Not many film-makers hail from Luxembourg and only Anne Fontaine can claim to have been raised in Lisbon before arriving in Paris as a teenager to study dance. Despite making a promising start as an actress, she made her name as a director with three films about an unassuming everyman named Augustin that starred her brother, Jean-Chrétien Sibertin-Blanc. Two of her earliest successes came in conjunction with Charles Berling, Dry Cleaning (1997), which earned her a César nomination for Best Screenplay, and How I Killed My Father (2001). Now, she reunites with him on Reinventing Marvin, a gay rite of passage that Fontaine has scripted with Pierre Trividic without a formal acknowledgement of any debt to 21 year-old literary sensation Édouard Louis's bestseller, The End of Eddy.

As Marvin Bijoux (Finnegan Oldfield) steels himself to go on stage, we flashback to his childhood, as he is bullied at school and feels out of place at home with his coarse father, Dany (Grégory Gadebois), stressed mother, Odile (Catherine Salée), macho older brother, Gérald (Yannick Morzelle), and impish younger sibling, Remy (Timéo Bolland). On the bus to school from his country home, Marvin is shocked to see homophobic graffiti scrawled on a noticeboard and gazes at the bodies of his classmates during a swimming lesson. Indeed, he would rather daydream about kissing his bully (Oscar Pessans) than listen to Madame Carolus (Cécile Rebboah) talking about Molière. But he is taken by the new principal, Madeleine Clément (Catherine Mouchet), when she interrupts the lesson to introduce herself and warn the bad seeds that she has no intention of allowing them to flourish. 

At drama school in Épinal, Marvin edits the website as an excuse to spend time with visiting professor Abel Pinto (Vincent Macaigne) and his partner, Pierre (Sharif Andoura). They encourage him to talk about his one-man show, which has been inspired by his `bad start'. In voiceover, he recalls how his mother failed to notice any signs of distress, as he feigned illness to avoid going to school after the bully had put lipstick on his mouth and forced him to fellate him in the toilets. He rehearses the lines for his show in his bedsit and adds his father's contention that homosexuality is a mental illness before turning to face the camera and declare that he felt he couldn't be gay because he knew he wasn't crazy.

During a trip to the village fair with his parents and older sister, Vanessa (India Hair), Marvin had been so fascinated by some men dancing shirtless that he had lost sight of Rémy. Dany raves about perverts corrupting children, as they search for the boy, who has slipped into the darkened church to eat the sweets he has stolen from a stall. All hell breaks loose when they get home, with Gérald (who isn't Dany's son) accusing Odile of being a lousy mother for letting Rémy run riot and allowing Marvin to become effeminate. When Dany intervenes, he smashes a chair in frustration and Odile sobs in a corner of the kitchen, as Marvin and Rémy scamper up to bed. 

When Clément catches Marvin skiving swimming, she suggests he joins Carolus's drama workshop and is impressed when he improvises a domestic scene based on Dany and Odile's argument over some French fries. He is soon revelling in the lessons and we flash forward to Marvin moving to Paris to study drama. Abel and Pierre encourage him all the way and he often dines with them. One evening, Pierre takes him to a gay club, where Marvin attracts the attention of Roland (Charles Berling), a sophisticated older man who buys him a beer and drives him back to his luxury apartment in his open-top Jaguar. Marvin is intrigued by the fact he is the father of two sons and claims to be the son of a drug peddler and a whore. But, when Roland points the way to the bedroom, Marvin asks to leave and walks home without his face betraying any of the conflicting emotions he must be feeling.

He gets into a panic one day when Clément gives him a lift home from school and he jumps out of the car so that she can't see the chaos in which he lives. Dany is constantly complaining about a back problem, but he whizzes around the warehouse in a forklift truck and drinks into the small hours with his boorish friends. Indeed, it's this carousing that convinces Marvin to apply for drama school in Épinal and Clément coaches him to improve his enunciation. Now Marvin's lover, Roland similarly gives him a boost when he introduces him to Isabelle Huppert, who informs him that his mouth is the right shape for comedy. She asks about his show and he reveals that it explores his  connections to great man and she smiles when he claims that he shares a trait of wearing threadbare clothes with Caravaggio. 

Huppert dances with Marvin when Roland leaves a party early with a handsome Englishman. But he feels miserable and seeks solace from Abel and Pierre. However, the former is angry with him for allowing Roland to pay for expensive dental work and accuses him of becoming bourgeois and losing sight of his goal to become an actor. A flashback shows Marvin auditioning for drama school, while Clément paces nervously outside. We also see his first sexual encounter when classmate Angélique (Luna Lou) seduces him after he stands up to the woman who tried to chase the gang away for making too much noise on the street. He is chugging beer with his pals when Clément passes to let him know he has won a place at Épinal and Marvin storms home to ask Dany why he didn't give him the letter. Yet, when the time comes for him to leave, his father insists on driving him to the station and lets his affection slip in a blunt pep talk about always surrendering to immigrant muggers. 

Still struggling to find his niche in Épinal, Marvin spouts off to his new friends about how boring he found a gay-themed play with lots of nudity. But he can't keep his eyes off François (Lorenzo Lefèbvre), as he smooches at the bar with his girlfriend, in just the same way that he had periodically been bewitched by some of the young men who had attended Roland's parties. One night, he bumps into Clément, who offers him a bed for the night because she recognises that he's unhappy. She reminds him of the need to be true to himself and this thought prompts him to approach Abel after a lecture, in which he describes his ordeal being gay in a homophobic household. 

In a bid to break from part of his past, Marvin changes his surname by deed poll to Clément and, when he goes home to see Odile and Vanessa, they tell him Dany would be furious if he found out. But he has run off with a younger woman and Odile shrugs that it's not the first time he has cheated on her. As he lies in bed, Marvin gets a phone call from Huppert, who breaks the news that Roland has been killed in a car crash in Germany. He thinks back to standing on the balcony overlooking the Eiffel Tower and Roland urging him to act positively like a tightrope walker. Huppert invites him for a drink and confides that Roland had asked her to keep an eye out for Marvin, as he always felt he was the most vulnerable of his `stray cats'. 

She listens to the first draft of his play and seems more polite than enthusiastic. But she agrees to co-star as Odile in Who Killed Marvin Bijoux?, which is performed in a shallow pool of water on the stage. It becomes a hit, but Odile is upset by the media coverage and Marvin and Abel (who is alone after Pierre left him) watch her protest that she did her best for her favourite child. Marvin goes to see Vanessa, who warns him that Gérald is out to beat him with a baseball bat. She asks why he made them all look idiots in his play, but he avers that he was trying to show how they were all trapped in their poverty and preconceptions. He calls on Dany, who has moved in with his new family and gives him a warm welcome, as he is proud of Marvin for having the guts to be himself and proclaim it from the stage each night. 

In an interview in his dressing-room, Marvin says the play is based on fact, even though nothing that happens in it is real. He promises Dany a copy of his novel, but leaves it on the train when he can't bring himself to write `all my love' on the title page. Dany is surprised to see him when he calls at the depot where he now works, but gives him his wedding ring because he no longer wears it. Having watched Dany ride off on the back of a bin lorry, Marvin wanders into the countryside and gazes at the view at dusk. He turns to see his younger self sitting under a tree and they exchange reassuring smiles, as things have somehow worked out for the best.

Despite winning the Queer Lion at the Venice Film Festival, this sincere, if unsurprising saga feels intended more for the mainstream market than the LGBTQ+ niche. The narrative goes beyond the childhood depicted in the  autobiographical novel by Édouard Louis (who changed his own name from Eddy Bellegueule) that André Téchiné was once seemingly keen to adapt. But, even though Finnegan Oldfield's performance drew a Best Newcomer nomination at the Césars, he is considerably less affecting than Jules Porier as the adolescent Marvin, largely because the sequences involving his travails in the Parisian demimonde are far less interesting than those centred on his home and school.

The friendship with the intense Vincent Macaigne and the playful Sharif Andoura is based on the flimsiest kindred spiritedness, while the romance with Charles Berling feels like a pretext for introducing Isabelle Huppert, who seems curiously ill at ease playing herself and somewhat stilted repeating lines about Marvin's birth that were delivered with so much more carelessly callous affection by Catherine Salée. Odile's backstory and reaction to her son's success is fascinating and one would like to know more about her relationship with Dany Bijoux, whose surname (which is translated in the subtitles as `Jewels') is so smuttily comical that it raises a laugh whenever it's mentioned. Bewhiskered and often spilling out of his clothing, Grégory Gadebois is outstanding as the ingrained bigot who reveals a softer side after his own life improves and it's tempting to suggest that he goes on a more transformational emotional journey than Porier or Oldfield as Marvin. 

While her script essentially ducks the class issues it keeps raising en passant, Fontaine puts undue strain on editor Annette Dutertre in her determination to flit between time frames. Yet, she directs steadily, with the sequences of Oldfield writing in his room in front of back-projected reminiscences of his youth recalling the technique employed by Michael Verhoeven in The Nasty Girl (1990). But, even though Fontaine concentrates more on the characters and the storyline than on the visuals, Yves Angelo's use of antique lenses gives the imagery a chic sheen. Production designer Manu de Chauvigny also makes telling contrasts between the uncultured clutter at the Bijoux home with the designer plush of Roland's bachelor pad and the fusty formality of Abel's book-filled apartment. Thus, while it just about avoids overt cliché and caricature in striving to be even-handedly compassionate, this tends to feel careful rather than convincing.

