Whisky (15)<br/>The Skeleton Key (15)<br/>Victim (PG)<br/>In the Realms of the Unreal (NC)

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Whisky (15) ****

In Uruguay, "whisky" is, apparently, the same as "cheese" - that is, the thing you say to make yourself smile in front of a camera. Not that there's much smiling in this bone-dry comedy. It concerns the elderly owner of a sock-factory who, facing a visit from his more successful brother, asks his faithful forewoman to pretend she is his wife. The fake marriage turns out to be a deeply unsettling experience for all three. In many respects, Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll's film seems tailor-made for an English audience, with its concentration on emotional repression and the grim pleasures of lower-division football and off-season resorts: sort of Alan Bennett goes Latin. It boasts beautifully low-key performances, tight, no-frills photography and editing, and an acute sense of the way that happiness can sometimes seem less desirable than being ourselves.

The Skeleton Key (15) **

Out in the bayous of Louisiana, nice nurse Kate Hudson takes a job caring for an old man left paralysed and speechless by a stroke - but mercy me, what makes his wife so jumpy? Why are there no mirrors in the house? And what is hidden behind that door in the attic? This is a moderately effective piece of supernatural schlock that might be more purely pleasurable if you weren't so conscious of the talents being wasted - John Hurt as the old man, Gena Rowlands as his wife - and if Iain Softley's direction didn't seem set on persuading you that there was some psychological depth behind all this.

Victim (PG) ***

Basil Dearden's 1961 thriller has to some extent suffered from its reputation as the first mainstream British film to deal openly with homosexuality: it's regarded as a piece of social history rather than a film. The social-history side is still fascinating - it's extraordinary to hear a sympathetic gay character prefacing an argument for the legalisation of homosexuality with the words "I've never seduced a normal" - but it is also surprisingly watchable, with a pacy plot and almost expressionist shots of a London that's on the verge of swinging. It has a strong central performance from Dirk Bogarde, as a barrister who decides to take on blackmailers, and a host of terrific character actors (Peter McEnery, Hardy Kruger, Dennis Price, Norman Bird) in support.

In the Realms of the Unreal (NC) ***

Henry Darger (1892-1973) was a janitor in Chicago who spent much of his life on a 15,000-page novel and hundreds of paintings, depicting the exploits of seven angelic sisters leading the Christian forces of Abbiennia against the child-slavers of Glandelinia. The work came to light shortly before his death, and he has become celebrated as an "outsider artist". Jessica Yu's documentary has annoying touches, but captures the sadness of his life, and the weird appeal of his solitary world.