To date, 2019 has hardly been a vintage year for cinema reissues, with too many pictures produced in the last three decades being spruced up for digital projection. It comes as something of a relief, therefore, to see Robert Bresson's first colour feature, Une Femme Douce (1969) mark its 50th anniversary with handsome revival, courtesy of the Cinema Rediscovered festival. Based on Fedor Dostoevsky's novella, `A Gentle Creature' and told in flashback from a shocking opening incident, this sombre saga has a distinct feel of Carl Theodor Dreyer about it and should have ardent Bressonians seeking out their DVD copies of such other overlooked outings as Mouchette (1967), Four Nights of a Dreamer (1971) and The Devil, Probably (1977). 

Before Anna the maid (Jeanne Lobre) can stop her, Elle (Dominique Sanda) jumps from her Parisian balcony and stops the traffic below. As her body lies on the bed in their well-appointed apartment, husband Luc (Guy Frangin) reminds the praying Anna how they had first met, when Elle had come into his pawnshop with an old camera. He hadn't noticed her at first and only realised her beauty when she had snatched back the case because she suddenly couldn't bear to part with it. On her next visit, however, she accepts an over-generous payment for an amber cigarette holder. 

Luc explains that she had been living with exploitative relatives since losing her parents and he had made a point of speaking to her when she next returned. Among the objects in a bundled scarf was a golden crucifix and he had removed the Christ figure before weighing the cross and proffering a bundle of banknotes. Recognising that he was giving her too much, Elle had returned some of the money and had accused him of being cold after he had quoted from Goethe's Faust to justify his profession and insist that he did not prey upon the poor. 

He tells Anna that Elle had been impressed by his kindness, but her expression conveys scepticism. However, after he had met her out of college and taken her to the zoo, Elle felt sufficiently optimistic that she could trust him to deliver her from her unhappy home to marry him. They had dined after a simple civil ceremony, with Anna as their dubious witness. But Elle had run up the stairs on returning to the apartment over the shop and had turned on the television while she took a bath. She had giggled when the towel slipped while she was switching off the noisy Grand Prix racing and he had joined in when she started to bounce on the bed before hiding with him under the covers. 

Remorsefully, he confesses to Anna that he had quashed that elation by making it clear to Elle that they would have to live frugally, as the shop didn't make much of a profit. She seemed to accept the deal and was grateful when they went to the Paramount Elysées to see Michel Deville's The Diary of an Innocent Boy (1968). When the man sitting next to Elle brushes her leg, she swaps seats with Luc and hugs him by the car after the stranger gives her a meaningful look in the foyer. Luc tells Anna that this embrace had convinced him that Elle had truly loved him, but he was unable to suppress his jealous streak and would question her in front of customers if she came home late.

Elle had a passion for records and books and she flicks through tomes about bones and painting while nibbling on biscuits. When they visit the Louvre, Luc notices her obsession with pictures depicting Venus and Psyche and came to see that woman could be an instrument of pleasure. But she continues to puzzle him, when she picks flowers during an outing to the country and tosses them out of the car window, as if they are worthless. Moreover, they have a blazing row when she offers a middle-aged woman too much money for a cheap piece of jewellery and she warns him not to try and control her with money and accuses him of being a coward when he reminds her that she should think herself lucky to have been plucked from poverty herself. 

She rushes out of the shop and only returns home in time to change hurriedly before they go to the theatre to see Hamlet. Elle is transfixed by the Dane's climactic duel with Laertes and checks the text when she gets back to the apartment to see which scenes had been removed. She reads out Hamelt's instructions to the Player King before handing Luc his pyjamas and taking a bath. He admits in voiceover that he was furious with her for pretending nothing untoward had happened and retrieves her dropped soap without a word. They exchange hesitant glances, but Elle refuses to catch Luc's eye when she chats to a male customer and leaves the shop soon after he departs. Luc confides to Anna that he had been so livid that he would have used the gun in the counter drawer if she had lingered any longer. He also confesses that he was more interesting in possessing Elle's body than understanding her mind.

Eager to know where she's gone, Luc follows Elle along the Boulevard Saint-Germain and pops into the famous cafés and brasseries. But she has already returned by the time he gets back and nothing is said about her absence. When he finds her putting some white roses into glass jars, he does challenge her about who had given them to her. He grabs her by the arms and shakes her, but Elle pushes him away and storms out, telling him that things have become impossible between them. Rather than trying to follow, Luc stays in and watches a programme about Operation Adler during the Second World War. He is in bed when Elle returns and responds when she strips off her nightgown and strokes his face. 