Born in Bethlehem, raised in Saudi Arabia and educated in New York, Annemarie Jacir has emerged as a major talent in Palestinian cinema. Reuniting with Saleh Bakri for the third time after Salt of This Sea (2008) and When I Saw You (2012), she pairs him with his father, Mohammad, for Wajib, an urban road movie whose title translates as `duty' and which has much in common with Ismaël Ferroukhi's Le Grand Voyage (2004), in which another father and son aired their differences during a pilgrimage trip from Provence to Mecca. 

Having flown in from Rome for the wedding of his sister, Amal (Maria Zriek), topknotted, thirtysomething architect Shadi (Saleh Bakri) drives around Nazareth with his flat-capped father, Abu Shadi (Mohammad Bakri), to visit the family, friends and acquaintances whom tradition dictates should receive their invitations a fortnight ahead by hand. As the local radio station reveals, this is a mixed-faith town and a Christmas tree dominates the apartment of Abu Murad (Tarik Kopty), Um Murad (Monera Shehadeh) and their daughter, Maria (Lama Tatour), who serves them drinks. They inquire after Abu Shadi's health after his operation and his son reminds him that he is supposed to have given up smoking. 

But Abu Shadi gets his own back in the car by asking Shadi if he wouldn't prefer to make an honest woman of Maria rather than be shacked up in sin with Nada (whose father Abu Shadi resents because he was a globe-trotting member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation). However, Abu Shadi gets a reminder of how ill health can strike when delivering an invitation to a widow (Samia Shanan) whose husband had a heart attack at the top of the steps that have just left him out of breath. He tucks into some hummus with gusto, however, and tells Shadi not to stare at the Israeli settlers at the next table. 

They call in on Rami (Henry Andrawes) and his brood and discover Marwan (Falah Zoabi) on the sofa. As Abu Shadi hasn't included him, he sends Shadi to the car to fetch his invitation and is frustrated when he has to go downstairs to fill in a card because his son doesn't have the gumption to read between the lines. Rami asks Shadi about his medical studies and how soon he will be returning home and they are both confused when Abu Shadi returns and declares that Shadi is currently studying architecture and will return to medicine in due course. 

Having already been asked about how he likes America, Shadi is bemused by his father's insistence on retelling his life story to suit himself. But Abu Shadi shrugs that little white lies never hurt anybody and that it's always best to let people hear what they want to hear. His sensitivity does not extend to Rami's son, Salim (Sobhi Hosari), however, and Shadi tuts disapprovingly when Abu Shadi speculates about his sexuality. But the tables turn when Abu Shadi confirms that his ex-wife is coming to the wedding and asks how often Shadi speaks to his mother, who now lives in the United States. He insists he has a right to stay in touch, but Abu Shadi clearly still feels pained by the humiliation of her desertion and is glad to put Amal on speakerphone when she calls to ask how their errands are going. 

They call in on an aunt (Naheda Azzam Shorrosh) and uncle (Emil Rock) who are hoping to win the award for the best festive decorations for the third year running. Shadi is discomfited by the cage birds strutting across the back of the settee and everybody laughs when he gets pecked. However, his finger needs dressing and it juts out above the steering wheel as Abu Shadi plays a CD by wedding singer Fawzi Baloot. Shadi thinks it's awful and wishes they had hired someone else, even though this man has been performing at family functions for 40 years. He also complains about the amount of uncollected rubbish on the streets and the slowness of the traffic. But they are merely stuck behind a funeral procession and Abu Shadi is dismayed to learn from a mourner (Bahjat Odeh) that he is older than the deceased. 

This gives Shadi another opportunity to upbraid his father for his unhealthy habits. But Abu Shadi is unconcerned and orders whipped cream cappuccinos from Yousef (Ehab Bahous) and calls Amal to ask her cousin Fadya (Rana Alamuddin) to join them for lunch. However, Shadi has also been on the phone to Nada and confides that he has yet to break some bad news he will keep for the right moment. It certainly doesn't come as the Volvo enters a modern estate and Shadi is appalled to learn that his father wants to invite Ronnie Avi, the Israeli co-worker Shadi blames for his exile, as he launched an investigation into the cinema club he ran with his teenage friends. Aware that his friend holds the key to him being promoted to headmaster, Abu Shadi protests that he isn't a government spy and implies that Shadi's youthful politics were dangerously radical.

But, when Shadi gets out of the car and his father runs over a little dog in the road, he jumps back into the passenger seat and they speed away, as this isn't the neighbourhood for Palestinians to explain their way out of an accident. But they are faced with another dilemma when Salwa (Karma Zoubi) asks Shadi if he would take some of the speeding points accumulated by her slacker son, as he has no plans to return to the region after the wedding. He is even more compromised when old flame Noura (Rebecca Esmeralda Telhami) pounces on him when he knocks on her door alone while Abu Shadi has a crafty cigarette. On returning to the car, he responds to teasing about the mark on his lip by chiding his father for smoking. However, they are distracted by Fawzi Baloot calling to request an advance on his fee and Shadi sneers that a decent singer wouldn't be so strapped for cash.

Having struggled to park in a narrow street, they deliver a card to Johnny (Maneer Bakri), who lights up a cigarette before bounding to the window to argue with a neighbour who has thrown rubbish into his garden. Surprised by the vehemence of his complaint, the duo return to the Volvo to find that someone has slashed their tyres and they have to drop into the garage, where Abu Shadi gossips with owner Abu Firas (Rezik Bawardi). The older man stays in the car at the next port of call, where Shadi overhears hairdresser Um Issa (Huda Al Imam) informing her client that his mother had behaved like a lovesick girl in abandoning her family to follow her lover to America. 

Shadi has been irked by how many buildings around Nazareth have been covered in tarpaulins and despairs when his father makes him pull in at a store to buy a green sheet that he insists Amal has requested. They lunch with Asad (George Khleifi) and his lawyer daughter Fadya, who sings a traditional bridal song when Amal joins them for Asad's signature fish dish. Fadya wishes she could visit Rome, but she has moved home to care for her ageing parents and persuades Shadi to sample some red wine that friends had produced on a vineyard that had been left dormant since 1948. Taking his sister aside, Shadi asks Amal if she really wants someone as awful as Fawzi Baloot singing at her wedding, but she shrugs because it's as much their father's day as her own. 

Over lunch, they realise that the printer has put the wrong day on the invitations and, when he refuses to make good the error for free, the family sit round the table and change the wording by hand on the undelivered cards. Amal is cool about the problem, but Shadi sees it as another example of how his hometown has drifted into complacent compliance. Driving on, they get stuck in a queue at the garage, where Abu Shadi claims to be looking forward to seeing his ex-wife again because he feels ready to forgive her. Unable to conceal the truth any longer, Shadi reveals that her new husband is dying and that she will only make a decision on travelling when she gets the result of his latest scan. The news leaks out during Amal's dress fitting and she accuses her mother of being a selfish coward. But Shadi explains that she is facing widowhood and wouldn't hurt her child on purpose. 

Abu Shadi saves the situation by helping Amal decide which dress she prefers and they hug warmly. However, he refuses to see his former mother-in-law (Violette Khoury) and goes to make other deliveries while Shadi helps her with her post. She wants an engineer to fix her Internet connection, but says nothing about family matters before her grandson leaves. At the next house, neighbour Georgette (Zuhaira Sabbagh) accuses Shadi of being a Daesh terrorist and it's only while he's repairing her kitchen tap that she realises he's Abu Shadi's son. As they were classmates, she insists on giving him a tray of sweets and urges him not to be a stranger. But Abu Shadi is clearly not that pleased to see her. 

As they drive on, they get into an argument with a trader selling Christmas tat (Ahmad Bayatra) about parking outside his shop. Shadi then gets cross when his father spins a yarn about how well he is doing abroad to an old man (Elias Nicola) reading his invitation aloud. They cheer up while listening to Procul Harum's `A Whiter Shade of Pale' and reminisce about the past. Shadi tries to persuade his father that his mother hadn't planned on letting Amal down and reminds him that it took courage for her to break out of a life that was suffocating her. 

But they fall out again when Abu Shadi asks if they can finish up for the day by delivering Ronnie's invitation and they engage in a slanging match on the side of the road, as Abu Shadi accuses his son of having lost contact with his roots in thinking that ideals and conviction count for more in Palestinians getting by in Israel than courtesy and pragmatism. While Abu Shadi drives off alone, Shadi stops for a beer with old pal Norbert (Ehab Salami), who tells him how often his father boasts of his achievements. He shuffles home as dusk falls and starts making coffee in the kitchen of Abu Shadi's modest home. When his father comes home, he sits beside Shadi on the balcony and offers him a cigarette. As they light up, Shadi reveals that his stepfather has died and that his mother will probably be able to make the wedding. Relieved he'll be spared another public humiliation, Abu Shadi leans back in his chair and agrees that the balcony will look better without the tarp. 

