adaptation of William Trevor's novella has scant drama or character development to sustain the interest.
With Anatomy of Hell (18), Frenchwoman Catherine Breillat continues to infuriate with her particular blend of cod-feminist philosophy and quasi-porn. Here the Italian porn star Rocco Siffredi (whose mournful presence and unabashed ability to "keep wood" she first employed in Romance) is enlisted by a suicidal woman (Amira Casar) to "watch me where I'm unwatchable" - in other words, stare at her crotch, for four nights, in search of some kind of epiphany. Unequivocal tosh.
The Hungarian Hukkle (nc) is an oddity well worth a look. Dialogue free, but with a soundtrack alive with interesting ambient noise, this plays like a documentary account of a humdrum rural backwater, except for the fact that a little old lady seems to be a serial poisoner and there is a body at the bottom of the lake. Some of the visual flourishes are reminiscent of David Lynch, but the downbeat demeanours can only be eastern European.