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ACTRESSES (15, 88 mins)

Director: Ventura Pons

Starring: Rosa Maria Sarda, Nuria Espert

Cult Spanish director Pons rustles up a googly-eyed bit of cinematic navel-gazing in this ode to the acting lark. Shot back in 1997 (before last year's art-house hit, Caresses), Actresses details the earnest research of Merce Pons's aspiring thespian - interviewing three diverse old hands (Rosa Maria Sarda, Nuria Espert, Anna Lizaran) about their life and times in the greasepaint trade. Part acting masterclass, part loquacious reminiscence, Actresses slowly stews in an ambience of oppressive theatricality. Its performers talk as if they're being paid by the word.

Limited release

HAPPINESS (18, 134 mins)

Director: Todd Solondz

Starring: Dylan Baker, Philip Seymour Hoffman

See The Independent Recommends, right.

Limited release


Director: Oliver Parker

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Minnie Driver

Stuffed-shirt politico Sir Robert Chiltern (Jeremy Northam) is being held to ransom by Julianne Moore's brittle blackmailer. Wife Cate Blanchett looks on in horror, while louche Rupert Everett and effervescent Minnie Driver provide the comic relief. And so it goes. Oliver Parker's film is a proficient but oddly mechanical overhaul of Oscar Wilde's still-pertinent satire of middle-class hypocrisies - the friction between the public and private sphere. The sharp dialogue is rather blurred by the snappy editing and sumptuous design, but bright playing from a starry cast helps to paper over the cracks.


PROMETHEUS (15, 130 mins)

Director: Tony Harrison

Starring: Michael Feast, Walter Sparrow, Fern Smith, Jonathan Waistnidge

Tony Harrison's dense and literate film-poem kicks off with a visit from Hermes (Michael Feast) to a depressed mining town in Yorkshire, before moseying off through the smokestack landscapes of polluted Eastern Europe. Harrison's rigorous, locomotive verse stokes an awkward and overclogged narrative (updating Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound) into life, but it's still too long, too ill-paced, too heavy handed in its eco-conscious message. Two hours in, and those rhyming couplets start to grate a bit.

Limited release

RETURN TO PARADISE (15, 109 mins)

Director: Joseph Ruben

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, Joaquin Phoenix, David Conrad

Eden takes on a definite whiff of sulphur in the course of Joseph Ruben's fact-based saga, as two strutting graduate travellers (Vince Vaughn and David Conrad) are impelled to return to the scene of their former crimes when an erstwhile buddy (Joaquin Phoenix) is busted for drugs possession in Malaysia. A classic morality play in the "what would you do if?" mould, Return to Paradise still conspires to bungle its ready-made drama. Opening out as a taut marriage of Midnight Express and The Beach, its inherent tension seeps away throughout a pedestrian second half. A love angle between Vaughn and Anne Heche's earnest defence lawyer looks tacked on as an afterthought.