Get your heart punched by a boy called Billy

Billy Elliot (15) | Stephen Daldry, 111 mins Julien Donkey-Boy (15) | Harmony Korine, 94 mins Goya in Bordeaux (15) | Carlos Saura, 102 mins Love & Sex (18) | Valerie Breiman, 107 mins Abendland (18) | Fred Kelemen, 140 mins
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The Independent Culture

The last time I cried in a film was Breaking the Waves. I've shed tears in the cinema since - all the time, actually - but not cried (you know what I mean). That film affected so many senses you felt you'd actually been attacked (I never want to see it again), and people left the screening unable to walk properly because even their legs were raw.

The last time I cried in a film was Breaking the Waves. I've shed tears in the cinema since - all the time, actually - but not cried (you know what I mean). That film affected so many senses you felt you'd actually been attacked (I never want to see it again), and people left the screening unable to walk properly because even their legs were raw.

Well, it's a bit like that with Billy Elliot, except you don't feel attacked, you just feel like you do whenever you relinquish control - amazed that it's still possible, amazed at having been made innocent for a while. You'll have heard about the film already, or seen a poster, or listened to people (like me) panting on the radio about how many prizes and how much money and how many bums-on-seats, and all that. If you haven't, Billy (Jamie Bell) is 11, and lives in a mining town in County Durham during the strike of 1984. His father (Gary Lewis) and brother are daily on the picket lines, his grandmother is on her way to being gently loony. Billy winds up involved in Mrs Wilkinson's (Julie Walters) ballet classes, and she spots his poise straight-off. The girls stand around in their white tights and tutus like little slithers of marble, while Billy goes for it in his boxing shorts. He stomps and shakes his head and makes noises and swears non-stop. He tries so hard.

You know that Billy's got it in him because his body is just like a small Gene Kelly's, tough and romantic. Grace through strength, not in lieu of it as with Fred Astaire. Like Kelly's, Jamie Bell's hips are wide (relatively speaking, he's only a kid, a pip, but you know what's cooking in his bones), and his shoulders sit square and unstressed. You also know he's got it in him because he was famously picked out of 2,000 children to play the part. Oddly, that only hits you once or twice, a rogue thought instantly dismissed, because the desire to submit to the film is so overwhelming.

It doesn't matter that Billy Elliot is occasionally gloopy. The story sounds like an old Monty Python sketch (Graham Chapman the pipe-crunching Dad and Terry Jones the artistic son), and yet the film is the opposite of clichéd. It resurrects a universal story (Be Yourself) and decontaminates it, blows it clean. It's so loving, so convinced. Its responses are fresh.

Some (virtually dead) people have come out of the film muttering their Coward: "Ah, the potency of cheap music!" But if it's potent, why would you want to call it cheap? Cinemas have always been churches to this type of potency. If you don't have faith in it, what are you doing there? At a time when most populist films are frantically acting grown-up, and disowning such sentimentality (our ironic thrillers, our knowing romances), or are fake-simple like The Full Monty (such a pushy film), Stephen Daldry's Billy Elliot isn't coy, isn't smart, isn't "neo-", isn't "post-". It's the real thing.

I'm more than usually conscious of spoiling things for people, and don't want to say too much about the plot (how I'd like to talk about the end! It's so graceful, fiction expanded into faith, an anthem made celluloid.

But you'd all hate me, and rightly). So, briefly: Billy's Dad finds out about the ballet stuff and isn't too pleased. He's panicked - his wife is dead, his picket-days are hellish, his elder son is a nightmare and he's broke. Don't talk to me about ballet, he says. So Billy doesn't talk to him, he dances for him. The film is full of body-singing, off-the-wall sequences with Billy doing a combination of West Side Story and Brigadoon, with bits of An American in Paris too. Sometimes you're not sure if he's really dancing at all - he's drilling a hole in the ground (and always with these little grunts, like Keith Jarrett at the piano), free-wheeling down the street, spinning like a top, his hair sticking out in dynamic tufts.

The music is T Rex (Why? because Daldry bloody loves them, that's why. Who cares if "I Love to Boogie" predates the period by nearly a decade). So Marc Bolan does his prissy intonations and witty lyrics as this kid goes berserk in an unprodded, momentous way, specially for us.

For the record, you don't worry for a second about Jamie Bell. He's not one of those genius adult-child actors like Joel Haley Osment ( The Sixth Sense) who discusses his craft with all the earnestness of Anthony Sher. Neither is he a David Bradley ( Kes) - a prince of calcium deficiency, his face a registry of hurts. Bell has such jubilance. And he smiles like Gregory Peck.

It's very simple: at this point you ought to be heading out of the door to the cinema. Go get your heart punched.

Harmony Korine's julien donkey-boy is supposed to be American Dogme. It shows us a barmy American family headed by a German crazy played by Werner Herzog (I liked him). Dogme is all about promoting naturalness, where this just promotes its own artifice. Korine really is one of the world's great point-missers.

Goya in Bordeaux is an imaginative study of the artist, bringing his work to life (sometimes literally - the cast moves in and out of the paintings, creates tableauxs and then reveals the truth or history behind it) with erotic panache. It can be quite confusing at times (Goya's dreams bleed into the narrative with very little restraint), but it's a challenge.

Love & Sex stars the adorable Jon Favreau ( Swingers), having a tedious relationship with a journalist. It's a comedy about how friendship is more important than love or sex. Therefore, it's about the end of all hope.

The unconscionably dull Abendland is set over the course of one night on the Germany-Poland border, and follows a couple's miserable split. Now, being boring is not necessarily a fault in cinema - Visconti's magnificent The Leopard is quite boring. Ozu was a genius and his films are unbelievably boring. But this is the sort of boring that just makes you want to kill the director. In fact, Herr Kelemen any time, any place. You choose the weapons.

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