Louis Malle had a somewhat unusual apprenticeship after graduating from the IDHEC film school in Paris. Having assisted the marine explorer and conservationist Jacques-Yves Cousteau on the Palme d'or and Oscar-winning documentary, The Silent World, he served as Robert Bresson's assistant on the compelling prison thriller, A Man Escaped (both 1956). Then, while still only 24, he embarked upon his directorial debut, Lift to the Scaffold (1957), an adaptation of a pulp novel by Noël Calef that borrowed heavily from film noir and the pictures of Alfred Hitchcock and Jean-Pierre Melville while also anticipating some of the techniques and tropes that would become familiar in the work of such nouvelle vague contemporaries as Claude Chabrol, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard.

The action opens in the middle of a passionate whispered phone call, with Jeanne Moreau in a call box and Maurice Ronet in his office. She tells him how much she loves him as they plan to rendezvous at a café once a dark deed has been completed. A former legionnaire and paratrooper who fought with distinction in Indochina and Algeria, Ronet now works for Moreau's tycoon husband, Jean Wall. But, having told secretary Micheline Bona to hold his calls just before Saturday closing, Ronet scales the outside of the glass building using a rope and crampon and slips silently into Wall's office. Ronet hands him a dossier on an oil company that Wall peruses with avaricious pleasure before his junior pulls a gun and shoots him. Arranging the desk to resemble a suicide scene, Ronet hurries downstairs to take a call from Bona to let him know that security guard Gérard Darrieu is ready to lock up.

Descending in the lift, the trio say their farewells at the street door and Ronet goes to his car, which is parked outside Alice Reichen's flower shop, where he has become a familiar face since he started seeing Moreau. Assistant florist Yori Bertin calls to him as he opens the roof of his convertible and her delinquent boyfriend, Georges Poujouly, is suitably impressed. Just as he is about to pull away, Ronet spots the rope left hanging from the balcony outside Wall's office and hastens across the road to remove it. However, as he takes the lift upstairs, Darrieu cuts the power and locks the entrance grille before heading home for the weekend.

Realising he is trapped, Ronet examines his surroundings with his cigarette lighter and ponders an escape. Outside, however, Poujouly cannot resist the fact that Ronet has left his motor running and drives off in the car, with the reluctant Bertin in the passenger seat. They lower the roof as they cruise through the streets and, thus, Moreau only sees Bertin at the window as the vehicle passes her café table and she convinces herself that her lover has betrayed her with a shopgirl.

A model of lovesick dejection, Moreau goes to Wall's office and rattles the locked grille, just as Ronet tries to open the elevator door. She asks garage clerk Jacques Hilling if he has seen her husband, but he thinks he left hours ago and isn't surprised that he left his car behind, as Wall has a reputation for acting on impulse when a deal is in the offing. Shrugging sadly, Moreau wanders the darkening streets, while Ronet chain smokes and settles down for a long wait. Meanwhile, Bertin is growing bored with Poujouly joy-riding up and down the autoroute and is dismayed when he gets into a race with a speeding Mercedes. He follows the sports car to a motel outside the city and is invited in for a drink by its German driver, Iván Petrovich, and his wife, Elga Andersen.

Having recently stolen a scooter, Poujouly doesn't want to be seen at the reception desk and stays in the car as Bertin registers then under Ronet's name. They spend the rest of the night drinking champagne with Petrovich, who is amused by Poujouly's blustering lies about his military service and love of fast cars. Andersen insists on taking photographs with the miniature camera that Bertin had found in Ronet's car and she posts the film for developing in a box on the motel concourse.

Eventually, Poujouly and Bertin crash in their room, while Ronet discovers a panel beneath the lift carpet  and Moreau wanders into a bar and gets chatting to Ronet's louche pal, Félix Marten, and his companion, Sylviane Aisenstein. As Ronet uses his knife to unscrew the panel, Poujouly decides to leave the motel in the dead of night. He wakes Bertin and they are in the process of stealing Petrovich's car when he confronts them. Poujouly mistakes the cigar case the German is pointing for a gun and shoots him with the revolver that Bertin had found in the glove compartment of Ronet's car and which Poujouly had purloined, along with his raincoat and driving gloves.