Despite the number of high-profile acting dynasties in screen history, few fathers and sons have teamed as effectively as Mohammad and Saleh Bakri in this nuanced insight into the realities of daily life in the Palestinian enclave. Although the eavesdropped snippets of radio news sketch in some background information, Jacir deftly uses the conversations between Abu Shadi and Shadi and the incidents that occur on the road to limn the chasm between the prodigal's image of what his homeland should be like and the indweller's appreciation of how to navigate the nitty-gritties of the daily routine. 

Yet, while the primary focus falls on the father and son, this is also an astute analysis of the status of women within the Palestinian community. The unseen wife/mother is clearly a pariah for having walked out on her children. But, with the notable exception of his daddy's girl daughter, it's disappointing to see an educated man like Abu Shadi taking such a dim view of the majority of the women he meets on his travels. He attempts to interest Shadi in both Maria (whom he claims is his favourite pupil) and Fadya and bemoans the fact that cousins no longer marry, even though she has supposedly ruined her reputation by living with a man who eventually jilted her. Despite never having met Shadi's girlfriend, he dismisses her for shacking up with him and turns his nose up at Georgette's flirting because he clearly doesn't approve of women making the first move. 

As much of the action is filmed inside the Volvo or the homes of the invitees, cinematographer Antoine Héberlé is given limited opportunity to capture the landmarks of Nazareth or impart any visual intricacy. But production designer Nael Kanj works wonders with religious iconography and Christmas decorations and costumier Hamada Atallah draws a shrewd contrast between the drab colours worn by Abu Shadi and the florid mauve shirt and red trousers sported by his Europeanised son. However, Jacir takes the plaudits for her thoughtful script and understated direction and for bringing to wider attention the everyday travails of Palestinian outside the Occupied Territories.

In addition to its theatrical run, Wajib is also showing as part of the SAFAR Film Festival, which returns for a fourth year at The ICA, the British Arab Centre and the Ciné Lumière between 13-18 September. The only UK event dedicated exclusively to Arab cinema, SAFAR's focus this year falls on the influence of literature and storytelling on contemporary cinema. 

A number of classics have been revived for the 2018 programme, including Hossam El Din Moustafa's The Search (1964), an adaptation of Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz's noirish novel that stars Roshdi Abaza, Soad Hosni and Shadia in a story about a spoilt mummy's boy, who becomes involved with a Cairo journalist while searching for the rich father he has never met after his mother is arrested. Another Egyptian gem on the slate is Youssef Chahine's The Land (1969), an adaptation of Abderrahman Charkawi's homonymous novel that uses the struggle between some 1930s farmers and their landlord to explore the ramifications of defeat in the Six-Day War. And completing this retrospective triptych is Oussama Fawzi's Fallen Angels (1999), which relocates a story by Brazilian writer Jorge Amado to shabby Cairo bar, as the friends of a middle-aged man who has died from a drug overdose try to prevent his mistress from informing the Coptic Christian family he abandoned a decade earlier. 

Moving into the Maghreb, the festival also affords audiences a rare opportunity to see In the Land of Tararanni (1973), which sees directors Férid Boughedir, Hamouda Ben Halima and Hédi Ben Khalifa interpret stories from satirist Ali Douagi's influential collection, Sleepless Nights. Centring on a hairdresser's encounter with a veiled stranger (`The Lamppost'), a wife's lament about her drunken husband (`The Visit') and a man's lunchtime confession about his marital woes (`Picnic'), this trilogy of 1930s tales has been rarely seen outside its native Tunisia. The Algerian War of Independence provides the setting for Opium and the Baton (1977), Ahmed Rachedi's adaptation of a Mouloud Mammeri novel about a doctor's flight to his mountain village in a bid to escape the attentions of the French military. 

Among the newer titles on show is Ahmed Fawzi Saleh's Poisonous Roses, which has been adapted from Ahmed Zaghloul Al-sheety's 1990 reimagining of the Isis-Osiris myth. Set in the fetid backstreets of Cairo's tannery district, the story turns on the efforts of Koky to ensure that brother Ibrahim El-Nagary stays at home with mother Safaa El-Toukhy rather than migrating to join his girlfriend in Italy. In the end, Koky seeks the help of magus Mahmoud Hemada to concoct a spell to dissuade her sibling from leaving. Grittily photographed by Maged Nader, this quasi-incestuous saga may feel somewhat melodramatically contrived. But the sense of place and the plight of its residents is effectively conveyed. 

In Horses of God (2012), Nabil Ayouch shows how football-mad Abdelhakim Rachid could be persuaded to become a suicide bomber after the radicalisation of his adored brother, Abdelilah Rachid. Based on Mahi Binebine's novel The Stars of Sidi Moumen, this opens like a neo-realist account of life in a tough Casablancan neighbourhood before becoming a chilling study of the shocking ease with which the disillusioned and dispossessed can be radicalised and exploited. 

Rather than drawing on a literary source, French-Lebanese director Georges Hachem uses a film-within-a-film to explore forbidden passion in Still Burning (2016). While in Lebanon shooting a movie called Burning, director Wajdi Mouawad becomes irritated when actress lover Adila Bendimerad becomes overly aroused while shooting a love scene in a story about her divided loyalties between academic husband Rodrigue Sleiman and her Muslim lover, Rami Nihawi. But it's only when the duo are in Paris for the premiere that Bendimerad discovers that Mouawad has based the scenario on a ménage involving himself and Fadi Abi Samra, who makes his presence felt at the post-screening party. 

Turning to the documentaries on view, Koutaiba Al-Janabi's Stories of Passers Through gathers diverse footage filmed over 30 years to give voice to the many Iraqis who have been driven from their homeland during Saddam Hussein's brutal dictatorship and its aftermath. But there's a familiar feel to Zeina Daccache's Scheherazade's Diary, which sits in on the female inmates in Beirut's Baabda Prison workshopping stories from One Thousand and One Nights in much the same way that Daccache's 12 Angry Lebanese (2009) eavesdropped preparations for a performance of Reginald Rose's drama, 12 Angry Men.

Spanish cinema's golden couple have made eight films together. Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz were first paired by Bigas Luna in his raunchy comedy, Jamón Jamón (1992), but they didn't share many scenes in either Alfonso Albacete, Miguel Bardem and David Menkes's Not Love, Just Frenzy (1996), Manuel Gómez Pereira's Love Can Seriously Damage Your Health (1996), Pedro Almodóvar's Live Flesh (1997) or Ridley Scott's The Counsellor (2013). They appeared to much better effect in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) and will be seen together again in Asghar Farhadi's forthcoming Everybody Knows. But they are very much at the centre of Fernando León de Aranoa's Escobar, a biopic about Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar and his journalist lover Virginia Vallejo that has also been released under the title, Loving Pablo. 

Opening with Virginia Vallejo (Penélope Cruz) being taken into protective custody in the United States by DEA agent Shepard (Peter Sarsgaard), the action flashes back to Naples Ranch in 1981, as Pablo Escobar Gaviria (Javier Bardem) throws a party to celebrate the foundation of his philanthropic society, Medellín Without Slums, which aims to build houses for the poor people of his home city. He takes her to the Moravia neighbourhood to show how children are forced to scavenge on the giant rubbish dump and Vallejo interviews Escobar for her television show and reveals in voiceover that what she witnessed made her care only about how he used his money rather than where it came from.

Of course, Escobar is at the head of the Medellín Cartel and he takes Vallejo to a private island conference at which he divides the American cocaine market between his rivals. As she watches him at work, Vallejo admits that she found his power addictive, especially as he had sent strongarms to coerce her plastic surgeon husband into granting her a divorce. However, stunts like closing off a Florida highway to turn it into a runway for a plane making a drop attract the attention of the White House and, as Ronald and Nancy Reagan broadcast to the nation about the drug problem, a high-ranking official (Colin Salmon) gives Agent Shepard new powers to bust the Colombian cartels addling the brains of the middle class. 

As Washington and Bogota work on a treaty to make smuggling more difficult, Escobar begins to bribe politicians and informs wife Maria Victoria Henao (Julieth Restrepo) that he wants respect to go with his wealth. She orders him to end his affair with Vallejo and he promises it's over. But she is there to witness Escobar being elected as a member of the House of Representatives and is amused that he is barred from entering the chamber for the first time on 20 July 1982 because he is not wearing a tie. As Escobar teaches son Juan Pablo (Carlos Ramírez) to listen to Nancy Reagan's `just say no' message, Shepard makes himself known to Vallejo during a visit to New York and she is insulted when he asks about the nature of her relationship with Escobar. 

Back in Colombia, however, Minister of Justice Rodrigo Lara Bonilla (Simón Rivera) attacks Escobar in the House and he is furious when a newspaper prints evidence linking him to the cartels. He warns the other leaders that he intends eliminating Bonilla and there is disquiet in the ranks before he reminds his partners that they are safe only within his tent. Escobar also terrifies Vallejo over dinner by describing in graphic detail how she will be raped by units of soldiers unless she accepts his gift of a gun. She is equally taken aback when she has to broadcast news of Bonilla's assassination by one of the sicario motorcycle hitmen that Escobar trains up at the Sabañeta Ranch.

A heavily pregnant Victoria is also horrified by this development, as the Colombian government concludes an extradition treaty with the United States to clamp down on the cartels. But Escobar has gone to Panama and, on 29 May 1984. he lays down his conditions to ex-president Alfonso López Michelsen (Álvaro García) about paying off part of the national debt in return for immunity from extradition. When Michelsen says he can't dictate terms to Washington, Escobar warns him that a war will follow that will have grave consequences for the country. Despite having just fathered a daughter with Victoria, he also slips back to Bogota to check up on Vallejo and chide her for not carrying her weapon. 

