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The Independent Culture

Director: Lucrecia Martel

Starring: Maria Alche, Mercedes Moran, Carlos Belloso

For a film about sensuality, this one (right) relies very cleverly on film technique: close-ups of moist faces, stretching body parts, breathy edits, whisperings and half-heard noises which seem to suggest a swoon of teenage hormones and heated desire. Actual sex never exactly happens, but the tremulous brink of it does, and never quite stops, like a single sustained note. Don't look here for banal soap operatics or a standard realist portrait of sordid, middle-aged behaviour. Instead, we have a rather ugly, married ear-nose-and-throat specialist (Belloso) who has indulged in a little frottage against a teenage girl (Amalia of the title, played by Maria Alche) while listening to a musician in the street. As it happens, Amalia is in the throes of a grand religious passion, attending Catholic study groups and obsessively mouthing prayers and recounting grisly religious tales - while at the same time sharing malicious girly gossip with her friends and even indulging in the odd lesbian kiss.

Shortly, she begins to obsess about this footling medic in a way conventionally described as "unhealthy", scaring the wits out of him. To make things more complicated, he is staying in the hotel run by her mother (Moran) - a lonely woman who takes a shine to him. Comparisons with Lolita and Picnic at Hanging Rock are easy to make but misleading in a film where even the creak of a rotten old lift is made to sound erotic. This is a dazzling work of clotted female sensuality from the director of La Cienaga. HHHH

OCEAN'S 12 (12A)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Starring: Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones

This is likely to appeal to anyone who cared for the original film; the entire, sun-kissed cast returns for another slick comedy-thriller with the extra addition of a new crook, Brad Pitt, and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a Europol agent. The film (below right) opens with Danny Ocean (Clooney) finally tracked down by vengeful casino-owner Andy Garcia, who requires him to return the $160m owed (see Ocean's 11) plus interest or face the consequences. They have 12 days to organise a series of jet-setting, pan- European robberies to pay the debt. Though perfectly adequate as a heist movie, Oceans 12 is best approached as a breezy comedy. Perhaps the cast is having just a little bit too much fun making it, as some critics claim, but as basic, lazy, popcorn fare, this is completely on the level. HHH

SHIWU (18)

Director: Royston Tan

Starring: Melvin Chen, Vynn Soh, Shaun Tan

Royston Tan was recently named one of Time Magazine's "Asian Heroes". The fact that he did publicity for this film dressed in a comedy bunny- suit, after a weigh-in with the Singapore censors and police force, tells you a great deal about Tan's ability to sell a movie. Labelled "a threat to national security" by the Singaporean authorities, there's everything to like about Tan's indignation towards extreme censorship. The trouble is, this plotless tale of teen bad-boys - with its hyperactive choppy edits, gayboy music and kooky graphics - is perilously close to self-parody. HH


Director: Frederick Du Chau

Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Hayden Panettiere

An abandoned zebra - raised by a widowed horse-trainer and his teenage daughter - looks longingly over at the racetrack down the hill, determined to become a racehorse himself. A movie full of talking animals in the manner of Babe, the film falls at the first fence with some poor computer graphics (the animals' eyes say one thing, lip animations another) and a frankly very formulaic plot. The children in the screening I attended seemed bored, inattentive and restless. HH