Memoirs of a Geisha (PG)<br/>Breakfast on Pluto (15)<br/>I am Cuba (15)<br/>The Truth (15)

All I'm asking for is a little respect
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The Independent Culture

Memoirs of a Geisha (PG)

Memoirs of a Geisha is the kind of self-important period drama that might seem destined for an Oscar nomination or three, but it has some problems that should scupper its chances. It casts Chinese actresses in Japanese roles, it has soap-opera dialogue, and it has everyone speaking in English except for a few easy-to-translate Japanese words, just as enemy officers used to do in Warlord comics.

An even more fundamental problem is the film's depressing, anti-feminist story. It gets going at the end of the 1920s, when an orphaned nine-year-old girl is working as a maid in a geisha house.

Understandably, she isn't too pleased with her lot, and one day she's crying in the town square just as a dapper politician known as the Chairman (Ken Watanabe) is passing by. The girl is smitten. There and then, she determines that she wants to be with him - not as his daughter or as his wife, but as one of his favourite geishas. And apparently we're meant to hope that her ambition is fulfilled. But why should we care when, as far as Memoirs is concerned, the only distinction between geishas and streetwalkers is that the former are more expensive? Cheering on the heroine feels about as positive as cheering on Rob Schneider in Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo.

Another problem is that when the little girl grows up to be Ziyi Zhang, she's still ignorant and passive, a pawn in a rivalry between two older geishas, Michelle Yeoh and Gong Li. The film doesn't even let Zhang look beautiful. In one scene she dances at a concert, and she's supposed to be such a stunning vision that the whole city is seduced.

Instead, she flails around with her hair slathered all over her face like Kate Bush having a strop.

Breakfast on Pluto (15)

This uplifting oddity introduces us to Patrick "Kitten" Braden, a boy abandoned by his parents in an Irish border town. The only gay in the village, he soon develops a penchant for wearing his foster mother's clothes, and by the time he comes of age in the early 1970s, he's a happy-go-lucky transvestite played by Cillian Murphy (pictured). It's appropriate casting: Murphy is one of those actors who's always prettier than his leading ladies. After a couple of misadventures with local paramilitaries and glam rockers, Kitten decides to travel to London to search for his mother.

Breakfast on Pluto is a smorgasbord. Adapted from Patrick McCabe's fragmentary novel, it's really a series of vignettes, most of which are entertainingly absurd, dramatic or surreal; they're brightened further by cameos from Stephen Rea, Bryan Ferry, Ian Hart and Liam Neeson. But they flash by without any discernible impact on their hero.

At the start, Kitten is fey, arch and impervious to others' disapproval, and at the end he's much the same, never mind his exposure to terrorist bombs, homelessness, prostitution, police brutality and the Wombles. The film is less like a novel than a scrapbook. It's pasted with snapshots of the politics and the fashions of the 1970s, alongside sketches of the themes that Neil Jordan has drawn more intricately in several of his earlier films. Still, each page of the scrapbook has so much glitter and colour that it's worthwhile flicking through it.

I am Cuba (15)

This hypnotic film, made in 1964 but rarely seen since, depicts Cuban life before the overthrow of the Batista regime. It has four segments. The first one is like a politicised La Dolce Vita: as tourists enjoy the high life at rooftop pool parties, the indigenous populace sinks into poverty. Further sequences show the despair of a sugar farmer, a student revolutionary's martyrdom, and a peasant's conversion to armed struggle. The politics of this Cuban-Soviet co-production are hardly subtle. But the gliding black-and-white imagery is magnificent. A masterpiece.

The Truth (15)

This play-like, independent British film is set in a house in the Scottish Highlands, where a residential "Adventures In Truth" course is taking place: its participants are paying to sit in a circle and talk as honestly as they can for a week. The film starts well as a piquant parody of the self-centred, intellectual sloppiness that the course fosters. "I don't tend to share footwear," says Elizabeth McGovern, the group leader. "The Native Americans believe that shoes are part of our journey." But if you're going to have a laugh at the expense of long-winded pretension, it's not a good idea to do it for two hours, in a low-budget digital video film that drifts from satire to thriller to experimental drama. This one rambles off in all directions just when it should be speeding towards a climax. And, ironically for a film called The Truth, it's just not believable.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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