The frightened couple zoom off in the Mercedes and abandon it on a bridge in the middle of the city, along with Ronet's belongings. Reasoning that they are bound to get caught and being unable to bear the thought of being separated before Poujouly is guillotined for murder, Bertin suggests they take an overdose of pills and lie on the bed to await the end. Meanwhile, Moreau has been arrested on suspicion of being a prostitute, after she is found wandering the streets with Marten without her identity papers. She is recognised by the desk sergeant, however, and she exploits his embarrassment by turning on the hauteur and demanding that he contacts her chauffeur.

As she waits, Moreau is approached by commissioner Lino Ventura, who asks what she knows about Ronet. Still feeling cheated, she says she saw him driving around with a young girl earlier in the evening and this convinces Ventura that Ronet murdered Petrovich and Andersen. While one of his colleagues takes great delight in letting the press into the motel room while spinning them a lurid yarn about the case, a couple more cops rouse Darrieu and make him open the office block. Ronet, who has removed the panel and is shinning down a rope in the shaft, is horrified by the sudden restoration of power and is relieved that the hurtling conveyance stops before he is crushed. Clambering back inside, he replace the panel and carpet, gathers the cigarette butts he has left on the floor and walks calmly out of the building before anyone can notice him. However, while ordering breakfast at a nearby café, he is recognised from his photo on the front page of the paper and is arrested.

By now, Wall's body has been found and Ventura and deputy Charles Denner are ready to accept that he shot himself. However, they are unimpressed with Ronet's contention that he could not have been at the motel because he had been trapped in an elevator. But Moreau is determined that her lover should not be convicted of a crime he did not commit and goes to the florist to find out where Bertin lives. She discovers the young couple coming round after their failed suicide pact and assures them she will make them pay for what they have done. As they plan their next move, Poujouly remembers the camera and speeds off to the motel to collect the prints before anyone else can see them. Moreau follows and enters the dark room in time to see Ventura arrest Poujouly, as the incriminating images materialise in the developing bath. However, Ronet had also used the camera to take pictures of himself with Moreau and her fingers lovingly stroke the pictures in the shallow fluid before she turns to the camera and reaffirms her love for her doomed beau.

In adapting Calef's convoluted scenario, Malle and co-writer Roger Nimier leave one or two loose ends. The rope is seemingly left hanging from the balcony, so Ventura would have been exceedingly foolish if he had bought the story that Wall had topped himself, while it is never explained who took the photographs of Ronet and Moreau together, as it is unlikely that such a tiny camera would have had a timing device back in 1957 and they would hardly have asked a stranger to snap such moments of stolen intimacy. However, such quibbles aside, this is a thoroughly satisfying thriller, whose predictability leaves the audience dreading the inevitable outcome. This Hitchcockian approach to suspense is given visceral immediacy by Henri Decaë's vivid monochrome views of night-time Paris and Malle's telling use of close-ups.

The almost haphazard sequence of climactic events may strike some as unduly melodramatic. But Malle is keen to show how the best laid plans can unravel as spectacularly as those made in the heat of the moment. Moreover, by having both Ronet and Poujouly come to grief, Malle and Nimier seek to suggest a generational gulf in the Fourth Republic, as colonial war heroes and quiffed tearaways despise those who cosily confronted each other during the Occupation and have since profited from the peace.

But, while Ronet may have had a dual motive for the actions that leave him trapped in flagrante, he is less fascinating character than Moreau, who clearly enjoys the trappings of being married to a rich and powerful man and, yet, who is willing to give it all up for a lover whom she believes - on the flimsiest of evidence - could jilt her on a whim. Even in the depths of her despair, however, Moreau continues to hope that Ronet will find her and sweep her away to a new life, even though her prolonged and very public absence from home makes her behaviour seem highly suspicious on the very night her husband decides to end it all. Consequently, she invites as much pity as scorn as she addresses the audience in a closing speech that is delivered in a daze and is lit in such a way by Decaë to capture the porcelain beauty that would have persuaded a calculating and pragmatic man of the world to risk everything to possess it.

