Tilda, Woody, the other Mia – all cinematic life is here

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The Independent Culture

After only a handful of films, it's a little early to judge, but this year's dominant theme could well be necrophilia.

Woody Allen's opener was about a man who meets the ghosts of Paris's literary past and falls in love with one of them. Gus Van Sant is here with a romance between two teenagers, one at death's door. Then there's the strange Australian film Sleeping Beauty. It isn't strictly about loving the dead, but about a prostitute whose speciality is to lie in a deep slumber, looking decorously corpse-like for the punters.

The debut film by novelist Julia Leigh, is a stylishly perverse curio starring Emily Browning (from Sucker Punch), whose eerie porcelain-doll blankness fits the The Sleeping Beauty's glacial execution. Buñuel's Belle de Jour and Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut are the most apparent echoes in this dream-like story, which was greeted at the press show with baffled silence peppered by half-hearted boos. But it could turn out to be one of the more intriguing things on show, and Browning's courageous and sometimes unreadable performance may prove a stand-out.

In contrast, an early contender for this year's dud is Gus Van Sant's unforgivably soppy Restless. It's about the love between a dying gamine (Mia Wasikowska) and a funeral-addicted dandy (Henry Hopper) whose only friend is a dead kamikaze pilot. The two young things bond delicately in a variety of adorable hats, and the film will be excruciatingly twee for anyone over 18.

Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris is another handsomely mounted tourist number to follow his Vicky Cristina Barcelona. This sweet-natured fantasy is about a Hollywood screenwriter (Owen Wilson) who slips into a time warp and lives out his fantasies about Paris in its 1920s heyday; you could call it a literary Life on Mars. Wilson gets to drink with Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds; have his novel read by Gertrude Stein; and rub shoulders with Eliot, Dali and Buñuel; presumably all the actual French talent was out of town that season.

Bristling with clichés, the film is essentially Paris packaged for a New Yorker readership of a certain age and a certain income. But it's considerably livelier than most of Allen's recent work, and he seems to be enjoying himself for a change. Adrien Brody's very funny cameo as Dali is worth a ticket in itself.

So far, the most significant premiere has been We Need to Talk About Kevin, by long-absent British prodigy Lynne Ramsay. Adapted from Lionel Shriver's novel about the mother of a boy who grows up very troubled indeed, Ramsay's film spins the book into a densely free-associative web of sound and image. Terrifically shot by Seamus McGarvey, the film operates like a fragmented dream, as protagonist Eva (Tilda Swinton, compellingly wired) reviews her traumatic family life. The sometimes grating use of Americana ultimately means that the film only visits the US, rather than truly inhabits it imaginatively. Still, this altogether idiosyncratic piece proves again that Ramsay thinks as intensely in images as any film-maker you care to name.