A bloody conflict breaks out, with sicarios being picked off by government hit squads and the cartels responding by arming people in the slums and jamming the phone lines when the CIA help set up a special bugging system. However, Vallejo is also a casualty of the war, as she is fired by her station and furiously threatens her boss with a reprisal before calming down during a meeting with Shepard. She flirts with him when he tells her that she has been tainted by her liaison and they are both spooked when a waiter informs them that their bill has been paid and Shepard rushes out to brandish a gun at a car parked outside the hotel. 

Vallejo phones Escobar and urges him to leave her alone because he has ruined her life. But the net is beginning to close around the cartels, with financial guru Abel Monje (Quique Mendoza) being gunned down in his car and Escobar himself being forced to flee the bed of his teenage mistress when helicopters hover over his jungle hideaway. So, he retaliates with a bombing campaign that includes the midair implosion  of a plane carrying two American passengers. Shepard tries to persuade his superiors to invoke a clause that would allow US forces to invade and eliminate Escobar on a national security basis. But Colombian diplomat Ignacio Velarde (Joavany Alvarez) and lawyer Ignacio Castro (Santiago Soto) surprise Shepard by negotiating surrender terms that would allow Escobar to serve a reduced sentence in relative comfort in Medellín's La Catredal prison. 

As he arrives by chopper on 19 June 1991, the authorities put the finishing touches to his quarters, from which he will continue to run his business without fear of extradition. Professional footballers are bussed in for kickabouts, while Escobar parties into the night with scantily clad women who depart as his wife and daughter arrive. When Manuela (Hannah L'Hoeste) asks him to prove he can go where he likes by taking her for an ice-cream, Escobar pops her on his shoulders and reaches a car in the compound before a combination of armed guards and a worried Victoria persuade him to return indoors. 

Meanwhile, having failed to reinvent herself in Miami, Vallejo is having to sell her belongings to survive. Even though she keeps moving, however, she continues to receive threatening phone calls and decides to visit Escobar to ask for his help. When he refuses to give her $80,000 to relocate to Europe, she threatens to squeal about what she has witnessed. But he disowns her for daring to mention Victoria's name and she sobs in terror at having made such a foolish mistake. That said, she gets off lightly compared to a couple of cartel leaders, who have their arms severed by chainsaw after Escobar accuses them of withholding funds. 

This outrage prompts the government to transfer him to a military prison on 21 July 1992. However, Escobar anticipates their plans and switches off the current to the perimeter fence and cuts his way out. But the butchering of Santoro (Óscar Jaenada) turns the other cartel leaders against Escobar and the government is able to utilise rival henchmen to conduct a counter-offensive against anyone associated with Escobar. Even Vallejo is targeted and she is grateful to the reinforced glass in a pawn shop for keeping two thugs at bay. No longer safe anywhere, she agrees to co-operate with Shepard and tells him to prevent Victoria and the children from leaving Colombia, as they are his weak spot. 

As the authorities had already sanctioned a flight to Germany, Shepard has to work fast to get them to turn the plane back to Bogata. Escobar is furious when he sees them being marched across the tarmac at the airport and phones them in their closely guarded hotel room on 2 December 1993. Naturally, the phone is bugged and a detector van scours the streets before picking up a signal in the Los Olivos district. Vallejo describes in voiceover the thrill of anticipation that fishermen feel while dangling the bait and she explains how the fish usually bites even though it knows there's a hook on the end of the line. Escobar seems aware that he is risking all by calling back to speak to Pablo and Manuela and he is gunned down by troops storming his hideout as he tries to make a rooftop escape via an upper-storey window. 

Gazing out of a window in a room close to where Victoria and her kids are flinching at the sound of triumphant gunfire, Vallejo thinks back to telling Shepard that Escobar had asked her to tell his story, but had failed to stipulate to whom. But this smug sign-off rather sums up the tone of this disappointing biopic, which does little to distinguish it from such other movie variations on the theme as Ted Demme's Blow (2001), Andrea Di Stefano's Paradise Lost (2014), Brad Furman's The Infiltrator (2015) and Doug Liman's American Made (2017). However, it hardly helps that Escobar's exploits have also been covered in TV series like Pablo Escobar, The Drug Lord (2012) and Narcos (2015), as well as such documentaries as Steven Dupler's Pablo Escobar: King of Coke (1998), David Keane's The True Story of Killing Pablo (2002), Jorge Granier's Pablo of Medellin (2007), Nicolas Entel's Sins of My Father (2009), Michael and Jeff Zimbalist's The Two Escobars (2010) and Alessandro Angulo's Los Tiempos de Pablo Escobar (2012).

Drawing on Virginia Vallejo's 2007 memoir, Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar, León De Aranoa struggles to present the action from her perspective and presumes far too much foreknowledge on the viewer's behalf. Moreover, he leaves large gaps in the chronology, with the leap from the mid-80s to 1991 feeling particularly jarring. Only four of the numerous characters are anything more than ciphers and, then, neither Peter Sarsgaard's Shepard nor Julieth Restrepo's Maria Victoria Henao is that well rounded. Similarly, Penélope Cruz (bearing her usual resemblance to Sophia Loren) is asked to be little more of a clothes horse who sports a variety of period hairstyles and occasionally slips into an emotional meltdown. Even Javier Bardem - who worked with the director to much better effect in Mondays in the Sun (2002) - finds it difficult to unearth Escobar's human side beneath his charismatic brutality, as he thrusts out his pot belly and hisses Hispanic oaths that require subtitles while the bulk of the often tin-eared dialogue is delivered in English. 

While it's suitably glossy, Alex Catalán's photography is rather perfunctory. But Alain Bainée's production design and Ma Dolores García Galeán and Wanda Morales's costumes are markedly more impressive, as is Nacho Ruiz Capillas's editing during the many action montages. Federico Jusid's score also confidently complements the fine selection of jukebox tunes that includes Dean Martin's `Let It Snow' and Santana's `Black Magic Woman'. But this scarcely feels like a story that required another retelling and such is León De Aranoa's lack of dash and daring that not even the gamely committed Bardem and Cruz can elevate it.

After its well-earned summer break, CinemaItaliaUK returns to the Regent Street Cinema in Central London tonight with a screening of Giada Colagrande's Padre, which will be followed by a Q&A session with the director and her husband co-star, Willem Dafoe, who has just won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival for his performance as Vincent van Gogh in Julian Schnabel's At Eternity's Gate. 

Colagrande opened the same festival in 2002 with her debut feature, Open My Heart, which she followed by collaborating with Dafoe on Before It Had a Name (2005) and A Woman (2010). She teamed with Dafoe again on Bob Wilson's Life & Death of Marina Abramovic (2012), an operatic take on the Serbian performance artist's biography that led to her reuniting with Colagrande on The Abramovic Method (2013). Now, Abramovic plays Colagrande's mother in a deeply personal study of loss, legacy and the afterlife.

Wandering the cloisters of a monastery, Giulia Fontana (Giada Colagrande) reads a letter from her late father, the composer Giulio Fontana (Franco Battiato). With her mother (Marina Abramovic) travelling in India, Giulia has to host the funeral alone, although friends James Verdun (Willem Dafoe) and Carlo (Carlo Guaitoli) do what they can to help. She is frustrated because Giulio's doctor, Claudio (Claudio Colombo), refuses to reveal the cause of her father's death and Giulia senses his presence during the drinks party in the family home. 

As Chapter One, `Everyone Has an Inner Master, Who Remains Silent Until Roused' begins, Giulia retires to bed with her cat, Colombo. But they are disturbed by the sound of the piano being played downstairs and Giulia is spooked when the instrument falls silent when she opens the music room door. Closing the lid of the piano, she feels both confused and comforted. She tells her mother what happened during a Skype chat, in which the older woman tries to convince Giulia that she feels sorry for her while still despising her father. He appears at the keyboard later in the morning and turns to smile at Giulia as she watches from the kitchen. 

She is working on a theatrical production with James about influential women that involves portraits being flashed on a screen at the back of the stage and a gong sounding above a piano accompaniment as actresses glide into the spotlight to announce a name. As if aware of the earnest pomposity of the piece, Giulia suppresses a smile as James reminds the cast of Martha Graham's theory of movement. However, she feels scared when a wisp passes across the wall when she returns to her apartment and is drawn into the studio to begin playing a tune she has never heard before. 

We see Giulio superimposed over his daughter as she plays and Giulia lurches forward in pain as he appears to depart her body. She calls James, who recognises the music as `Indian Moon', Giulio's last composition, which only he and pianist Carlo have heard. He is puzzled by Giulia's story, as he knows she can't play the piano, and promises to help her make contact with Giulio's spirit. Preparing to sleep, Giulia sees the spectral form shoot along a wall and Colombo stirs on the bed. She turns on the TV to see Gary Cooper and Ann Harding discussing shared dreams in Henry Hathaway's monochrome melodrama, Peter Ibbetson (1935), and feels less than reassured. 