Around the time that Louis Malle was becoming an auteur, Raymond Depardon was debating whether to become a film-maker or a photographer. Ultimately, he excelled at each métier and his dual career is assessed in Journal de France, a documentary collaboration with Claudine Nougaret, who has been his partner and sound engineer since they met three decades ago. In many ways, this is similar to McCullin, David and Jacqui Morris's profile of photojournalist Don McCullin, who similarly spent so many years covering conflict overseas that he came to feel like a stranger in his own land. But, while Nougaret contextualises the gems she unearths in Depardon's archive, he opts to focus on the transient present, as he potters around La Patrie in a little camper van snapping eclectic relics of both a disappearing landscape and the society that begat it.

Depardon is first seen composing a shot of a tobacconist's in Nevers. He likes the façade because it has a 1950s feel and he chunters to himself as various vehicles and pedestrians wander into his viewfinder. As he removes the plate from the back of the box camera perched on a high tripod, Nougaret explains that she has been making films with the 71 year-old Depardon for over a quarter of a century. He has asked her to sort through the materials he has stored in his basement and she jokes that her painstaking process soon prompted him to hit the road to reacquaint himself with a country he barely knows. As he drives along, Depardon confides that he has grown bored with listening to others and wants a little silence and has rather enjoyed his four years photographing whatever caught his eye, whether it was a quaint shop front, a roundabout, an industrial complex or the Garet farm near Villefranche-sur Saône, which he knew from his childhood.

As a young man, Depardon had experimented with still and moving picture cameras and a brief montage links footage taken at a wedding, a department store and a street near Notre Dame in Paris, where his handheld vérité style allows him to flit between the faces of the passers by and their environs. Within a year, however, he found himself filming civil unrest in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. In 1964, he made the first of his many visits to Africa to record newly elected president Jean-Bedel Bokassa celebrating Independence Day in the Central African Republic he would come to tyrannise as a self-proclaimed emperor. Just as he had filmed milling shoppers while descending an escalator, so Depardon boldly meandered between the flag-carrying youths marching in the parade and this readiness to pitch himself into the maelstrom is very much at odds with the Direct Cinema detachment that would become his leitmotif.

Fetching up at the seaside, Depardon drops in for a haircut and chats with a barber whose shop is set to close after 50 years. He sympathises with his situation and is grateful that he is his own boss and still has much to achieve, as he is currently more familiar with Djibouti in the Horn of Africa than he is with the Meuse in the north-eastern region of France. Nougaret explains the reason for this over images captured on the West Bank in 1967, as Depardon had founded the Gamma Agency, whose guiding principle was that photographers could take whatever pictures they liked and retain an authorship over them.

Leading by example, Depardon imposed his own perspective on his coverage of Chilean revolutionaries, stand-offs along the Suez Canal and the Jordanian border and everyday life in the Yemeni cities of Aden and Saada and Papa Doc Duvalier's Haiti. In 1968, he went to Biafra with Gilles Caron to profile the mercenaries who had been hired by Western oil companies to protect their investments during a civil war that precipitated a calamitous famine. The French soldiers joke on camera about their wage packets and the local ladies, as they eat their supper. But, for all the levity, as they sing and dance into the small hours, they find themselves in a hellish situation the following morning and the jolliest of the interviewees is killed and his comrades lament that his passport and money have been stolen from his jacket.

The following year, Depardon found himself in Prague, as protesters continued to defy the Soviet occupation by taking on the tanks stationed at landmarks across the city. His shockingly visceral monochrome footage shows people of all ages lining up against tear gas and water cannon to show their solidarity with immolation martyr Jan Palach and Depardon himself was arrested by the secret police and spent three days in prison before being deported. Nougaret proclaims that the peaceful protests of the Czechs eventually drove the Russians out, but this seems a rather sweeping statement, as the Kremlin decided when its troops came home and another two decades were to pass before the Velvet Revolution finally completed the job started during the Prague Spring.

Fittingly, a small-town war memorial forms part of the next montage assembled from Depardon's peregrinations. He takes particular delight in shooting shop fronts and eccentric pieces of street furniture and jokes that his van has become a capsule projecting him into orbit. However, he bemoans the fact that even an idyllic odyssey can have its drawbacks, as he dislikes photographing in flattering light, as he prefers his reality to be less picturesque.

