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BEYOND SILENCE (12)

Director: Caroline Link

Starring: Sylvie Testud, Howie Seago

Caroline Link's fine domestic drama (Oscar-nominated in 1997) revolves around the dynamics of the uncommon German household headed by able-bodied Lara (played by Tatjana Trieb as a child, Sylvie Testud as an adult), who acts as a representative for her deaf mum and dad (Emmanuelle Laborit, Howie Seago). Unshowy acting and a keen eye for telling detail help to keep the sentiment at bay.

West End: ABC Swiss Centre

BLAST FROM THE PAST (12)

Director: Hugh Wilson

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, Sissy Spacek, Christopher Walken

Less a blast than a faint pop, Hugh Wilson's workmanlike Cold War satire sees Brendan Fraser's last American man (called Adam, natch) emerging from the nuclear bunker his parents (Christopher Walken, Sissy Spacek) had holed up in during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Trouble is, of course, that the Bomb didn't get dropped, and California is still there (albeit in radically altered form). So off goes bewildered Adam through this brave new world, soon finding a sassy Eve in Alicia Silverstone's knowing Valley Girl, as a decent set-up nosedives into brash predictability.

West End: Virgin Trocadero. And local cinemas

THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (12)

Director: Charles Laughton

Starring: Robert Mitchum

Conceived by its creator as "a nightmarish sort of Mother Goose tale", Charles Laughton's 1955 drama (his only stab at directing) proved altogether too rich and strange a brew for the neat, Formica tastes of McCarthy era USA. Now an acknowledged classic, The Night of the Hunter hinges on a legendary bit of screen villainy from Robert Mitchum as the tale's murderous preacher; LOVE and HATE tattooed across his knuckles, and chasing two imperilled orphans (Billy Chapin, Jane Bruce) into the arms of Lillian Gish's saintly fairy-godmother. What might have been a run-of-the-mill thriller is conjured into the realms of fantasy by Laughton's skewed child's- eye vision, his Old Testament bombast and a ripe storybook style best evidenced in the kids' otherworldly trip downriver. This is a haunting, wholly unique thing; a mescal lullaby sung over an empty crib.

West End: Curzon Soho, Repertory: The Pullman Everyman

PLUNKETT AND MACLEANE (15)

Director: Jake Scott

Starring: Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller

Plunkett and Macleane (Carlyle and Lee Miller) are rakish Dick Turpins cutting a dash through 18th-century society. They rob the rich and keep the loot. Plunkett packs a pistol and scowls a lot. Macleane romances a shapely debutante (Liv Tyler). Their adventures come choreographed to a thrumming techno beat. And yet beneath all the powder, the frills, the ruffles and the wigs, Plunkett and Macleane is a pretty plain-looking customer, shuffling along on a puny prop of a plotline that gets increasingly bent out of shape. As a substitute, director Jake (son of Ridley) offers noise, colour and virtuouso pop-promo visuals, while leaning heavily on the winning chemistry between his two stars (re-united from Trainspotting). Ultimately, it's Carlyle and Lee Miller that keep it palatable.

West End: ABC Tottenham Court Road, Clapham Picture House, Notting Hill Coronet, Odeon Camden Town, Odeon Kensington, Odeon Leicester Square, Odeon Marble Arch, Odeon Swiss Cottage, Ritzy Cinema, UCI Whiteleys, Virgin Fulham Road. And local cinemas

TEA WITH MUSSOLINI (PG)

Director: Franco Zeffirelli

Starring: Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright, Judi Dench, Cher

Zeffirelli's clearly been at the Chianti again. His Tea with Mussolini is a typically squiffy and loquacious affair, ambling around the houses during its tale of three dotty Brits (Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright) adrift in Mussolini-era Tuscany. One senses that some-where deep down in his consciousness, Zef has some points to make about fascism, and about the contrast between British fortitude and Yankee grit (represented by Cher's vital American vamp). But just as he seems to be nearing some thematic breakthrough, Tea With Mussolini turns all syrupy again. The scenery slips into a golden haze. The dialogue turns slurred and drippily incontinent. The acting goes off into a series of mannered tics: the starts, twitches and adjustments of a body already half-asleep.

West End: Barbican Screen, Empire Leicester Square, Odeon Kensington, Odeon Swiss Cottage, UCI Whiteleys. Local: Edmonton Lee Valley UCI 12, Hampstead ABC, Richmond Odeon Studio, Streatham ABC, Sutton UCI 6, UCI Surrey Quays

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