In Chapter 2, `The Physical Senses Hide Things Until One Can Bear Their Sight', James asks his cast to show him what they have prepared for the show. Gemma (Gemma Carbone) performs a mime/dance of Queen Christina of Sweden removing her crown on the day of her abdication, while Annalisa (Annalisa Canfora) does a monologue based on her mother's recitation of the rosary. Giulia watches on from the lighting desk before heading home. She tries to compose herself and wanders into Giulio's study, where she finds a book with a passage about a dying person merely stepping into the next room. Moving into the library, she stretches out her arms, as if inviting Giulio to guide her, and she feels compelling to take a book from the shelves. Inside, she finds a letter that her father had written to someone who had been helping him find peace and contentment in a chaotic world.

Back at the theatre, Esther (Esther Elisha) follows a clip from a documentary about Maya Deren with a trance dance inspired by her priestess grandmother's devotion to the love goddess, Erzulie. That night, James walks Giulia home and she plays him a song by Argentine poet Alfonsina Stormi that would be suitable for the show. She reveals that Stormi committed suicide by walking into the sea and asks James why Giulio left her a farewell letter if he didn't kill himself and simply died of `nothing', as Dr Claudio insists. After James leaves, Giulia feels un-alone again and a shape passes over the door when she turns out the light.

Following grainy footage of figures trudging across the desert, we come to Chapter 3, `Inner Calm Separates the Essential From the Superfluous, It Opens the Soul to the World of Souls'. At the theatre, Giulia and James watch a long-haired dancer (Eleonora Chiocchini) perform a routine combining stillness and abrupt movement before he escorts her across Rome. Once again, Colombo miaows to alert Giulia to a presence that crosses the room and prompts her to find another letter that she reads over footage of whirling Sufi mystics. As she turns off the light, she seems to see Giulio standing in a corner and she whispers for him to stay. 

More footage of Maya Deren follows, in which she gives her reasons why women should make fine artists. Alice (Alice Colombo) takes to the stage to show her video, `Walk in the Sky'. which plays behind her, as she sits in cross-legged silhouette. Ale (Alessandra Cristiani) then contributes a piece inspired by Ruth St Denis's Indian dances. That evening, the company gathers at Giulia's place to watch videos of dervishes and modern dances inspired by their rituals. Carlo reveals that Giulio had shown him the clips to help him understand that musical inspiration can come from anywhere. 

James pays a second visit to an unseen man to consult him over Giulia's visions. He suggests she is losing interest in making contact with her father, but his companion insists that Giulio is guiding her towards the truth. However, at the start of Chapter 4, `Free From Illusion, New Motives Develop for Every Act and Thought', Giulia seems to be experiencing all manner of ethereal phenomena. Her father appears to protect her from a spectral couple who enter her bedroom during the night before she has a red-tinted vision during a meditation session of a fortune-telling aunt (Susana Schimperna) explaining how time continues for the living and the dead and that some have the power to see loved ones after they pass.

In Chapter 5, `Thoughts Do Not Contain Simple Shadows, Hidden Beings Speak Through Them', Giulia sits beside Carlo on the stage to sing a heartfelt song (whose lyrica are infuriatingly untranslated in the subtitles), as four of the actresses circle slowly around Ale, as monochrome footage plays on the screen behind them (from Bill Viola's Acceptance, 2008) of water cascading off the naked body of a middle-aged woman. Alone at home, Giulia Skyes with her mother, who discusses her fasting regimen. As she signs off, the illuminated globe on a nearby table spins of its own accord. Looking up, Giulia sees her aunt sitting on the sofa and calls her friend, Cristina (Cristina Spina), to arrange a meal together. She wanders into the study and, as Colombo sits on the chaise longue staring at a family that has materialised on the other side of the room, Giulia sees her father in his desk chair. But he refuses to answer her and vanishes when she reaches out to touch him. As she sinks into the chair, she sees a calling card for Lignarius Restorers and she wanders out of the room.

In Chapter 6, `Until a Feeling Opposes Them, the Beings of the Silent World Remain Silent', Giulia goes to the address on the card and is given a brief tour of the workshops, in which students are restoring a variety of artefacts. That night, as she peels an orange in the kitchen, she is confronted by four ghosts, who stare at her with melancholic intensity and she looks from Colombo to the strangers and tries to smile. 

Convinced the answer lies at Lignarius, Giulia begins Chapter 7, `One Must Be Able to See Spiritually to Become Conscious in the Invisible World', in a restaurant opposite the showroom. She sees a steady stream of people arriving and crosses the road to find that the door has been left conveniently unlocked. Everyone parts in the corridor to let her pass, as James and Carlo show her into a room, in which the previously unseen man (Davide Colombo) is sitting. He takes her hand and channels Giulio's energy so that he can implore her to let him go and, reassured that he will still be there for her, she nods in assent. 

Inspired by Colagrande's own experiences following the death of her father, this is such a personal film that it sometimes feels like an intrusion to watch Giulia struggling to come to terms with her loss and accept directions towards the path forward. Her guidance comes from extracts taken from letters written by the alchemist Paolo Lucarelli. But those not on Colagrande and co-scenarist Claudio Colombo's wavelength are going to struggle to navigate their way through this dense and sometimes impenetrable maze of spiritual, cultural and supernatural concepts and symbols. Others may be left cold by the performance pieces, which don't always readily seem to reflect Giulia's journey and can seem a little precious.

Colagrande is suitably vulnerable as the daughter deep in mourning, while Dafoe remains imposingly inscrutable as both her director and confidante. Composer Franco Battiato is unsettlingly effective as the departed father, but mention should also be made of Colombo the cat, whose reactions to the ectoplasmic manifestations are astonishingly authentic. In truth, budgetary constraints mean that the special effects are rather feeble, but they help sustain the atmosphere achieved by Tomasso Bergstrom's photography and Cristina Flamini's stately editing. Anyone who has lost a loved one will appreciate Colagrande's pain. But, one suspects that her film will speak to a smaller constituency.

Screening on Sunday at the Genesis, Valerio Attanasio's Il Tuttofare/The Handyman is far more accessible. Graduating to the director's chair after co-scripting Gianni Di Gregorio's The Salt of Life (2011) and Sydney Sabilia's I Can Quit Whenever I Want (2014), Attanasio reveals a sure comic touch in creating a relishable rotter for Sergio Catellitto, whose performance has been compared to those of Alberto Sordi in Luigi Zampa's Il vigile (1960), Vittorio Gassman in Il sorpasso (1962) and Ugo Tognazzi in the `La giornata dell'onorevole' episode of I mostri (1963), which were both directed by the peerless Dino Risi. 

Flashing back from an execution on a beach, the action begins with Antonio Bonocore (Guglielmo Poggi) recalling how he came to sit the bar exam in the hope of emulating the success of his tutor and legal eminence, Salvatore Toti Bellastella (Sergio Castellitto). His father, Mario (Tonino Taiuti), is convinced that Bellastella is exploiting his son by hiring him as an unpaid intern. But Antonio loves his work, even though he has to commute each morning from Mario's failing farm in the outskirts of Rome and has to pick up Bellastella's groceries en route to the courtroom. 

Fellow novice Mariano (Luca Avagliano) has been filling in for him at the trial of Sasà `The Shark' Malaspina (Roland Litrico), the son of Sicilian mobster Totonno Malaspina (Mimmo Mignemi), who has been accused of embarking upon a killing spree to regain control of his territory. In order to take the wind of the prosecutor's sails, Antonio feigns a heart attack and an actor playing a doctor persuades the judge to call an adjournment so that Bellastella can rush his protégé to hospital. Mariano is bemused by such underhand tactics, but Antonio has nothing but admiration for his boss and thinks nothing about dropping to his knees (along with other underlings on the university course) to tie his mentor's shoelace.

He even cooks lunch for him in his chambers, although Bellastella's formidable wife, Tiziana Mandorlini (Elena Sofia Ricci), detests the smell of food in the office that she inherited from her rich and powerful father. She keeps her husband firmly under her thumb and is reluctant to offer Antonio a contract, even when he discovers that he has just come fifth out of 5000 in the bar exam. Bellastella takes Antonio to a classical concert and uses his influence with the minister he has just rescued from an underage sex scandal (Enzo Provenzano) to secure him a teaching post at the university. But he has an ulterior motive for taking Antonio under his wing and offering a €10,000 monthly contract, as he also wants him to help his Argentinian mistress, Isabel Fernandez (Clara Alonso), get her citizenship papers by contracting a marriage of convenience.

Appalled by the request, Antonio storms home and tells Mario that he lacks the ruthlessness to be a top lawyer. However, when he arrives at the office next morning, Antonio is dismayed to find that Bellastella is considering giving the post to Baldini (), the natural son of a Catholic archbishop. Calling him by various names beginning with `A' (because he can't be bothered to remember the real one), Bellastella talks Antonio into marrying Isabel, who arrives for the civil ceremony bursting out of an ill-fitting pink dress and pregnant. But this isn't the last surprise of the day, as Antonio discovers that he will be sharing an apartment in which Bellastella keeps the stash of art treasures he has been given by various mob leaders in return for legal favours. 

