The Night of the Sunflowers
(123 minutes, 15)
Directed by Jorge Sanchez-Cabezudo; starring Carmelo Gomez, Judith Diakhate, Celso Bugallo, Manuel Moron

Like Minds
(110 mins, 15)
Directed by Gregory Read; starring Toni Collette, Eddie Redmayne, Tom Sturridge, Patrick Malahide

Goodbye Bafana
(117 mins, 15)
Directed by Bille August; starring Joseph Fiennes, Dennis Haysbert, Diane Kruger

Battle of Algiers
(121 mins, 15)
Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo; starring Jean Martin, Brahim Haggiag, Yacef Saadi

Life in a Metro
(140 mins, PG)
Directed by Anurag Basu; starring Shilpa Shetty, Shiney Ahuja, Kangana Ranaut, Irfan Khan

My Best Friend
(94 mins, 12A)
Directed by Patrice Leconte; starring Daniel Auteuil, Dany Boon, Julie Gayet

The All Together
(83 mins, 15)
Directed by Gavin Claxton; starring Martin Freeman, Corey Johnson, Danny Dyer, Velibor Topic, Richard Harrington

Blue Blood
(89 mins)
Directed by Stevan Riley; featuring Des Brackett, Chris Kavanagh, James Boyle, Justin Bronder

Like today's Film of the Week, The Night of the Sunflowers, the first film by Jorge Sanchez-Cabezudo, is further demonstration of the wealth of film-making talent that's coming out of the Spanish-speaking world. Set in Las Hurdes, the poor mountainous area of western Spain that gave its name to Luis Bunuel's 1932 documentary about rural poverty, the movie is a thriller that makes one think of Rashomon, except that in this case, six views of the same day's events are objectively presented. The first chapter introduces a sad, middle-aged travelling salesman (Manuel Moron), who turns out to be a serial rapist and murderer. His latest intended victim escapes, injured and traumatised, along a remote country road. In the second chapter, she's revealed as the sophisticated wife of a geologist and potholer who's called to the area to investigate a newly discovered cave and ends up in a folie a trois. Subsequent chapters bring in a querulous loner, a drifting nutter and two cops, one young and bent, the other old-fashionedly honest.

The effect is like different plates of an etching being placed over each other, interesting in themselves, but creating an image deeper and denser than any of them taken individually. It's an exciting picture of a crime and how its ripples beget other acts of turpitude and create new victims. It effortlessly creates a portrait of a community and its place within the national consciousness. The acting is impeccable. The Anglo-Australian thriller Like Minds, set entirely in England but partly filmed Down Under, is another convoluted story, but as addled and unconvincing as The Night of the Sunflowers is lucid and persuasive. It centres upon a pair of bright, upper-middle-class sixth-formers in a Yorkshire public school, both arrogant psychopaths. When one boy is accused of murdering the other, as well as several more people, police psychologist Toni Collette is called in to investigate. She discovers that the boys' fathers and the senior detective handling the case belong to a secret society with roots in the Middle Ages. It's a laughably pretentious cross between a Dennis Wheatley occult mystery and a Frank Richards school story, with that familiar character, the unreliable narrator, lurking in every shadow.

Directed by Bille August, the talented Danish film-maker who's been off form for years, Goodbye Bafana comes over like an apologia offered in evidence to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Its protagonist is the real-life Afrikaner prison warden James Gregory (Joseph Fiennes) who, because he learnt to speak Xhosa as a child, is given the task of spying on the imprisoned Nelson Mandela (Dennis Haysbert) for South African intelligence. But he gradually sheds his ingrained racism and becomes a friend and confidant of the great man.

The movie covers a period of 20 years in which Gregory grows a moustache (which looks real) and Mandela develops a curly head of cream-coloured hair (which doesn't). The vindictive treatment of prisoners on Robben Island is effectively created and the behaviour of Gregory's ambitious wife is convincing. But the movie doesn't ring true. Mandela (obliquely) and his biographer, Anthony Sampson (directly), have apparently challenged the veracity of Gregory's memoir.

Another political movie about colonial oppression on the African continent is back in cinemas and highly welcome. This is Gillo Pontecorvo's Battle of Algiers (1965), a brilliant, openly partisan yet fair-minded account of the early stages of the Algerian war of liberation in the mid-1950s. The project was initiated by Yacef Saadi, a National Liberation Front leader who plays a version of himself in the film and the only professional actor involved is Jean Martin, close friend of Samuel Beckett and the original Lucky in Waiting for Godot, who's magnificent as the ruthless French para commander. The film was screened in 2003 at the Pentagon to instruct senior military men and their civilian advisers how you could 'win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas'.

Anurag Basu's likably lumbering Life in a Metro weaves together the lives of a variety of people in Bombay, some of them well off (though none enjoying the opulent lifestyle of the Mittal classes that Indian films frequently celebrate), none of them poor. It's exceptionally frank for a Bollywood movie in what it shows and what people say - a call girl asks a man if he has a condom (he's got a box full of them), another wants to lose her virginity, a third surprises her boyfriend having gay sex.

There's no dancing and the music is provided by a rock trio who appear to comment on the action in the manner of Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye in Cat Ballou. That pretty celebrity Shilpa Shetty pouts, rolls her eyes and sheds glycerine tears as a bored housewife who embarks on an affair with a fellow railway traveller that falls just short of consummation, obviously a homage to Brief Encounter. Her errant husband, the head of personnel for a large cold-calling call centre, is having an affair with a lowly employee and, like other licentious colleagues, borrows the key to the flat of a rather dim clerk. This sounds like, indeed is, a transposition to the subcontinent of Billy Wilder's The Apartment, the plot of which it follows with slavish devotion, even using some of the dialogue.

Patrice Leconte's thin My Best Friend is what might be called 'a wager comedy', a picture in which the hero bets he can be totally honest for a day, go without sex for four weeks, spend exactly $30m in a month, seduce a determined virgin and so on. This one involves a friendless, self-regarding art dealer (Daniel Auteuil) having to find a close friend within 10 days or present his challenger with a valuable Greek vase. He sets his sights on a cheerful Parisian taxi-driver who's addicted to memorising facts and assorted trivia, and becomes a decent human being. The clever climax takes place on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Will the cabby exercise his right to phone a friend?

My Best Friend is mildly enjoyable, but it's Trading Places (one of the best wager comedies) compared with the unspeakable British comedy The All Together. In a London house, the dire Danny Dyer and an American gangster with bowel trouble hold up at gunpoint a Bosnian refugee who specialises in pornographic taxidermy (i.e. stuffed animals stuffing each other), several estate agents, a middle-class couple and a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses. It is competing with I Want Candy and Mr Bean's Holiday for the Potato Men Prize as worst comedy of the year.

Stevan Riley's Blue Blood is an amusing, observant documentary following Oxford students with little pugilistic skills as they compete to fight for their university in the annual boxing contest against Cambridge.



Captcha image