The next morning, however, while Luc is shaving, Elle asks about the incident that had cost him his job as a bank manager, three years earlier. He protests his innocence and wonders who could have told her such a closely guarded secret. He goes to her old address to ask if she had any men friends and, with the shop gun in his pocket, he takes up vigil on Boulevard Lannes to see if Elle keeps a rendezvous. Eventually, he finds her with a man in a parked car and isn't sure whether she was genuinely rebuffing his advances or had spotted him in the rearview mirror and put on an act. He orders her out of the vehicle and bustles her into his own, but no explanation is given and he wonders how to cope with such a beautiful, gentle woman. 

That night, Elle sleeps in a chair rather than beside her husband, who wakes in the morning to find her standing over him with the gun. She points it at his face, but doesn't have the will or the nerve to pull the trigger and Luc admits to his relief, as he was only pretending to be asleep and knew what she was doing. But she had greeted him with a cup of coffee in the kitchen, as though nothing had happened, and, once again, nothing is discussed. However, Luc buys a single bed and has Anna make it up on the other side of a partition screen and he hopes that Elle knows the significance of his action. In the night, however, he stands beside the bed to console her and, when she falls ill for six weeks, he hires a nurse (Dorothée Blanck) to help Anna take care of her. That said, he had avoided eye contact while she recovered, even sitting with his back to her to watch the horse racing on the TV, while Elle read in a chair.

They did go for walks, to feed the ducks and visit the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, where he comments on the gulf between painting and a motorised mechanical sculpture, which she fails to see, as she recognises how they are connected. At home, Elle sits on the floor playing records, while Luc does the crossword.  They even eat soup differently. As he divulges to Anna, he had taken pleasure in her subservience, while also feeling sorry for having humiliated her. But, while he admits to having enjoyed the sense of inequality that had arisen between them, he had also tried to do things to please her, such as pawning trinkets for excessive sums. 

The doctor (Claude Ollier) had suggested taking Elle to the seaside or the mountains to convalesce, but she had insisted she is feeling well, even though Luc thinks she looks thin and pale. One afternoon, he had heard her singing from the shop and Anna had told him that Elle often sang when he is out. A pang of guilt had prompted him to go for a walk and, when he had returned, he had knelt at her feet and professed the love he had withheld from her. He had promised to make her happy and she had seemed so unnerved by his sudden show of affection that she had sunk into the chair and started to sob. Luc had carried her to the bed and kissed her bare feet, while suggesting that they sell the shop and start afresh somewhere new. With tears in her eyes, Elle had revealed that she had been convinced he was going to leave her and Luc admits to Anna that the words had pierced his heart, as he hadn't appreciated the extent of Elle's fear. 

He had broached the subject of a new life while she had been reading a book about whether birdsong is inherited or imitated. She had doubted that they could forget the hurt and begin again, but he had insisted that he wanted the chance to show her the depth of his love. Luc had commended her intelligence and the fidelity she had shown in rejecting the man in the car. But she had burst into tears again and he had not known how to respond. 

At breakfast that morning, Elle had agreed to be a faithful and respectful wife and he had rushed out to the travel agency to book them a holiday. Anna had kept an eye on Elle and been reassured by her promise that everything had been resolved. Yet, Anna had twice peeked in through the glass door to check Elle is okay, as she had run her finger over the Christ figure that had been restored it its cross and wrapped a woollen shawl around her shoulder. She had looked at herself in the mirror, as if to reassure herself that she was doing the right thing. Anna had caught her opening the windows, but she had been too late to prevent Elle from leaping from the rocking chair on the balcony and her shawl had floated down behind her from a clear, blue sky. 

The time for reflection over, the undertaker arrives and Luc pleads with Elle to open her eyes. But she has gone and the film ends with the coffin lid being eased into place and the screws being tightened to seal her inside. It's a stark way to finish what has essentially been a cinematic post mortem that has failed to draw any tangible conclusions. Luc and Elle (meaning `She') had been wrong for each other from the outset and their inability to trust and communicate had sealed their fate long before Elle had been driven to stray by her spouse's covetous coldness. 