An adroit cross-cut takes us to the Louvre, as Depardon covers the presidential campaign of Finance Minister Valéry Giscard d'Estaing for the documentary, 1974, Une Partie de Campagne. Giscard had insisted on having final cut and his own soundtrack music. However, Depardon detested his choices as much as Giscard disliked sequences such as the one in which he informs his campaign team that he will continue to make brilliant speeches, but will say nothing controversial to ensure he does not alienate any potential voters. On coming to power, Giscard had the profile banned and it was only shown in France in 2002.

Embittered, Depardon went to Tibesti in northern Chad to highlight the failures of the administration's foreign policy by tracking down archaeologist Françoise Claustre, who had been abducted by the Tubu forces led by Hissène Habré. In all, Depardon would spend two years with the rebels and was torn between empathising with them as human beings and resenting the way in which they tormented a frightened woman after her one of her male companions escaped and the other was released on the payment of a ransom. Depardon was allowed to interview Claustre and her sense of betrayal at being abandoned is as pitifully evident as her anger and fear. On returning to France, Depardon succeeded in getting the meeting into news bulletins. But, in spite of alerting the nation to Claustre's plight, he was jailed for failing to aid a fellow citizen in distress and a further two years were to elapse before Claustre was released on the intercession of the Libyan leader, Muammar al-Gaddafi.

Nougaret can find no record of Depardon's TV broadcasts in the network archives, but she decides against delving any more deeply into this shameful episode. Nor does she mention the fact that Depardon made a fictional account of the Claustre kidnapping, La Captive du Désert (1990), with Sandrine Bonnaire. Instead, she takes us to Venice for a clip from the harrowing 1982 documentary, San Clemente, which was filmed in the eponymous island asylum that is now a luxury hotel. Depardon had been urged to film there by Franco Basaglia, the leader of the Democratic Psychiatry campaign, and the close-ups of residents left unattended to stare at the camera in desperation or grim resignation retain their awful power. Lenses were also to the fore in Reporters (1981), as Depardon filmed his Gamma colleagues and their rivals papping such public figures and celebrities as Maurice Papon, Jacques Chirac, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean Rouch and Alain Delon.

Back on the open road, Depardon wonders whether it required him to spend decades chasing the news abroad to make him sufficiently dedicated to discover his homeland. He clearly has an eye for personality, as well as the photogenic, as he poses four old men on a bench and they quote the 1930s film star Raimu in discussing olive trees, blacksmith forges and the fact they will all still be here in 20 years time, just as they are now, two decades after Depardon first snapped them. This ability to make blend into the background and allow his subjects to express themselves freely is readily evident in the extract from Faits Divers (1983), in which the members of a police medical unit chat casually about a 35 year-old doctor who had hanged himself with a hi-fi wire as they speed along the Rue Saint-Jacques in Paris.

Ever restless, Depardon headed for Mogadishu to make Une Femme en Afrique (1985), in which the camera assumed the perspective of an unseen man falling in love with Françoise Prenant during a trip to East Africa. There is a hint of jealousy in Nougaret's concession that sensuality informs every frame. But she was about to enter the story herself, as we see joyous Super-8 footage of the director and stars of Eric Rohmer's comedy, The Green Ray (1986), on which Nougaret made her debut as a sound recordist. She had already met Depardon, who had convinced her she would be perfect for a series of photographic tests, as a pretext for being with her.

Yet, no matter how smitten he might have been, work came first and Nougaret accompanied him to the Hôtel-Dieu de Paris to make Urgences (1988), which saw psychiatric patients like Marie-Thérèse entrust their stories and their fears about dying in the road like a dog after losing her parents and being abandoned by her siblings. The notion of coping with confinement recurred in Africa: How Are You With Pain (1996), as Nelson Mandela showed Depardon how he could keep silent for precisely 60 seconds because of a technique he has learned on Robben Island. By contrast, the small crowd he films in a township chant and sing with fervour, as they urge their leaders to seize the day after the collapse of apartheid.

