Oedipus redux

Jack Francis Ford Coppola (PG) Brothers in Trouble Udayan Prasad (15) Yiddle with His Fiddle Joseph Green (nc)
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The Independent Culture
It has long been supposed that Robin Williams's screen persona - fluffy grown-up, eternal urchin - was somehow indicative of the actor's state of mind. In Jack, Williams plays a 10-year-old with an accelerated aging process which gives him the appearance of someone four times his age. "On the inside, he's a kid," a teacher notes. We are being directed to nod along with this as a fair approximation of both character and actor, but it's simply not true of the latter. Williams has discovered his outer, not inner, child. On the outside, he's a kid all right, with his keenly observed mannerisms and insistent whinge. But on the inside, he's a calculating charlatan who has finally been undone by his most blatantly self-reflexive performance yet.

When he reaches the age of 10, Jack's home tutor (Bill Cosby) recommends that his pupil be enrolled in school with other children of his mental, if not physical, age. Jack, of course, ultimately proves to be an inspiration to us all with his willpower and his flatulence, and is declared "a shooting star amongst ordinary stars". Jesus Christ, in other words.

There is a surfeit of spicy questions which Jack leaves sadly unanswered. What does it do to a father when his young son is stockier, hairier, and, by implication, more masculine than he is? How does it complicate the Oedipus complex? And what are we to make of the various affections displayed toward Jack by the oversexed mother of a classmate? Are we to ignore the fact that the picture comes close to telling a paedophile love story at one remove?

Most troubling of all, what are we to think of the director, clearly an impostor trading under the prestigious name of Francis Ford Coppola? The real Coppola would never have been associated with something so vacuous and infantile, so devoid of dignity and intelligence - even if somebody with a very large cheque book made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

In Brothers in Trouble, the hopeful Amir (Pavan Malhotra) leaves 1960s Pakistan, and arrives in England squeezed into a vegetable crate, looking as withered and tatty as an old clump of broccoli. Once in his new home in the north, his living conditions - sharing one house with 17 other illegal immigrants - make the crate seem almost spacious. But Amir buckles down and begins adjusting to the daily grind of life in a country which delivers far less than it promised.

Udayan Prasad's murky film goes a considerable way on very little incident, thanks to some gentle, graceful playing. Angeline Ball peps things up as Mary, a young Irish woman who enters the immigrants' hideout on the arm of house leader Hussein Shah (Om Puri), and ends up pregnant and coerced into a fraudulent marriage.

At first, she's literally a ray of sunshine: every time she opens a door, a shaft of light carves through the gloom. There's even a scene where she transforms the household with a couple of light bulbs and a smile. But these are the only indulgences from Prasad, who has enough faith and restraint not to exploit the script's numerous opportunities for hysterical soap opera.

Yiddle with His Fiddle, the main feature of the Barbican's season of Yiddish cinema, is an effervescent musical, made in 1936, about a young violinist who disguises herself as a boy so that she can hook up with a gang of street musicians. The biggest laugh comes from the title song's onomatopoeic lyrics; surely even Tim Rice would have stopped short of using the word "meh" - a goat's bleat, by the way - to secure a rhyme.

All films are on general release from tomorrow.