If the picture wasn't dressed up like a Christmas tree, you might not even know that it was Greenaway at all. Ah, but then there's the plot, custom-made to sabotage attempts at synopsis. The film is built around the 10th-century Japanese text The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, which is a guiding light for Nagiko (Vivian Wu). She clings to two childhood memories: of being read to from The Pillow Book, a series of lists that form an essence of life; and of her father (Ken Ogata) painting her face. These memories drive her own adult passions, and restlessness. She seeks a chap who can please as both lover and calligrapher - a man with lead in his pencil and ink in his pot, immune to both impotence and RSI. But they're so hard to come by, aren't they?
Jerome (Ewan McGregor), a translator, suggests that Nagiko should take up the brush herself, and use his body as parchment. He, in turn, will then deliver her texts to his lover, a publisher.
If the scenario is absurd, the emotions coursing through it are not. Vivian Wu and Ewan McGregor are bristlingly human, and there's a playfulness in the way their accents brush up against one another as if in imitation of their bodies. McGregor also manages the trick of suggesting great mystery despite spending much of the film butt-naked.
There's immense warmth, too, in Greenaway's fluid eroticism. The camera enjoys the elegant motion of the hairs of a brush as they caress smooth plains of skin. Even the ink itself has presence, emerging from a man's mouth like a long black tongue, or snaking into a plughole as though it were a sash of hair.
We've already seen body-painting as a symbol of sexual obsession, in Tattoo, and as an externalisation of memory, in The Illustrated Man. But Greenaway, a man who comes from the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink school of symbolism, is almost minimalist in his restraint. Sometimes, an image may even exist simply for its own blissful beauty. And when revenge does come, it frees a character to be happy, in sharp contrast to Drowning By Numbers and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, where the act was celebrated for its ruthlessness.
Everything about The Pillow Book suggests that Greenaway is progressing. He has written a film in which a woman searches for positivity - "things which make the heart beat faster" - and finds it. That gives a fair indication of where this once misanthropic artist is heading. He's moving forward now, not inward.
In The Craft, Sarah (Robin Tunney) arrives at her new LA school, and finds that the obligatory trio of kohl-eyed weirdos are actually witches. She joins up, and before you can say hubble bubble etc, the weird sisters are casting mischievous spells.
The director Andrew Fleming has chucked Carrie and Heathers into a cauldron, and added something of his own - nerve. Unlike most teen movies, The Craft follows its intentions through to the bitter end. So when a jock succumbs to the love spell cast by Sarah, it's natural that his initial subservience will turn into obsession.
If the film climaxes with nothing more than a simple battle between good and evil, the fact that it's being waged by two schoolgirls gives you a little lift. With The Craft and his earlier Threesome, Fleming has proved himself to be a sharp and sassy film-maker. Your only concern is that, after group sex and black magic, he may run out of taboos.
Jaco Van Dormael, the director of the ceaselessly inventive Toto the Hero, largely disappoints with his immature new film The Eighth Day, in which Georges (Pascal Duquenne), a Down's Syndrome sufferer, teaches a prissy businessman (Daniel Auteuil) some life lessons. Its portrayal of Georges as child-like messiah grates. When will disabled actors get the chance to play real characters, not Christ figures?
Fled is a gratuitously violent retread of The Defiant Ones, with Stephen Baldwin and Laurence Fishburne as escaped convicts bound by mutual distrust and handcuffs. It has no merits, although its sheer incompetence, from the script to the stunt-work, is horribly hypnotic.
The 1944 film noir Farewell My Lovely boasts Raymond Chandler's usual fireworks-masquerading-as-dialogue, and a nice, steely Marlowe in the shape of Dick Powell. Which reminds me: surely time for a revival of Altman's The Long Goodbye now?
If you have a soft spot for the dumb Canadian comedy troupe Kids in the Hall, whose series gets erratic late-night screenings on Channel 4, then you'll warm to their film Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy. And if you don't, you won't. It's a ragbag of sketches, some ticklish, some tedious, pasted together by a plot about a Prozac-style wonderdrug. It has no cinematic flair; in fact, it's hard to know what it has. But while half of the preview audience stomped out in the first hour, I stayed to the bitter end, giggling shamefully behind my handn
All films are released tomorrow.
Ryan GilbeyReuse content