As he lines up a shot of a diner sign featuring a giant knife and fork, Depardon admits that he finds dusk a sad time, as it makes him wonder what life is all about. He claims to prefer darkness and a cut takes us to the bowels of the Palais de Justice in Paris, as a man named Valet is interviewed by a prosecuting attorney and a young defence lawyer in Caught in the Act (1994). Neither seem very interested in his crime or his admission, as he resigns himself to prison, that he can be a bit of a rogue. Speech was just one of the sounds that Nougaret sought to meld into an ambient symphony in Paris (1998), an experimental documentary that saw Depardon hire casting director Sylvie Peyre to find him a cross-section of women who would be willing to answer a series of probing questions. In the sequence filmed at the Café le Gymnase, for example, a young woman tells her male companion how liberated she has felt since her mother died in a car crash in Le Touquet

A need to understand his changing nation prompted Depardon to make two documentaries on farming: Profils Paysans: L'Approche (2001) and Profils Paysans: Le Quotidien (2005). In between times, he returned to Chad to record stunning monochrome images of nomads on camels in the Djourab desert before making his third visit to the Palais de Justice (following Muriel Leferle, 1999) for The 10th Judicial Court: Moments of Trial (2004). The scene in which a female judge tries to convince a young man of North African descent that it is not okay to run a traffic light in order to make a drug delivery, especially when one doesn't have a driving licence. Yet, while they converse in French, it is clear they are not speaking the same language, in this typically humanist insight into the way in which the law works against ordinary people.

Over a lovely shot of a snow-covered farm in the village of Le Villaret (to which he returned for La Vie Moderne in 2008), Nougaret declares that Depardon keeps working because he has an insatiable curiosity. A flurry of images taken in America, Russia, China and an unnamed rainforest connect him to the streets of Paris, where he continues to draw inspiration as strangers go about their business without seeming to notice he is watching them.  

There is something Godfrey Reggio about this flashy sequence, which sits a touch uncomfortably alongside the bulk of Depardon's oeuvre. He has always had an eye for the mesmerising image, but his speciality is the candid coverage of the commonplace, as is made plain by the photos taken en route, which ended up in a 2010 Bibliothèque Nationale exhibition entitled `La France'. It is apt, therefore, that this blend of self-portrait and affectionate homage should end with him photographing unassuming shops in another nameless French town before he rolls up to a beach and the scene fades to white. This seeming to vanish into the landscape epitomises Depardon's approach to filming and it is hardly surprising that he proves to be such an elusive presence in his own profile. 

Yet, while this playfully soundtracked actuality should be a treat for Depardon's admirers, it is a somewhat frustrating picture. Obviously, this is a highly personal and, therefore, an inevitably selective alternative history. But, while the footage gleaned using the tried-and-trusted `listening and looking' method cogently examines the consequences of French colonialism and the workings of domestic institutions and their effect upon the populace, there is too little sense here of an evolving society. Indeed, the very detachment that makes Depardon's documentaries so compassionate and compelling counts against him here, as a sense of the man is vital to understanding his attitude to reportage and its presentation on screen.

Having taken a turn on the festival circuit, Terence Nance's An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is somewhat surprisingly given a general release. There is no denying the quirky quality of this expansion of the 2010 short, How Would You Feel?, which sits somewhere on the meta-movie scale between African-American William Greaves's Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968) and New Zealander Florian Habicht's Love Story (2010). But, while Nance's musings and meanderings are presented in an imaginative manner - as he slips between flashbacks, speeches to camera, philosophical digressions, doodles, captions, timelines, letters, phone messages and animated reveries - his tentative crush on muse and fellow film-maker Namik Minter feels more like an artistic convenience than a romantic compulsion . Consequently, this always seems more like an electronic storyboard for a work in progress than a completed project.

There's something quaintly naive about Nance's belief that he can win Minter's heart by making a filmic profession of his feelings. They have known each other too long for him simply to come out and say it. Besides, as a fellow cineaste, she is bound to appreciate the aesthetic ingenuity and integrity of his declaration, as much as the sentiments it contains. At least, that is the plan. But, finding the right filmic way to express his emotions proves every bit as difficult and he flits between confessional sequences that recall the film diaries of pioneering avant-gardist Jonas Mekas, animations (realised by a number of different artists) that evoke the offbeat spirit of Don Hertzfeldt, freewheeling encounters that owe much to the subversive vibrancy of the nouvelle vague and the kind of calculating contrivances one expects of a Charlie Kaufman script.

