So you've just won an Oscar for a striking, sexually ambiguous breakthrough performance, and everyone is wondering what your next move will be. In the case of Hilary Swank, however, we’re still waiting for her career to kick in after Boys Don ’t Cry, and she seems so tentative and utterly at a loss in this dreadful costume picture, it's tempting to think her previous success might just be a flash in the pan. Still, she’s in good company in this fact-based drama from the crumbling days of the Ancien Regime, which would probably be up for an award if they gave out prizes for collective fafflng around. Making a somewhat unlikely leap from the family movie mediocrity of the Father Of The Bride remakes, director Charles Shyer busties cluelessly when faced with the scheming power play of the French court. A French director might have relished the assault on monied

privilege represented by the real-life ‘atfaire du coliier’, in which a disgruntled countess exposed the extravagance of Marie Antoinette and the country’s Cardinal in an elaborate sting involving an outrageously opulent piece of jewellery. Shyer’s immensely less interesting way into the story is to try to persuade us that Comtesse de la Motte-Valois is a righteously vengeful victim of injustice since royal soldiers murdered her rabble- rouslng aristocrat father. She lost her home and her daddy so we’d better root for her, runs the movie's central calculation, which becomes purely academic given the two hours of laborious plotting, swishy frocks and chokineg diabolical dialogue which ensue.

Swank aims at a generalised ‘strong woman’ but displays precious little authority or focus, while her illustrious supporting cast never quite ham it up enough to add some life to the prevailing stodge. Joer Richardson’s a lightweight Antoinette, Jonathan Pryce grim- faced in ecclesiastical red, and Brian

Collective fatflng around

Cox barely taxed as the government minister given the thankless task of delivering the expository voiceover. Even Christopher Walken’s absurdly- coitfed philosopher-charlatan Cagllostro seems like his mind’s on something else. In the circumstances, you can hardly blame him. (Trevor Johnston).

I Selected release from Fri 1 7 Jan.

DRAMA A MA SOEUR! mins .00.


(cert tbc ) 94 mins 00..

Fifteen-year-old Elena (Roxane Mesquida) and twelve-year- F

old Anais (Anais Reboux) are vacationing with their parents on the French coast. The beautiful though naive Elena finds herself being charmed by older Italian student Fernando (Libero de Rienzo). whilst the chubbier Anais. who is regarded as an embarrassing encumbrance by her mother and father. retreats into her own fantasy world. finding comfort through over-eating. For her losing one's virginity should be With a stranger, whom one doesn't love . . .

Another disconcerting exploration of female sexuality from French feminist auteur Catherine Breillat (36 Fillette. Romance). which dismantles the cosy assumptions of the teenage Summer romance movie. Inspired by a newspaper report of a family tragedy. Breillat has crafted in A Ma Soeur.’ an impressively acted film. frank and discomforting to the Viewer. Take. for example. the lengthy ‘seduction'

scene in which the persistent Fernando eventually cajoles the fearful Elena into sexual interc0urse. Filmed in long.

Big themes through small stories


SOUL SURVIVORS (12) 85 mins 00

All the ingredients of the teen horror movie are here: a pretty blonde. a gothic building. sexual rivalries. plus a bloody car crash. From the producers of / Know What You Did Last Summer (that caveat is always a bad sign), this is a techno-gothic tale which begins with a fatal car crash involving four American college freshers. But who is alive post-crash. what is reality and who can they trust? And so on and so on. Such tensions form the crux of this uninspired chiller, where a trip to the dark side becomes tediously familiar.

By the numbers teen horror

distanced takes. it shows the perspective of a visibly distressed Anais. who shares Elena's room. and who witnesses at first hand her elder sibling's humiliation. Moreover. the relationship between the two sisters is conspicuously ambivalent. They may be utterly dissimilar physically and trade insults. yet they also share moments of humour and tenderness. both aware that they have been ‘raised as rivals' by their parents. And even if in its final third. the film lurches into horror-movie territory. with the violent wish-fulfilment of Anais's darkest desires, it never loses its essential ambiguity. (Tom Dawson) I Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 4 Jan; GFf. Glasgow from Fri 78 Jan. See preview.

Disconcerting exploration of female sexuality

It seems ironic that George Bush was so keen to see Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Kandahar. Equally so that people queued at the ICA in London for a screening. But it's an irony that makes sense: an obscure. if established. Iranian filmmaker offers an issue film inferior to his other work. and people can't get enough of it when its issues are dwarfed by reality.

But viewers who are engaged by issues rather than aesthetics will have to look a bit harder for the political ironies in Hassan Yektapanah's take on a young Afghan working at a dairy farm in Iran. Here. the lessons in life are learned less through political action than emotional inaction as we watch Djomeh (Jalil Nazari) tentatively falling in love with Setareh (Mahbobeh Khalili). a young Iranian woman who works in the village grocery store.

Yektapanah was Abbas Kiarostami's assistant and he shares with the Iranian master the desire to search for big themes through small stories. It's as if through the scrutinising of a burgeoning feeling in an Afghan worker he can find a theme grand enough to incorporate cultural differences between Afghanistan and Iran.

Thus where Kandahar offers us a political immediacy as it touches upon the Taliban, lost limbs and kids playing with Kalashnikovs. Djomeh offers a more fundamental look at Afghan life. showing us one lowly member scraping a living and falling in love in another country. We see that dispossession and irony can take many forms. (Tony MCKibbin)

I GFIT Glasgow from Fri 4 Jan; Fl/thUSG, Edinburgh from Sun 14 Jan.

With all the tricks of the genre employed. from Catholic iconography to blood- spurting showers. it feels like nothing more than a patched together film. Even a play on androgyny fails to register as sinister, merely upping the film's unintentional comedy value. Borrowing too freely from greats like The Exorcist and Carrie. Soul Survivors possesses neither the bravery nor the vision of these films and so fails to go the whole horror distance. The real mystery is why was SOu/ Survivors not relegated straight to video like other treadmill horror movies? (Ruth Hedges) I General release from Fri 77 Jan.

4—‘ 7 Jai‘ 2002 THE LIST 33