A shallow dance of fools

8th November 1996 at 00:00
Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is a play about deceptions and misapprehensions, in which the characters are easily deceived into falling for persons of the wrong gender, then just as easily persuaded to transfer their affections to the correctly-sexed identical twins, reunited in the last act - as though the relationships were purely a matter of form. Only the ludicrous Malvolio manages to persuade us that he is really touched by some emotion. Otherwise, this is a shallow dance of fools.

Trevor Nunn's film compounds the confusions by setting the action in Victorian England. Sebastian is found wandering around Cornwall, consulting Baedeker's "Illy-ria"; characters fight with swords, ride bicycles and wear what might be uniforms of Prussian troops or Japanese students; oddest of all, Malvolio suddenly appears in yellow stockings, cross-gartered, like a 19th-century actor who has accidentally wandered into a drawing-room - costumed for Malvolio. And the comic business gets sadder as time goes on.

The acting is first-rate, in particular Nigel Hawthorne's Malvolio, the photography is luscious, the whole has an atmosphere that is hard to shake off. It lays itself out like a jigsaw, in which the characters' stated feelings and desires are merely hooks, linking them to a picture of autumnal melancholy and change.

In the run-up to Christmas, we have a fine crop of "family movies" among the new releases. They include a live-action version of The Adventures of Pinocchio (a little frightening for the youngest children perhaps), A Goofy Movie, in which Goofy takes his son Max on a fishing trip, and Alaska, a heart-warming adventure about a boy and a bear.

Parents who took their children to Alan Bennett's stage version of The Wind in the Willows may have noticed a few swipes at the Thatcherite enterprise culture, and the lavish new screen adaptation by Terry Jones (who also plays Toad) makes this even more explicit. But there is no denying that the appeal of Kenneth Grahame's novel retains its conservative vision of a land of lost content - picnics along the riverbank, all pals together - and the more one considers it, the more disturbing are the implications of this class-ridden, masculine world. Perhaps it is time to consign Mole, Toad and Ratty to history.

Not that old legends are easy to kill. Dragonheart is a mythical tale that claims to take place in 984 AD, but you know that's rubbish. It's not so much the fact that there are talking dragons breathing fire everywhere; it's more the way that one of the characters remarks early in the proceedings: "The peasants are revolting!" It's an old joke, but not that old.

The revolting peasants kill their even more revolting king. Since his young heir is being tutored by that noble knight, Dennis Quaid, and the prince's life is saved by a dragon with the voice of Sean Connery, a happy ending seems only minutes away - and the opening credits have hardly stopped rolling. But the new king grows up into a delightfully nasty piece of work (played by David Thewlis), so Sir Dennis rides off to become a disillusioned dragon hunter. With an amusing script and great animatronics (for the dragon), this is a film that really might appeal to the whole family.

The latest in Eric Rohmer's "Four Seasons", A Summer's Tale, could be a treat for some sixth-formers, especially those studying French; but not for all. A young man borrows a friend's pad on the north Breton coast, and while waiting for a girl, possibly a girlfriend, who is due to take a holiday in the same spot, meets a waitress in a creperie, then with her friend . . . No special effects, no violence, no adventure and only the coolest hint of sex; but a beautifully constructed and witty comment on human relationships, expectations and aspirations, which illustrates something about the difference between European cinema and Hollywood.

Cinema from everywhere features in the London Film Festival, which runs from November 7 to 24. This year's event includes a special programme of five films, Beyond Childhood (November 21, National Film Theatre 1), about children at risk, made to celebrate the anniversary of the United Nations Children's Fund. Children and adolescents at risk are pretty well everywhere in the festival, in films such as: Barry Levinson's Sleepers (November 16, Odeon West End 2), about a New York gang; Coky Giedroyc's Stella Does Tricks (November 9, Odeon WE1), starring Kelly Macdonald as a Glasgow prostitute; and Lisa Krueger's first feature, Manny and Lo (November 16, Odeon WE1).

Other films deal with growing up as a slightly less risky experience: David Keating's Last of the High Kings (November 11, Odeon WE2); Sue Clayton's The Disappearance of Finbar (November 16, Odeon WE1 and November 18, NFT1), the first full-length feature by a talented documentary maker; the Norwegian film, The Other Side of Sunday (November 16, NFT2), Kitano Takeshi's Kids Return (November 18, Odeon WE1); and Sam Miller's King Girl (November 23, NFT1). There is a documentary about the East Harlem Violin Program, which teaches elementary school children to play classical music (Small Wonders, November 10, MOMI), plus two "family movies", Roald Dahl's Matilda (November 9, Odeon WE2) and Martin Duffy's The Boy from Mercury (November 10, Odeon WE1). With a round-up of new Spanish cinema and the usual strong section from France, the LFF celebrates its 40th anniversary.

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