In order to boost Antonio's profile, Bellastella seeks to find him a suitable case to make a media splash. Instead, he appears before the press with scratches on his face after The Shark responds badly to the plan to spring him from prison by arranging for him to have a sex change and be placed in a lower-security women's facility. Despite the fact that Bellastella is clearly using him, Mario is so seduced by Antonio's salary that he declares him a positive influence and wipes away a tear when he sees his son on the television news. However, he doesn't know about Isabel or the fact that Totonno has sent Bellastella a bullet in the post to expedite his son's release or that the tax authorities are threatening to conduct an investigation into his finances. 

Mario soon learns part of the truth when Bellastella is arrested for a €22 million tax fraud and Isabel is forced to move to the farm after the police raid her apartment. Despite these setbacks, Bellastella insists the prosecutor is victimising him to get some headline publicity and that everything will soon be back to normal. But Antonio isn't so sure and he is genuinely unnerved when The Shark (who has developed breasts because of his hormone injections) is getting impatient about his escape. However, he now has the added problems of Isabel carrying twins and he mother, Doña Maria (Marcela Serli), arriving in Italy to form a chorus of disapproval with Mario, who has changed his tune about Bellastella. 

Bailed into Titti's care, Bellastella returns to the office and takes Antonio to one side. He reveals that he isn't the father of Isabel's twins, as he is infertile, and wants to wash his hands of her to pursue the daughter of an influential judge. Maria is furious when she learns that Isabel has been lying to her and Mario takes her side, leaving Antonio exasperated that nobody seems to care that he has been saddled with a marriage and mounting debts and has no easy route out of either quandary. 

Things take a turn for the worse, however, when Bellastella blanks out in court while requesting a transfer for The Shark (who is now called Simona). He walks out of the building and Titti arrives to find him resting on Antonio's lap on a park bench. She informs him that her husband had begun manifesting the first signs of Alzheimer's in jail and she reveals that she plans to close the firm to focus on nursing her spouse. This leaves Antonio in the mire, however, as he will have the Malaspina clan on his back and he has no idea how to proceed in the case. 

Convinced he's being followed home on the bus by gangsters, Antonio assaults the armed men chatting to Isabel, Maria and Mario when he gets back to the farm. Unfortunately, they are police officers and Antonio is given an eight-month suspended sentence for resisting arrest. He also gets slapped when he suggests that Isabel aborts her twins. But the henchman sent by the Malaspinas to abduct Antonio hits a lot harder and he wakes in the back of a van, where Totonno orders him to cut a deal with the rival Gambino clan to prevent a turf war and ensure a reduction in Simona's sentence. 

With Mario, Maria and Isabel being held hostage, Antonio flies to Palermo, where he meets Gambino (Domenico Centamore) and his lawyer, Favuso (Giuseppe Ragone). He offers them 10% of certain Malaspina businesses and threatens to leave when Gambino demands 20%. Frogmarched to the beach to be shot (as in the opening scene), Antonio thinks quickly and suggests it might be possible to form a partnership with another hood who runs drugs through Albania. Gambino seems satisfied with this suggestion and flies to Rome to sign the necessary documents with Totonno. But he makes the mistake of mentioning Simona's sex change and a gun battle breaks out that sends Antonio scarpering inside the villa. He finds his father and steals a car to get Isabel to the hospital because the stress has prompted her to go into labour two months early. 

Desperate for money, Antonio goes to see Titti. She is discussing leniency in the fraud trial with the tame minister and assures Antonio that she is not bound by any of her husband's reckless promises. But he discovers that Bellastella is faking his condition and gets arrested for chasing him across the lawn during a drinks party for bigwigs and dignitaries. Both men are jailed and committed to house arrest. However, while Antonio is confined to the farm and can only find work as a chef, Bellastella is allowed to live in luxury on Capri and becomes Minister of Justice on his release. 

Once upon a time, this kind of comedy would have been snapped up for a Hollywood remake. Nowadays, it's hard to think who could assume the roles that 30 years ago would have perfectly suited Al Pacino and Matthew Broderick. But that's partly because Sergio Castellitto and Guglielmo Poggi so enter into the spirit of this madcap satirical farce that they make the characters their own. Poggi is splendidly fresh-faced as the innocent tossed into the deep end and left to sink or swim, but Castellitto gives one of the best performances of his career as the hilariously unscrupulous academic-cum-advocate who regards the law as an inconvenience to be abused and bypassed as he sees fit. 

From the opening notes of Aldo De Scala Pivio's chic score, this feels securely grounded in the traditions of the commedia all'italiana that dominated cinema in the post-neorealist 60s. Attanasio's script is certainly up to the standards set by such writers as Age & Scarpelli, Suso Cecchi d'Amico and Sergio Amidei, while the pace and panache of his direction suggests that he has studied plenty of Dino Risi and Mario Monicelli movies. Some of the mob-related scenes are a bit too broad, while there's a whiff of chauvinism in the depiction of the female characters. But Ferran Paredes's camerawork and Giuseppe Trepiccione's editing are as sharp as Andrea Cavelletto's costumes (with her selection of jackets for Poggi being particularly neat) and the canny contrasts in the urban and rustic interiors designed by Luva Servino.

A few weeks ago in the DVD column, we discussed Adam Rifkin's The Last Movie Star, which was written specifically for the late Burt Reynolds to guy his good ol' boy image. But first-time scenarists Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja pay more respectful tribute to Harry Dean Stanton in Lucky, which marked the directorial debut of John Carroll Lynch, who will be familiar to many as Frances McDormand's husband in the Coen classic, Fargo (1994). In what turned out to be his last picture, Stanton was joined on the 18-day shoot by several august members of the character actors' union and he clearly revelled in playing a role that alluded to so many of his past performances. But, while it affords the 89 year-old a fitting showcase for his distinctive talent, this is a tad too slender and mannered to be more than a passing pleasure. 

Having performed his morning routines, including some yoga exercises in his smalls, Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton) walks steadily through his rundown Arizona town to the diner, where Joe (Barry Shabaka Henley) chides him about his smoking, Loretta (Yvonne Huff) serves him creamy coffee and waitress Pam (Pam Sparks) helps him with the first of the day's crosswords. Popping in to buy milk from Bibi (Bertila Damas), he goes home to watch his quiz shows on TV and phone a friend to help him with the peskier clues in his puzzle. 

Fascinated by the concept of realism, he goes to the bar owned by Elaine (Beth Grant) and discusses the dictionary definition with barman Vincent (Hugo Armstrong) and Elaine's beau, Paulie (James Darren), They are interrupted by the arrival of Howard (David Lynch), who is concerned because his 100 year-old tortoise, President Roosevelt, has gone missing. The others tease him about it, but Lucky is sympathetic, even though he wouldn't have a pet himself and lambastes Paulie when he says that animals are good for the soul.

Rising next morning, Lucky is bewitched by the flashing red 12:00 on his coffee maker and collapses. Dr Christian Kneedler (Ed Begley, Jr.) can find no physical reason for the episode and tells Lucky that he is remarkably fit for a drinking smoker of his age and that he should accept that getting old is all part of an inevitable process. Lucky rejects the idea of a home help and is nonplussed whe Kneedler gives him a lollipop for being a good boy, Nevertheless, he sucks it, as he sighs at the prospect of his unstoppable decline. 

Peeved that some kids are sat in his spot at the diner, Lucky refuses to let Joe and his staff fuss over him because of his health scare and he storms out. Bibi invites him to her son's 10th birthday party - Lucky calls him Juan Wayne (Ulysses Olmedo) - and he says he'll see how he feels on Saturday. Back home, he calls his buddy to regale him with an anecdote about shooting a mockingbird with a misfiring BB gun when he was a kid and he still feels sad when he thinks of the silence he inflicted on the world with his careless action. 

In the bar that night, Lucky mocks Vincent when he tries to interest him in watching Deal or No Deal. But he completely loses his rag when he sees Howard talking to lawyer Bobby Lawrence (Ron Livingston), who is attempting to sell him life insurance. When Lawrence fails to show any regret for the fate of President Roosevelt while Howard describes how he has carried his coffin on his back for his entire life, Lucky challenges him to a fist fight and goes outside to wait for him. Paulie comes out to persuade him to forget the beef and go home. But, knowing that Paulie is a reformed party animal, Lucky follows him to the flashy club across the road and looks down the stairs into its red-tinted interior. 

Waking with a jolt, Lucky rises to phone his pal. But it's too early in the morning for him to answer and, as Johnny Cash's `I See a Darkness' plays on the soundtrack, Lucky stubs out a half-smoked cigarette and looks frail and afraid as he huddles under the blankets. When he doesn't show up at the diner, Loretta comes to his remote bungalow to check up on him. He is watering a plant in wellington boots and his underwear and she insists on coming inside to sit with him for a while. They smoke a joint and watch pianist Liberace on TV and Loretta is taken aback when Lucky reveals that he helped him see that it doesn't matter who you sleep with if you have talent. When he confides that he's scared, however, she gives him a hug before heading back for her shift. 

Now occupying a booth at the diner, Lucky tells Joe about an adolescent panic attack when he was alone at his aunt's place. He asks Joe if he ever wonders about the time before he was born, but he is distracted when Lawrence comes in for a coffee. The lawyer tries to make small talk and Lucky tells him he prefers awkward silences. But Lawrence persists and they get chatting after Lucky tells him about his fall. Having narrowly missed hitting a garbage truck a few years back, Lawrence claims to know how he feels. However, Lucky sees through his ruse when Lawrence explains about making provision for his demise and wonders how saving his family the worry about paying for his cremation will benefit him because he'll be dead. 