Essentially, this is a day in the life saga that is punctuated by Nance's hopes, fears and over-analysed recollections, as he anticipates a night out with Minter. He runs incidents and exchanges over in his head and ponders the best way to ask her if she thinks the time has come to take their relationship to the next level. But, he is haunted by a previous attempt to broach the subject (which he recorded in How Would You Feel?, which makes recurring cameo appearances here, along with snippets from Minter's film, Subtext) and is worried that he will either be permanently consigned to the friend zone or will be cast aside altogether. As he tries to make sense of his emotions, Nance recalls previous girlfriends and the fact that Minter had a lover when they first met. But in trying to convince the audience of her exceptional qualities, Nance succeeds in foregrounding his own self-deprecating charm and, thus, what was supposed to be a poetic billet doux drifts turns into a cine-selfie.

Mercifully, the good folks at the Sundance Institute convinced Nance to reduce his ramblings from around three hours to 94 minutes. But there is still a good deal of repetition, as he deconstructs material that becomes more enigmatic with each looping solipsistic ellipsis. At times, such as when he pauses proceedings to change tack, it almost seems as though he doesn't trust his chosen medium. Elsewhere, however, his insecurity extends to the audience, as he keeps up an endless narration (in conjunction with Reg E. Cathey) that forever strives to persuade the viewer to share his perspective and preoccupation. Indeed, as the line between puppyish playfulness and raw emotion blurs, there is something a little creepy about Nance's fixation, especially when he tries to manipulate situations in order to pop his question or seeks to coax Minter into confiding her opinions of him in a mirror work of her own. Thus, while this often fizzes with intricate audiovisual inspiration (thanks, as often to the shimmering digital photography of Matthew Bray and Shawn Peters as Nance's quixotic creativity), its lack of emotional maturity will frustrate as many viewers as it fascinates and, thus, this sportingly self-guying (if occasionally overly self-denigrating) rattlebag of thoughts and tableaux seems destined for the cult corner, where it more fittingly belongs.

Finally, the war in Afghanistan is depicted for the first time in a British fictional feature in The Patrol, which has been written and directed by Tom Petch, who served in the campaign with a Special Forces unit. Making the most of an obviously limited budget to convey a sense of the nightmarish reality of fighting in Helmand Province, this belongs to a tradition of combat pictures that includes James Whale's Journey's End (1930) and Leslie Norman's The Long and the Short and the Tall (1961) - which were adapted respectively from plays by RC Sheriff and Willis Hall. However, the greatest debt is owed to John Ford's The Lost Patrol (1934), which centred on a platoon being menaced in the Mesopotamian desert by an unseen Arab (and, therefore, Muslim) foe during the Great War. It's depressing that so little has changed in the intervening century, but what is most striking is that the antipathy between officers and men remains as entrenched as ever, with race and colour now being added to a cocktail of class and education that remains as potent as ever. 

In 2006, a British Army Operational Mentor and Liaison Team led by Captain Ben Righton is assigned to Operation Icarus in order to guide the Afghan National Army through a NATO-sponsored push against the Taliban. Despite expecting orders to return to base after nine days on winding desert roads that lead to remote villages that seemingly provide succour to an invisible enemy, Lieutenant Daniel Fraser receives radio confirmation that they are to remain in the field until further notice, even though supplies of food and ammunition are running low.

Black sergeant Nicholas Beveney is aware of the tensions between the officers and the other four members of the patrol: bluff Welshman Owain Arthur, cynical Londoner Nav Sidhu, taciturn northerner Alex McNally and Territorial Army rookie Oliver Mott, who is responsible for medical matters. However, the griping about the poor quality of the kit and the legitimacy and relevance of the campaign cannot change the situation and Righton tries to maintain morale by praising the efforts of the men after each seemingly futile foot incursion into a settlement or jeep excursion into the vast, empty wilderness. Arthur also does his bit by keeping up the banter, but the brothers in arms have little in common, with Sidhu seemingly having an especially large chip on his shoulder about everyone and everything.

Despite being attached to the ANA, the unit sees nothing of them and the troopers are aware that their every move is being spied on by young men on mopeds, who are forever disappearing into the distance on another errand. An American air strike is greeted with little enthusiasm, as it will simply provoke a `Terry' reprisal, which comes during the next sortie in the lightly armoured jeeps. Arthur and Sidhu pepper the horizon with fixed guns until the former's weapon jams and he is hit in the side as he tries to repair it. Mott does what he can to tend to the wound, while Fraser calls for helicopter back-up. But they have no idea of Arthur's condition as he is flown away and Righton's words that they all performed creditably ring hollow as they hunker down for the night.

