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THE MIRROR HAS TWO FACES

Director: Barbra Streisand. Starring: Barbra Streisand, Jeff Bridges, Lauren Bacall, Pierce Brosnan, George Segal, Mimi Rogers (15)

It has long been common knowledge that the films which Barbra Streisand chooses to direct and star in are little hymns to herself. Nobody objects to this: nobody really seems to mind. It's what she does. She needs reassurance and approval so badly that sometimes her films can seem like they were conceived just to pick her up when she's having a bad day. Film-making is her mantra, rather than her calling.

She spends the first two-thirds of this new romantic comedy frumping it, though she's a considered frump - her willy-nilly dress sense is visibly orchestrated, her idiosyncrasies (the restless style of speaking, the way she sinks her face into cakes stashed at the back of her drawer) honed to perfect imperfection.

Her character, a professor named Rose Morgan, teaches romantic literature, so, inevitably, she turns out to be starved of romance herself. In class, Rose offers the notion that a durable union can only exist without consummation. She only realises that her belief in this idea is shaky when she meets Gregory Larkin (Bridges), a maths teacher who decides that she might just be on to something and offers her a sexless marriage.

Will it work? Will it fall apart? Will love rule the day? None of these questions are in any way as pertinent to the film as: how will Ms Streisand be lit during the romantic finale, and what will she be wearing?

Make no mistake about it, The Mirror Has Two Faces is a film in which Streisand the director argues for the incontrovertible beauty of Streisand the actress, with the sort of ferocity that usually accompanies an Oliver Stone conspiracy theory.

The picture pretends to be an ugly duckling story by leading us to a final act in which two male characters fall for a dolled-up Streisand immediately after they had rejected the dowdy version. But it's not about whether or not we're all beautiful underneath. It's about how long Streisand can stand to play the stooge, not the star.

How long will she allow Mimi Rogers (as her sister) to steal all the most wicked lines? How long will she permit Lauren Bacall (as her mother) to out-glam her? How long will she keep the black figure-hugging number at bay in favour of a brown woolly?

The film would be quite sickening in its banality were it not such a trivial enterprise. When the final scene is played out to Nessun Dorma, you have to concede that Streisand's world is untouched by reality. And that's entertainment?

SOME MOTHER'S SON

Director: Terry George. Starring: Helen Mirren, Fionnula Flanagan (15)

This sensitive film about the 1981 hunger strike focuses not on the prisoners but their families, which unites personal and political concerns very effectively.

Helen Mirren gives a performance of great nobility and understatement as Cathleen Quigley, a schoolteacher whose son Gerard (Aidan Gillen) is arrested after a shoot-out with British soldiers.

In prison, Gerard joins in the IRA struggle to be recognised as prisoners of war rather than criminals, and follows his cell-mate, Bobby Sands (John Lynch), into a hunger strike which will eventually claim the lives of 10 prisoners.

Terry George and Jim Sheridan, who wrote In the Name of the Father together, employ Cathleen as a way in for audiences, but they don't use our identification with her as a means of compromising her as a person; she isn't blanded out. Instead, George and Sheridan trace her shifting perspective, and unfaltering sympathy, with meticulous attention: her love for Gerard frequently jars with her mistrust of the IRA, but the film isn't afraid to reveal that contradictions and discrepancies which this collision produces.

In fact, it isn't afraid of very much at all, as proved by a daring scene in which Cathleen must literally choose between her son's life and the cause he is prepared to die for.

BEYOND THE CLOUDS

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni. Starring: John Malkovich, Sophie Marceau, Fanny Ardant (subtitles) (15)

Four stories of love and lust are bound by a wandering film director (Malkovich) who recounts, observes or participates in them. Antonioni's speech may have failed him in his old age, but there's no doubt that his articulacy as a director is in pristine condition.

These stories, lifted from his own collection of writings, are cool and aloof, and as mysterious as his greatest work. Only the structure in which the tales are rooted looks a little shaky. Otherwise this is a poignant reminder of high standards and even higher art.

THE STAR MAKER

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore. Starring: Sergio Castellitto, Tiziana Lodata (subtitles) (18)

When a talent scout named Joe Morelli arrives in Fifties Sicily with the promise that he can make stars of ordinary folk, the crowds flock to him, lured by the possibility that a top producer back in Rome might spot their screen test.

Joe understands the power of his movie camera - each hopeful Sicilian who steps before it reveals a story of inner sadness, ambition or joy - but he reckons without the fervour of one particular young girl.

Tornatore's examination of the spell cast by cinema thankfully rejects the sentimentality of his earlier Cinema Paradiso. But despite its harsh outlook, The Star Maker can be just as unsophisticated, as the final montage of screen tests demonstrates.

ROBINSON IN SPACE

Director: Patrick Keiller. Narrator: Paul Scofield (PG)

Patrick Keiller makes documentaries - sort of. Robinson in Space, his follow-up to the brilliant London, is a tour of England and, like the country, it is by turns sinister, funny, depressing, inspiring and dull.

The camera engages in a series of mostly static shots which provide a cumulative picture of England's industry and history, with commentary from an enigmatic narrator. It namechecks Rimbaud, Lawrence Sterne and Adam Ant, but more or less defies description.

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