But Bresson scrupulously avoids anything so mundane as apportioning blame, even as he allows Luc (whose personality has been corrupted by the banking scandal) to examine his conscience to his secular confessor (Anna) and decide whether he has suffered enough or needs to do more penance for crushing the gentleness that had first touched his heart. In many ways, this treatise on the rules of attraction and how little men understand women feels closer in tone to Luis Buñuel's Belle de Jour (1967) than Sergei Losnitza's A Gentle Creature (2017), which took its inspiration from the same Dovstoevsky story. But, whereas Catherine Deneuve's Séverine found an outlet for her pent-up frustrations through her sexuality, Dominique Sanda's Elle is too much in thrall to her spirituality to seek a means of escape. She can't even take home some wild flowers because she feels she is depriving them of their liberty. 

To some degree, she believes she has pawned her soul to Luc and that the only way in which she can redeem it is to terminate the transaction. Given her faith, she must know that she risks plunging into eternal damnation, especially as she has already resisted the temptation to murder the guardian who has become her gaoler. Or does she see God as a sort of celestial pawnbroker, who will consider her debt paid in full? 

Neither Sanda nor Guy Frangin had acted before and they respond splendidly to Bresson's direction (surely the inclusion of Hamlet's speech to the Player King on how to play a scene without excessive emotion is his little self-reflexive joke?). Although the latter would call it a day after his debut, Sanda (who was already a celebrated model) would go on to amass over 50 credits and become one of European cinema's most dependable actresses in films like Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist (1970) and 1900 (1976), Vittorio De Sica's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970) and Maria Luisa Bemberg's I, Worst of All (1990). 

Cinematographer Ghislain Cloquet, production designer Pierre Charbonnier, editor Raymond Lamy, sound mixer Urbain Loiseau and composer Jean Wiener also make outstanding contributions. But, as ever with a Bresson picture, the meticulous nature of every gesture, expression and movement means that he is the centre of attention. Stripping back his style to the bare bones (which so fascinate Elle after she realises that she is made as the same stuff as the other creatures on display in the museum), he proves almost forensic in a dissection of a doomed liaison that ranks among his most pessimistic assessments of the human condition and the connection between existence, death and the afterlife.

As Dudley Moore's pianist-cum-aspiring composer learned in Joseph McGrath's 1967 comedy, 30 Is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia, there comes a time when a natural-born hedonist feels the need to settle down. In seeking to get his head together, Moore fetches up in Dublin and the Irish capital provides the setting for Animals, even though Emma Jane Unsworth's source novel was located in Manchester. There's no good reason for the switch in Sophie Hyde's engaging adaptation (apart from the inevitable budgetary inducements), but it allows Holliday Grainger to adopt an Oirish accent in a thirtysomething womance that puts a Withnaily spin on the galpal formula forged in the likes of Claudia Weill's Girlfriends (1978) and Nicole Holofcener's Walking and Talking (1996).

Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat) have been best friends for a drunken decade. Waking to find herself tied to the bed and Tyler's insistence that she's either had sex or been exorcised, Laura vows to make progress with the novel she's been writing for as long as they've known each other. However, she has to defend her slow progress over dinner with her parents, Maureen (Olwen Fouéré) and Bill (Pat Shortt), when she discovers that former wild child sister, Jean (Amy Molloy), is expecting a baby with fiancé, Julian (Kwaku Fortune). 

Hitting a club to drown her sorrows, Laura meets Jim (Fra Fee), a quietly spoken Northern Irish pianist with a mop of dark hair and undertaker's black shoes. Tyler isn't impressed, but Laura is inspired by his revelation that he gets up early to practice and starts setting her alarm to write in the spare room with pictures of Oscar Wilde and WB Yeats on the wall. She keeps being confronted with a blank laptop screen, however, and wonders whether she should stick to being a barista. But the sight of Jim making a classical piece sound heavenly on a tinny pub piano drives her on (sparking the odd fantasy about his hands fondling her body in the process) and she ignores Tyler's invitation to a boozy lunch. 

Nevertheless, she's soon out partying again and scoring pills in a club bathroom from a dealer named Chicken Sandwich (Anthony Morris). Indeed, she waits round for Tyler to steal a jar of MDMA from a nearby flat and teeter home on her heels for a spot of domestic medication. Tyler makes it clear that she doesn't approve of Laura getting serious about Jim, but his black-tie performance in an intimate venue has such an impact on her that she feels compelled to give him a flash of nipple while applauding. At the after party, he introduced them to Kirsten (Elva Trill), which prompts Laura to whisk Jim into a back alley for a knee-trembler. She also confesses that she is struggling with her book about a spider trapped in its own web and is so charmed by his naive encouragement that she even finds him throwing up in the street to be adorable. 