The following day, they embark upon another foot patrol. But, while they speak to locals, the contact is cursory and they are clearly not winning hearts or minds. That night, they hole up in a derelict building and Sidhu and McNally divvy up Arthur's pornography and cigarettes. The same pair play football in front of some Afghan kids the next morning before supplies are dropped by plane several hundred yards from their position and this indifference to their safety intensifies the growing disillusionment among the ranks.

When they return from the day's recce, they are informed that Arthur has died of his wounds. Mott is devastated and Righton tries to convince him that he did everything he could to save him. But, as Beveney explains the next assignment, Mott announces that he is in no state to go with them and the sergeant is less than impressed when the captain first allows him to stay behind and assist the lieutenant and then refuses to let Fraser take Mott's place because his wife is about to give birth to their first child. Sidhu particularly resents the implication that he is less worthy of protection than a toff, but he takes his place to do his duty.

As they drive through a village, however, an improvised explosive device goes off under the front jeep and they are forced to fight a rearguard. Righton calls in aerial support to blow up the damaged vehicle to prevent it falling into Taliban hands and they return to their billet in low spirits. Angry at being exposed to ambush and being reliant on faulty equipment, Sidhu fires several rounds into his flak jacket to demonstrate its ineffectiveness. Righton is livid and accepts with reluctance, Beveney's insistence that the rifle went off while Sidhu was cleaning it.

The mood has scarcely improved when they set off on another foot patrol and the twitchy Sidhu nearly shoots at some taunting children. Back in their bivouac, Sidhu wonders why there are in Afghanistan and his renewed complaints about the quality of the weapons prompts Fraser to defend it and claim that Arthur died because he was too fat for his body armour. When Sidhu protests, Fraser puts him on a charge and Beveney nearly strikes him with the butt of his rifle in fury when he accuses him of failing to keep discipline among the men.

Righton intervenes and reminds Beveney and Sidhu that they have a job to do and they knuckle down for another foot patrol the following morning. It is now Day 15 of the mission and the first bit of good news comes through when Fraser learns he has become a father. Everyone congratulates him and Sidhu teases him that he thought he was a girl maker. But the realisation dawns on Fraser that he now has something important to live for and, when Sidhu, McNally and Beveney tell Righton that the time has come to pack up and go home, he concurs and declares this is not their war.

Linking the action are off-screen exchanges between Righton and an investigating officer (voiced by Petch). It is never made clear whether he is facing a court martial for disobeying orders or whether he is giving evidence to a less draconian inquiry. Either way, the Petch character (who one is left to presume has limited experience of facing the enemy) has little sympathy with Righton's plight or the decisions he made in the heat of battle. The verdict is withheld from the audience, but it does get to see a youth riding off on a moped to inform his Taliban masters of their evacuation and the pincer formed by an implacable foe and a martinet brass suggests the sense of hopelessness so many soldiers feel in the Helmand theatre.

Petch's understanding of the military mind and his familiarity with the forbidding beauty of the landscape are undoubtedly the film's strong points. Stuart Bentley's views of sandy tracts and spectacular magic hours (with Morocco standing in for Afghanistan) reinforce the isolation of the unit, while the sting of the slang gives the exchanges an air of authenticity. However, Petch is less skilled at rendering complex ethical, technical and political issues as credible dialogue, although he is not helped on occasions by the awkwardness of the delivery by a cast that is perhaps a touch too pointedly and stereotypically cosmopolitan. He also struggles to keep viewers informed of the purpose of the enterprise and the reasons for it becoming so protracted, although this may be a deliberate tactic to keep them as disorientated as the soldiers, as they repeat exercises whose futility eventually borders on the absurd.

Much more might have been made of the relationship between the British and their Afghan counterparts, as there is only one fleeting shot of an ANA recruit in the entire film (and then it is dropped in without explanation). Similarly, the debates about equipment and the motives of those who dispatched them to this perilous backwater might have been weightier and more provocative. But this is a laudable effort to expose the shortcomings of a contentious intervention and there is trenchant pathos in the lyrics to PJ Harvey's `On Battleship Hill' as the credits roll and the war drags on.