Ordinarily on his way home, Lucky stops to shout abuse through the door of a yellow-fronted store. Today, he's distracted by Fiona, a dog chained up outside a pet shop. The female owner shows him round and he inquires about mockingbirds and tortoises before taking an interest in a box of crickets that are sold as reptile food. That night, having played a mournful version of `Red River Valley' on his harmonica, Lucky settles down to sleep with the crickets he has bought to spare them a grisly fate chirruping on the bedroom blind.

Next day at Joe's, Lucky spots ex-Marine Fred (Tom Skerritt) and they trade Second World War stories. Lucky had been a cook on an ammunition ship that had escaped a collision with a kamikaze plane when small arms fire killed the pilot. Fred remembers the locals flinging themselves off the cliffs on a liberated island because the Japanese had warned them that the Americans would rape and kill them. One small girl had popped out of a foxhole with a broad smile and Fred had commented to a colleague that someone was pleased to see them. But he learned she was a Buddhist who had somehow summoned joy at the prospect of death. The two men sit in silence and reflect on what they had seen and those who didn't survive to chinwag in a backwater diner. 

Seizing the moment, Lucky sets the timer on his coffee maker and goes to Juan's birthday party. As a Mariachi band plays in the garden and the boy whacks a stick across a piñata donkey, Bibi introduces him to her mother, Victoria (Ana Mercedes), who is delighted that he speaks a little Spanish. Lucky looks on as the guests serenade Juan and he blows out the candles on his cake. But he surprises everyone when he launches into a tremulous rendition of the Mexican folk song, `Volver Volver', and the band stand behind him to provide accompaniment, as everyone joins in with the chorus and gives Lucky a warm round of applause at the end. 

Still feeling a warm glow, Lucky heads to the bar. Howard reveals that he has realised that his tortoise hasn't left him but has merely gone off to do something important and will return if it suits him. Lucky goes to smoke and Elaine threatens to bar him for breaking the rules. He denies being ejected from another watering hole for the same offence and gets into an argument with Elaine about rules not mattering when the universe disappears into a state of `ungatz' nothingness. Everyone pauses for a second at the magnitude of his utterance before Elaine smiles wrily, as Lucky lights up and wanders outside after taking a single defiant drag. 

On his morning constitutional the next day, Lucky pauses in front of the yellow arch and we see it's the bar from which he's been banned. He shrugs as the sprinklers come on and cascades over a statue in the courtyard. Wandering into the scrubland, Lucky pauses in front of a large cactus and turns to the camera to smile. As he wanders off, President Roosevelt pads into shot and continues on a progress that may still have another century to go. 

Harry Dean Stanton could not have wished for a better way to end his remarkable career and he responds to this plum role with an affecting display of tetchy vulnerability. He is splendidly supported by a self-effacing ensemble and by John Carroll Lynch's knowing direction. Yet, while this considered saga is never anything less than engaging and accomplished, it somehow feels like the pilot episode of a quirky sitcom that is destined to be cancelled after its second season. 

There are undeniable truths about mortality, remembrance, regret and community in the screenplay and the manner in which Stanton stumbles towards them is often affecting. But, despite the well-drawn characterisation, there are also sequences that seem to have been included to give each member of the supporting cast their chance to shine. The encounters with Ron Livingston's unctuous insurance peddler are particularly strained, as does James Darren's account of how Beth Grant plucked him from the jaws of self-destruction. But Ed Begley's medical consultation, Yvonne Huff's doobie call and Tom Skerritt's combat reminiscence ring gently true and chime in more naturally with Stanton's gradual coming to terms with his past, present and future. 

Photographed by Tim Suhrstedt with a poise and clarity that reinforces the sleepiness of the town and immediacy of Stanton's realisations, the action is edited with a shambling grace by Slobodan Gajic that finds echo in Elvis Kuehn's score. Almitra Corey's interiors are also impeccably designed. Yet one line stands out. As Stanton sits in Begley's surgery, an old woman played by Otti Feder shuffles across the waiting-room on a Zimmer frame. She plonks herself down in a chair and glares at Stanton before hissing a single word `Why?'

Ever since drunk driver Robert Montgomery was banged away for manslaughter in George Hill's The Big House (1930), numerous prison pictures have centred on the experiences of `innocents' in the university of life. Now, containing echoes of Alan Clarke's Scum (1979), Jacques Audiard's A Prophet (2009) and Craig Viveiros's Ghosted (2011), Frank Berry's Michael Inside follows a gullible 18 year-old into the cells in order to compare his experiences behind bars and those on his rundown Dublin housing estate. Researched and workshopped in conjunction with the Pathways rehabilitation service, this carefully made drama shares a setting with Berry's documentary, Ballymun Lullaby (2011), and a lead with his excellent dramatic debut, I Used to Live Here (2014), for which Berry had plucked Dafhyd Flynn off the streets to play the bullied kid who tries to console 13 year-old Jordanne Jones, as she contemplates suicide following the death of her own mother and a popular local boy.

With his mother dead from an overdose and his father Christy (Shane Lynch) in jail, Michael McCrea (Dafhyd Flynn) lives with his grandfather, Francis (Lalor Roddy), on an estate on the rougher outskirts of Dublin. When not at school, Michael smooches with his girlfriend, Orla Kerr (Hazel Doupe), and hangs out with a bunch of likely lads who do a little dealing on the side. Unfortunately, while he's holding a stash for one of his pals (Leroy Harris), Michael gets busted and Francis fears that he will go to prison because he refuses to name names. 

Upset at being dumped by Orla, whose father is furious that she is associating with such a lowlife when she's only 16, Michael pleads guilty on the advice of solicitor Larry Walsh (Sam McGovern) in the hope of getting a non-custodial sentence. Francis wants to mention that Michael was bullied by a teacher at school, but he refuses to court sympathy. However, he is scared by the prospect of going inside and Francis suggests he visits his father for some advice. He ticks him off for being so foolish, but urges him to keep his head down and keep out of trouble. Anything but reassured, Michael feels sick in the night. But Francis tells him to go back to bed because he's not a kid any longer.

This is patently untrue, however, and he puts on a brave face as he hugs his grandfather before they leave for court. Despite Michael losing his mother to drugs, Justice Conroy (Ally Ni Chiarain) takes into account the fact he is on probation for having been a passenger in a stolen car and she decides to give him a short, sharp shock with a three-month sentence. A tear rolls down Michael's cheek as he hears the verdict and Francis grimaces at having let the boy down, as he rides the bus to his empty home. 

Taken down, Michael is kept in a blue-lit holding cell, where various old lags tease him with a degree of protective affection before he is led away in double handcuffs. Arriving at the prison, Michael is made to strip and shower after being frisked and photographed. He is given his uniform and placed in a holding cell overnight before being moved to his new wing after visiting Governor Lally (Steve Blount), who asks if he feels threatened by any of the drug gang he let down. Unaware of the fact that Francis has been ordered to pay €2000 compensation for the lost cocaine by Dermot Horgan (Robbie Walsh), Michael answers in the negative. But he manages to fall foul of the abrasive Sean Quinn (Terry O'Neill) during his first visit to the exercise yard by providing a vague response on being asked where he lives. 

As Francis clears out his savings and borrows money from pal Des Moran (Gerry Grimes), Michael gets beaten in his cell and both his cellmate Ray Flood (Ryan Lincoln) and Francis tell him to toughen up and take a stand when he lets his fear show. He is given his chance when David Furlong (Moe Dunford) approaches him on a corridor and tells him that Quinn is alone in his cell and he keeps watch while Michael pulps him. While he gets no more trouble, however, Furlong reckons he's owed a favour in return and asks Michael to hold on to a phone for him. Meanwhile, Francis puts chains on his front door, but Hogan seems happy with his payment and promises to leave him alone. 

Furlong forces Michael to accompany him when he exacts a punishment on Stephen Murphy (Tony Doyle) by pouring acid on his face. When Michael asks if they're quits, Furlong threatens to grind his face in the concrete. He also informs him that his misery is only about to begin, as he'll be prevented from buying a house or travelling to America because of his conviction. Yet, when Sam (Gary Egan), comes to give a talk about how he turned his life around by beating heroin and doing an Open University course, Michael listens intently, as teacher Emma Kelly (Rebecca Guinnane) has promised to help him apply for a social care course when he gets out. 

When Furlong orders him to scalpel the face of another prisoner, Michael has to steel himself and is almost overpowered when he makes his attack. Furlong glares at him for having to intervene and Michael is certain that he is about to be disciplined when he's summoned to the governor's office by warder Doyle (Elaine Kennedy). In fact, he is informed that he will be released the next day. But Ray has found the drugs Furlong had asked him to hold and he orders him to return them and the phone to keep temptation and trouble at arm's length. Fearing a backlash, Michael is surprised when Furlong takes the items and wishes him well on the outside with a clasp around the neck.

Francis is waiting at the gate when Michael is released and he provides him with a character reference when he applies for the social care course. However, Michael senses that the interviewers are unimpressed, even when he states that he wishes to use his experience to keep others on the straight and narrow. Moreover, he gets home to find Hogan coercing Francis to smuggle drugs into the prison the next time he visits his son. He tells Hogan to sling his hook, but he threatens to kill Christy unless Francis complies. 

