Me You Them (PG) <br/>The Farewell (PG)<br/>Help! I'm a Fish (U)

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The Independent Culture

Set in the parched, poverty-stricken Brazilian northeast, the folk fable Me You Them offers a sly dig at Latin American machismo. Pregnant Darlene (Regina Casé), jilted on her wedding day, leaves her village and returns three years later with a son in tow. She accepts the marriage proposal of an elderly neighbour, Osias (Lima Duarte), whose curmudgeonly nature looks ominous even before the wedding celebrations are over: he complains that the noise of the carousing will keep his goats awake. Sure enough, he proves to be a chauvinist oaf, lazing at home while Darlene slaves in the fields cutting sugar cane.

Set in the parched, poverty-stricken Brazilian northeast, the folk fable Me You Them offers a sly dig at Latin American machismo. Pregnant Darlene (Regina Casé), jilted on her wedding day, leaves her village and returns three years later with a son in tow. She accepts the marriage proposal of an elderly neighbour, Osias (Lima Duarte), whose curmudgeonly nature looks ominous even before the wedding celebrations are over: he complains that the noise of the carousing will keep his goats awake. Sure enough, he proves to be a chauvinist oaf, lazing at home while Darlene slaves in the fields cutting sugar cane.

Yet the wife's apparent meekness hides a self-sufficiency that can juggle the demands of work and pleasure. Fed up with nights in a single hammock, she starts doubling up with the old man's genial cousin Zezinho (Stênio Garcia), and produces a son by him; then a young cane worker (Luis Carlos Vasconcelos) ends up lodging with them, and Darlene quietly shifts allegiances once again, until she has all three men in unspoken rivalry for her affections.

How likely is this? Not very, given that gossip would have broken up this irregular ménage in no time, or else spurred the jealous Osias into taking action; and the only hint of outside disapproval comes from Osias's sourpuss sister ("Cuckold," she hisses at him, long after he must have twigged the fact for himself).

Yet Andrucha Waddington's direction is so relaxed and the playing of his cast so controlled that Me You Them slips down very easily indeed. Regina Casé, a national treasure in Brazil, projects a cheerful resilience in her long, characterful face, while Lima Duarte and Stênio Garcia play an amusing duet of caginess in the background. It's also beautifully shot by Breno Silveira, working from a palette of roasted golds, caramels and ochres, while the wide blue skies make a benign canopy over Waddington's rueful comedy of human desire.

Jan Schütte's The Farewell portrays the twilight hours of Bertolt Brecht, though its bickering end-of-the-summer atmosphere is actually more suggestive of Chekhov. Set during the last day of Brecht's holiday in his lakeside retreat at Brandenburg, the film considers the ensemble of women – relatives, actresses, mistresses, past and present – who are all competing for the ailing playwright's attention as he fades towards death. "You gawk at him as if he were the messiah," sneers his chain-smoking wife Helene (Monica Bleibtreu), soured by years of his womanising yet still immensely tender towards his flagging frame. Josef Bierbichler, stout, stubbly, with a cigar clamped between his teeth, is an uncanny match for the historical Brecht, and conveys a degree of the self-absorption that is both the privilege of the artist and the mark of the egotist. Brecht may have had regrets about the way he treated his women, but at this stage – death's door, in short – his main concern is getting his thoughts down on paper; that, and discovering the whereabouts of his favourite cloth cap.

There's not much of a plot to speak of. This being 1956, the German secret police lurk in the background, plotting the arrest of Brecht's activist friend Wolfgang Harich (Samuel Fintzi) and his wife Isot (Rena Zednikowa) on a charge of treason. The director is more interested in contrasts of mood between the tranquil environs of the lake and the strained politesse of the house-guests as they muddle along together. His daughter can't get through to him; his assistant complains that Brecht hasn't spoken to her for a week; his one-time mistress, now unstable with drinking, makes a pest of herself and elicits this charming valediction: "If I drop dead tomorrow, it's your fault." Some holiday!

The Farewell, if truth be told, is one of those house-party movies that makes you suffer along with the tension. And for what? The film's partial view of Brecht offers little insight into his work, and its draggy, sombre mood of complaint makes its 90 minutes feel twice as long.

Animation is developing so rapidly at the moment that, next to the visual and verbal sophistication of Shrek, the cartoon adventure Help! I'm A Fish looks a bit old-hat. But that's not to say that kids won't enjoy this yarn about a trio of children transformed, thanks to a nutty professor's magic potion, into fish. The antidote somehow finds its way to the ocean floor, where a pilot fish named Joe takes a swig and acquires the power of speech: he then does what any fish would do, appointing himself subaquatic dictator and founding a slave empire within the hull of a sunken liner. "You're not fit for sushi," Joe snaps at some incompetent underling, the line given a pointed relish by the voice of Alan Rickman – his incomparable villains of the early Nineties (Gruber in Die Hard, the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood) are, happily, not forgotten.

A Danish-German co-production, some parts work better than others. While the visual design is impressively crisp – the bloated fish which doubles as a passenger bus, Joe's fascist metropolis – the musical numbers are pretty terrible, and the script has all the freshness of last week's kippers.

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