NOT THAI such a thought will spare us from exasperation, but the Oscars are like life: they are not fair. The best films of the year are unlikely even to be in the list of nominations, and should a good one somehow slip through the net, the Academy can be relied upon to ignore it in the final selection. Mediocrity will out.
This year everyone got carried away about Amadeus, a soap opera with a superior soundtrack. A Soldier's Story was unjustly passed over, as was Jessica Lange for her performance in Country. But, as I said, that's life.
Of the latest releases it is a new Dutch film, Broken Mirrors ("18", Screenson-the-Green, etc.) which is most compelling, although that word is chosen intentionally for its ambivalence. Broken Mirrors compels as it distresses.
A day-to-day account of the life of the Happy House brothel is intercut with the story of a murderer's torture of his latest victim. Cheerfully Chaucerian squalor gives way to the unceasingly horrific: one prostitute attempts suicide; a heroin addict dies from an overdose; the woman is succesful in her suicide; a customer rips a girl apart with a surgical knife. And meanwhile, back and forward we go to that young mother, snatched from the street and chained to a bed in a small concrete cell by a man who wants to photograph her miserable death.
In a seemingly hopeless world, hope glimmers in the affection the women feel for one another and in the contempt of the mother for her murderer. Which, if Broken Mirrors is to be read as a statement on the situation of women, isn't a lot of hope to be going on with.
Director Marleen Gorris leaves nothing to chance. Her grim story is emphasised by its gloomy setting. Ugly modern sculptures lour over ugly urban landscapes; sea shores are cold and inhospitable; there is hardly any colour except for grey. Broken Mirrors seems too close to despair for comfort. But, then, comfort isn't what it's' about.
Were it permissible, after that, to seek some comic relief, Favourites Of The Moon ("15", Chelsea Cinema, Camden Plaza) would be a good choice, although in its way it is a difficult comedy, The obvious comparison the film invites with the work of Jacques Tail is an illuminating one: we haven't seen anything like this for a very long time.
As the director, .0tar Yosseliani, explains it, "the construction of this film is based on a chain of events that arc interconnected through the moral and material consequences of actions." You or I would probably call the plot gloriously inconsequential in refusing to stick to its characters, but there is a perverse logic about it all. Yosseliani deftly rushes around Paris in pursuit of jewellery, porcelain, and paintings, while characters appear and disappear as they gain and lose possession of' them. This dizzying film is a comic tour-dc-force.
We might have expected some light-hearted humur from Not Quite Jerusalem ("15", Odeon Leicester Square), coming as it does from Lewis Gilbert, the director of Educating Rita. But it is decidely short on humour, light-hearted or otherwise.
The central miscalculation was to water down Paul Kember's well-received stage play with banal situation comedy and predictable romance. Playing to the crowd is one thing, but this story of life on a kibbutz ends by being laughable when it tries to be serious, puerile when it tries to be funny. The unlikely achievement of offending, one imagines, both Jews and Arabs, is not to be underestimated: a lot of people must have worked very hard to make a film as dreadful as this. Actress Joanna Pacula is alone in emerging unscathed from the fiasco. Everyone else's career looks to have suffered a setback or two
On the other hand, The Return Of Captain Invincible ("PG", Minema) gives the last a run for its money. Conceived as a take-off of the Superman genre, this Australian film rashly squanders both of its jokes in the first five minutes before settling down to an hour and a half of soporific stupidity and poor taste.
Bayan Ko: My Own Country ( " 1 5 ", Institute of Contemporary Arts) is the work of director Lino Brocka and has been banned from release in his native Philippines. Cast somewhere between social melodrama and film noir, it tells the story of its central character's struggle to support his pregnant wife. His final turning to crime is an inevitable act of desperation.
Against the background of the political situation in the Philippines, Bayan Ko is an heroic and stirring film: a plea for justice from the nearly defeated.
Back in 1945 Jean Cocteau turned away from the political realities of post-Occupation France to make Beauty And The Beast ("PG", Everyman). This, Cocteau's first film, is a fairy tale, shot with a remarkable clarity, what he called a "realism of the unreal". This showing of a new 35mm print gives us a welcome opportunity to re-assess his achievement.
Simon Banner's next column will come from New York where he will review America's latest releases.