So, Michael downs a six-pack of Irish courage and assaults Hogan with a metal bar and receives three years for his trouble after he is spotted by a young boy at the window of a nearby house. As Francis puts new bolts on the front door and opens a letter awarding Michael a place on the course, his grandson finds himself in a cell with a heroin addict and the future looks grim as the camera follows him in tight close-up along the caged corridor.

One of the recurring problems facing prison pictures is that endings involving redemption or damnation feel equally contrived. Given that he has only been inside for a few weeks and has had a relatively easy ride, it seems unlikely that Michael's skin would have thickened sufficiently for him to cosh a villain renowned for getting even with those who cross him. However, it would have felt speciously cosy if he had simply walked free, secured his college place and made his grandfather proud. Perhaps a fade on Michael debating whether to attack Hogan or knuckle under would have been more suspenseful. But, having listened to several Pathway veterans, Berry's is fully entitled to follow his dramatic instincts, especially as he wisely avoids any cheap shots at the prison system or any Loachian preachiness in his depiction of the hardships on the estate.

While more formulaic than I Used to Live Here, this still represents another strong showing from both Berry and Dafhyd Flynn, who, faced with a monosyllabic character, conveys a good deal of repressed emotion with his expressive eyes. Lalor Roddy also makes an impact as an old man weighed down by the guilt of having let his son and grandson down, We're never told anything about Francis's past, but he has the demeanour and savvy of an old lag who has conquered his drinking problem and learned enough about his unrelenting milieu to know when to duck and when to fight back. Apart from Hogan and Furlong, however, the other characters are stick figures, who do duty for a set-piece before disappearing for good. But this is true of the sub-genre as a whole and does little to detract from the authenticity that is reinforced by Tom Comerford's muscular camerawork, Emma Lowney's pared down production design and Daragh O'Toole's gutsy score.

Every now and then, a film comes along that so rubs you up the wrong way that it becomes impossible to provide an objective analysis. Sadly, Renata Heinen and Rolf Winters's Down to Earth is one of those titles, as the film-makers and life partners have an unfortunate habit of patronising both the people they meet during their five-year search for enlightenment and the audience they seek to convert to the alternative lifestyles they discover. Pitched somewhere between Sam Mendes's Away We Go (2009), Ryan Murphy's Eat Love Pray (2010) and Bruce Parry and Mark Ellam's documentary, Tawai: A Voice From the Forest (2017), this is bound to have its adherents. But the valuable lessons the couple learn during their odyssey are too often borne along on a tide of heedless entitlement, trite romanticism and smug superiority that makes this such a platitudinous and contradictory ordeal.

In voiceover, Winters and Heinen explain that they didn't set out to make a film. Instead, they sought to break away from the comfortable life they had been leading in London with their three daughters - who at some stage of the story were aged ten, seven and six - and stop `plodding along with everyone else in a state of hypnosis'. They had spent four years in the Hiawatha National Forest in Michigan under the tutelage of Native American medicine man Nowaten, whose name means `He Who Listens'. But they felt inspired by his wisdom and his dream about cleaning up the mess we have made of the planet to seek out other `keepers of the Earth', who had succeeded in adhering to the ancient ways that were more important than ever in our fragmenting world. 

Even though they limited themselves to one backpack and a camera each, such a journey would require considerable resources. However, little mention is made of Heinen and Winters's bank balances. Nor is much made of the fact that they would be leaving a considerable carbon footprint in flying to six continents in search of their cherished purity and simplicity. But why let such details intrude upon an idealised enterprise rooted in such good intentions?

The expedition gets off to a bad start, with several family members falling ill and Winters and Heinen finding it more difficult than they had anticipated to find the keepers of wisdom they had hoped to meet. But they luck out in the Loita Hills and the Forest of the Lost Child in Kenya, where they meet a tribal elder (whom they don't bother to identify until the closing credits as Mokompo Ole Simel), who tells them about the importance of love and a refusal to be weighed down by material goods and fear. Nowaten echoes this idea that wisdom comes from poverty and he recalls the lessons learned from his parents about accepting what the seasons provide and taking nothing more than you need. A Native American man (Mukwa Ode) chants in thanks to a stretch of water, but we learn nothing about him or the significance of his actions, just as no explanation is offered as to why the Kenyan men shave their heads and cover their faces in red dye.

Nowaten wonders how long it will be before humans admit that they are responsible for all the troubles of the world. His despair is echoed by the Kenyan (and his son Lekiti Ole Mokompo) and a white-bearded man in Tokyo (Haruzou Urakawa), who shares his conviction that selfishness is eating away at the traditional sense of community. He laments that people rush around in order to make money without having a true sense of purpose. But such sweeping dismissals ignore the fact that many of the trades these supposedly egotistical consumers follow are actually beneficial to society at large. 

Sitting in an auditorium in Sydney, an Aboriginal woman (Balngayngu Marika) also bemoans the fact that city folk are always dashing around. She hails from Arnhemland in Northern Territory and the family travels there to witness the measured pace of life that she insists should be followed in urban as well as rural settings. They don't stay long. however, as they dash off to a remote island where Langani Marika, an old woman from the Rirratjinu clan, is showing boys dismissed as delinquents how to live at one with the land. Nowaten says it was the same in his tribe, as the women were always the ones to spot youthful potential. Yet, while Winters and Heinen persuaded Langani to appear on camera, her homespun truths are not placed in any sort of social, spiritual or cultural context. Thus, they are stripped of their undoubted depth and import. 

As the two-day stay extends past two months, Langani feels as though she has met the family before and Heinen revels in the fact that time no longer seems to matter on the island. Winters also warms to his hostess's conviction that learning from life to establish a connection between the head and the heart is more useful than any book knowledge and her advice for making the most out of life is to keep walking along a straight road with your eyes open to that you can recognise your destiny when you see it. Lekiti Ole Mokompo reveals that education in his village is about communing with the spirits to avoid evil and discovering how to respect the land. 

Nowaten hopes that the younger generations will be able to bring about a change before it's too late. But, as Winters and Heinen reach the Central Tribal Belt in India, they worry that the task has been made more difficult by the fact that the Developing World is only just coming to enjoy the consumerist lifestyle that has long been the goal in the West. They meet a medicine man (Motiram Baiga) who advises that we should look at what lies in the path to avoid treading on thorns that might cause disease. Elephants take care not to step on ants and we should do the same. Nowaten echoes this sentiment that all species should live in peaceful co-existence before saying that people should resist slavishly following others, as this will get them into trouble. 

For no good reason, the scene now shifts to the Amazonian Rainforest in Ecuador. An elder named Sumpa explains that his people have simple needs and that city dwellers need to stop being so acquisitive. Heinen is moved by the beauty of the setting, but wonders what it must be like to live here with the threat of clearance hanging over them. Their daughters ask Winters similar questions while walking in the jungle and he is afraid to appear a hypocrite in trying to come up with some answers. The shaman tells them how he seeks wisdom through imbibing the Ayahuasca plant and Heinen claims that participating in this ceremony was one of the most powerful experiences of her life, as the plant offered her a portal to her subconscious mind. But we are not shown any of the footage they might have recorded and we are left to accept Nowaten's word that dreams and visions are gifts from which humans must learn. 

On a visit to Machu Picchu, Winters wonders how the Incas moved such vast stones and local Don Jose Quispe chimes in with his dismay that we have lost the ability to work with Nature in order to realise such awe-inspiring achievements. Nowaten says he has been to equally amazing places by travelling in the spirit realm and the Aboriginal woman agrees that the land is surrounded by spirits. As they drive through the Kalahari Desert towards Namibia, Winters declares that he feels he is in the cradle of humanity. They stay in a San settlement and the elders are touched by the ease with which the children play without a common language. As one of the young girls is sick, medicine men K!unta Bo and /Ui /Ukxa perform a healing rite around the campfire and Heinen comes to wonder whether a spiritual process that can cure the body can also impact upon the soul in the afterlife. 

A rather unconvincing cut takes us to the shores of the Irish Sea in County Louth, where Margaret Connolly beats a bodhran and discusses the beauty and serenity of death rituals and, over images of the murky waters in Lake Kitch-iti-Kipi (`Mirror to Heaven'). Nowaten describes a brush with death that removed his fear of passing to the other side. As he falls silent, a poignant shot of his empty chair is accompanied by a date caption reading 1928-2010. A woman named Akeekwe, whom we presume to be his daughter says she still feels his presence and Heinen compares losing four loved ones soon after they returned to the goodbyes they said on the road, as she now knows death is not to be feared, as the connection with the living can be transcended. 

Winters claims that he no longer worries for his daughters because he knows that the answers are out there if we only ask ourselves the right questions. But it's hard to see from the footage we have just witnessed how he arrived at the faith behind such a pronouncement. For the most part, the images edited together by Sahill Gill and Andrew Quigley to the strains of Stephen Warbeck's culturally eclectic score seem to have come from glorified holiday videos, as the family interact with welcoming strangers who share their wisdom in atmospheric talking-head interludes. But no rationale is offered for the route taken or what Winters and Heinen were hoping to find at each stop. It's wonderful that the family derived so much from their adventure. But, as in Tawai, the need to keep on the move and visit as many places as possible means that profound truths that have withstood the test of time are presented as little more than soundbites.