Different For Girls Richard Spence (15)

Twilight of the Ice Nymphs Guy Maddin (15)

Paul (Rupert Graves) and Karl (Steven Mackintosh) used to hang out together at school. Meeting up again 16 years later is a shock. Paul hasn't changed much: he's still a scruffy lad with an unhealthy love of late-70s punk and new wave. With Karl, it's slightly more complicated. He's changed his name. And his hairstyle. And his gender. He's called Kim. He's a she.

As topics designed to draw the multiplex crowds go, post-operative transsexuality must rate slightly behind genocide and just ahead of macrame. But the British feature Different for Girls manages the unusual trick of being widely accessible without any visible signs of compromise, an accomplishment that is quickly becoming the trademark of the screenwriter Tony Marchant, last responsible for the excellent BBC2 series Holding On.

The film avoids the coy, cautious preaching of Just Like a Woman, which suggested that the most important function of transvestism was to make shopping trips with the wife more fun. And it doesn't go in for exploiting its hero, as in Shadey, where transsexuality was used to crank up the movie's weirdness quota. In Different for Girls, Kim's sexuality is an issue but it doesn't define her. The subtlety of Marchant's writing and the elegant restraint of Steven Mackintosh's performance conspire to create a character who is warm and endearing without being portrayed as either victim or messiah. Marriage guidance counsellors undergo years of training to be that perceptive, but evidently you get magic healing powers free with a sex-change operation.

Different for Girls has been kicking around for a few years now but it feels crisp and refreshing. It was once called Crossing the Border, and though I'm not sure whether its new title was dictated by Paul's record collection or vice versa ("Different for Girls" is a Joe Jackson song featured on the soundtrack), the music is crucial to the picture. As well as illustrating how Paul has cocooned himself within his teenage memories, many of the songs have ironic lyrics which serve narrative functions: the friends dancing manically to "Another Girl, Another Planet" by The Only Ones, or the Buzzcocks pertinently enquiring "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't Have)?" as Paul takes Kim out on a date.

Romance doesn't so much blossom as stutter between them. Fearing that the evening might end in a goodnight kiss, Paul protests, "I'm straight!". "So am I", Kim sighs. If their eventual intimacy is as much to satisfy the audience's curiosity about Kim's anatomy as it is a result of Paul's lust, the scene at least proves that the explicit can also be tasteful. Some might say it's not a date movie. But I'd disagree. It all depends on who your date is.

Parts of Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, an ephemeral adult fairy-tale from Canada, are oddly beguiling, while great stretches of it are completely baffling. It features compositions and ideas that might have been touched by the hand of Cocteau - especially memorable is the woodland bed that floods with water after a consummation, depositing seaweed and lobsters under the sheets when the tide goes out again.

What's it about? Here goes. An ex-prisoner returns to the farm owned by his sister (Shelley Duvall). She has the hots for a one-legged doctor, while all manner of woodland fairies and nymphomaniac princesses are putting the moves on her brother. Ostriches wander around, being bored.

None of that is going to be of any assistance to those of you contemplating seeing the film, or to its distributors, who will be searching for an enticing quote to slap on the posters. Let's see. Entrancing? Not exactly. Wildly imaginative? Hmm... intermittently. I've got it. How about "the best movie featuring an amputee since A Zed and Two Noughts"? Hope that helps.

`Different for Girls' and `Twilight of the Ice Maidens both open today

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