Cinema: The week the ship hit the fans

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Indy Lifestyle Online
CLAUDE BERRI is the kind of French film-maker the rest of the world adores. Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, his glossy epics of the 1980s, became required viewing for a certain type of undemanding middle-class cinemagoer, the sort that likes grand landscape, subtitles, and a bit of local colour a la Peter Mayle. Like much of Berri's work, Lucie Aubrac (12) is beautifully lit and thick with images that look good enough to eat. But it's also a shallow, unanalytical work - and since it's based on the autobiography of a French Resistance fighter, that's troubling. Like Cameron in Titanic, Berri treats his material as a love story. But he has little comment to make on the political background - in fact, his picture of the Nazi occupation seems less sophisticated than that offered by the BBC's hoary old Secret Army. From the opening sequence, it's clear that he's much more interested in grand romantic gestures than the events that made them necessary. As the titles roll, Raymond Aubrac (a harried Daniel Auteuil) and his Resistance colleagues are dynamiting a train loaded with Nazi munitions. The scene is a brilliant piece of pyrotechnic choreography, and seems to be the sole justification for making the movie in a wide-screen format. Several switches of identity later, Raymond is picked up by the Gestapo and suffers a vicious interrogation at the hands of Klaus Barbie (an absurdly under-used Heino Ferch). The film then drifts to Raymond's wife Lucie (Carole Bouquet, strangely marginal in a film that bears the name of her character) and her attempts to spring her husband from captivity.

Berri is good on detail - prisoners emptying their slop-buckets, cockroaches scuttering across prison flagstones; but his style is too superficial to avoid recourse to cliche. Most uncomfortably, there's a Miss Whiplash campness about Berri's portrayal of Nazism: as Raymond recovers from a beating, Barbie strokes the thigh of his kinkily Rhine-maidenish secretary, she hoisting up her skirts and munching a French Golden Delicious. To nobody's credit, the spectre of 'Allo 'Allo goes unexorcised.

Wolfgang Petersen's Das Boot: the Director's Cut (15) is a more serious, substantial war movie, a U-boat thriller that's the apotheosis of its sub-genre. The 1982 film has been reorganised into 209 minutes of cerebral blood and thunder, which is plenty of time to reflect on the career of a director who has since wasted his talent on knuckle-headed romps like Air Force One. Petersen's sense of space is astonishingly acute and he makes good use of the fact that there's not enough Lebensraum on his U-boat to swing a cat. His camera pursues his actors through its claustrophobic spaces with demonic tenacity, and when he's not racing his characters to Hell, he's lingering over their scurvy complexions and mildewed food. He's also a brilliant composer of static shots, returning repeatedly to tableaux of haggard faces anticipating attack or disaster like El Greco figures waiting for Judgement Day. By the end of the film you realise you've watched a gang of fresh-faced recruits turn into haunted, tragic creatures. A sobering achievement, marred only by some eccentric subtitling - putting expressions like "all right, already" into the mouths of Nazi characters seems rather tasteless to me.

Being from Hull, I think I must be genetically predisposed to enjoy Up'n'Under (12). John Godber directs his locker-room comedy with undistinguished obviousness, and the script is as cheerfully devoid of wit and subtlety as the play (also by John Godber) on which it is based. But there's a disarming compassion in this story of a feckless amateur rugby team from the Wheatsheaf Arms (five slobs, one disgraced professional and an aerobics instructor) and their triumph over their neckless rivals. Coincidentally, the movie is rather like The Full Monty (only this time, you really get to see the balls), and its mix of mucky backchat, variable Yorkshire accents and kind-hearted sentimentality allows Godber to build up a final sequence that's got a kick like Jonah Lomu. Or at least Clive Sullivan.

As the team's bottle-blonde Svengali, Samantha Janus delivers lines like "I hear the Cobblers have never lost a match," with the effortlessness of a Carry On regular saying "I see both Bristols are out of the Cup." And, in his final role, a visibly ill Brian Glover is given the honour of dishing up the tactical advice contained in the title. If you remember his film debut in Kes, you'll appreciate the satisfying symmetry. If you don't, you may still feel your cockles warming. Hull 10, London 0.

Like a lot of movies these days, Paddy Breathnach's I Went Down (15) is a black comedy with a cast of kooky gangsters, shysters and hitmen. It revels in the naff seediness familiar from the numerous American stabs at this genre (there are two this week alone) and imports it to an Irish setting. Fortunately, a witty, filthy script by the much-acclaimed young playwright Conor McPherson saves the film from its unoriginal premise: this is a lot more than Pulp Fiction meets Father Ted. The plot involves the likeably hapless Git (Peter McDonald) who finds himself indentured to oily mobster Tom French (Tony Doyle) when he gets into a fight with one of his stooges. "You destroyed his face!" French protests. "What kind of horrible, ugly, desperate bitch is he gonna end up with? He'll be lucky if some Arab lets him finger his dog's arse for a fiver." Git has to choose between a pair of broken legs and an errand to Cork in the company of useless heavy Bunny Kelly (a complex performance from Brendan Gleeson). Breathnach avoids Ballykissangel picturesque, playing out his scenes in knackered-looking flat-roofed pubs, motels and petrol stations. He manages to make the road between Dublin and Cork seem like a comically crummy version of Route 66. Highly recommended.

The week's second soi-disant darkly comic road-movie-cum thriller about two incompetent criminals doesn't achieve McPherson's regeneration of a derivative premise. Rod McCall's Lewis and Clark and George (no cert) staggers under the weight of its ditzy sadism, and its self-consciously hectic cutting is annoying. Rose McGowan - heroine of Scream - stars as George, a cigar-smokin', gun-totin' snake-napper and car thief who communicates through mime, which should be enough to indicate how much McCall's film strains for its quirkiness. There's an interesting emphasis on American illiteracy and some engaging comic business with a shaven dog, but no one involved seems willing to venture beyond the frame of sub-Tarantino cartoonery.

On similar generic terrain, Alex Cox's The Winner (18) is a violent Vegas noir starring Rebecca DeMornay as a brassy broad intent on clearing her Mob debts by fleecing a supernaturally lucky roulette player (Vincent D'Onofrio, an ash-blond idiot savant with Tony Hadley's taste in suits). Disowned by its director after it was recut against his will, the film has problems deeper than unsympathetic editing. The characters are a routine bunch of grifters and zanies, the dialogue is all overmannered eccentricity, and the actors have no place to go but over the top.

What were you doing when you were 19? Writing a highly acclaimed novel? Speeding over wooded hills on a monster motorbike? Making love with gorgeous partners of both sexes? No? Gael Morel's A Toute Vitesse (no cert) is a Famous Five story as Jean-Paul Sartre might have written it, in which impossibly good-looking young people do implausibly precocious things with unlikely intensity. Their parents are conveniently absent from the story, so there's nobody on hand to tell them to snap out of it, or at least wear a crash helmet. If you can stomach the adolescent wishful-thinking of the script, you might enjoy the lush, vibrant photography.

Breaking up is hard to do; Breaking Up (15) is hell to watch. Possibly conceived as Woody Allen for idiots, Robert Greenwald's love story is entirely composed of circumlocutory bickering between struggling photographer Russell Crowe and schoolteacher Salma Hayek. Greenwald and screenwriter Michael Cristofer share a passion for empty abstraction, and together they have crafted a piece of cinema straight from Room 101: fatuous, phoney, tedious, self- regarding, and almost impossible to endure. After 15 minutes I wanted to pack a suitcase and go home to mother. I stuck with it on your behalf, however. It was a dumb decision.

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