Tyler is scornful and tells Laura to take her lightweight home. Suddenly feeling like an outsider, she lingers outside the restaurant where Laura has assembled the family to break the news that she's engaged. Barely concealing her dismay, Tyler goes to their favourite bar alone and gets a phone call informing her that her estranged father has died. She is disappointed when Laura is too preoccupied with Jim to pick up. As he is about to embark upon a tour, Laura attempts to focus on her writing. But she feels deflated when Jean gives her a bridal magazine and is nettled by the suspicion that she's not ready for this next chapter in her life. 

Scribbling in her notebook in a trendy literary coffee shop, Laura wanders into a talk being given by youthful poet Marty (Dermot Murphy) and flirts with him over several glasses of wine. He commends the sense of mortality with which she drinks and Laura only just manages to resist his offer of a kiss. Arriving home after several days at Jim's, Laura hears Tyler's news and accepts that she's not that bothered by the death of a man she despises. She suggests trying on wedding dresses at a shop that gives complimentary champagne and dismisses Tyler's denunciation of the sexist connotations of matrimony, while reassuring her that a gold band won't change their friendship. But Tyler counters that they will no longer be flatmates who share a double bed and that the newly teetotal Jim will try to change Laura, just as he has allowed his own rough edges to be smoothed away since he got a publicist. 

While Tyler continues her bid to talk some sense into Laura, they bump into Marty in a bar and he joins them for a session. Tyler tells Laura that he's much more suitable than Jim, but this serves only to drive her home, where she tells a dozing Jim that she loves him (even though her mind is racing with the possibilities that Tyler had dangled before her). It doesn't take long before Tyler lures Laura to Marty's for a soirée, where a poet called the Avant Gardener (Muiris Crowley) recites the opening lines of a new poem. Tyler urges Laura to read something from her notebook and is disappointed when she contents herself with quoting Yeats. Ticking her off for plagiarising instead of sharing something original, Tyler goads Laura into averring that she prevents her from writing with her needy party-going and she storms out after declaring that she is going to move in with Jim. 

Rather than stropping off, however, Laura leans against the fence for a smoke and watches an urban fox rifling through some bin bags. Marty joins her before Tyler appears with some shots. She tells Laura that she's slipping off with the Avant Gardener and leaves her friend to succumb to Marty's advances. However, she is freaked out when he tries to perform oral sex with some cocaine on the tip of his tongue and she heads home with her newly bought wedding dress. 

Jean has her baby and Laura and Tyler sink martinis before going to meet her niece. As Tyler has lost her job, she pressures Laura for some long-overdue rent and she promises to get some cash. The sight of baby cards on the mantelpiece dismays Tyler, who fears Laura will also get sucked into this bourgeois nightmare. When she produces a small bag of MDMA, however, Jean is appalled and she asks Laura to leave when she spills red wine all over the baby. As they walk away, Tyler tells Laura to listen to the deadening sound of the suburbs in the hope that she can prevent her from sleepwalking into ennui. 

Jim is being considered for a prestigious fellowship and Laura is convinced that she doesn't want him to come to a recital because she doesn't belong in his world. He assures her that he would appreciate her support, but knows the event is the day after Tyler's 30th birthday party and he insists that she shows solidarity with her friend in her time of need. Laura intends drinking in moderation, but winds up doing coke with Tyler and Marty and is tempted to have sex with the latter until she catches sight of herself in the bathroom mirror at 11am. Teetering into the living room, she finds Tyler reading from her notebook and is hurt when she accuses her of having sold out like Jean. Suddenly feeling her 32 years and determined to draw a line in the sand, Laura leaves with Tyler's warning ringing in her ears that she's going to regret sleeping her way through what's left of her life. 

Making herself presentable, Laura arrives at the recital and quickly realises that Jim has been dallying with Kirsten on tour. She rushes to the bathroom and tries to balance her bad behaviour with Jim's and decides to dump him anyway. Jean offers her a bed for the night and promises to help her find a small  flat. They re-bond over a glass of wine and Jean tuts in disbelief when Laura stops the baby crying and lays her down on the floor rather than popping her back in her crib. When she gets home, she finds Tyler crashed on the settee and hauls her into the bath. They spend the day snuggled in bed watching trashy telly and eating junk food. Nothing can come between them, but she informs Jim that she doesn't love him enough to forgive him. 

Time passes and baby Shirley becomes a toddler. At their father's birthday party, Laura and Jean acknowledge the fact that he looks unwell. But, as she watches Tyler chatting to him. Laura is suddenly struck by the fact that she can't afford to let another excuse get in her way. On the cab ride home, she puts her head out of the window in flashing back through the good times and the bad that have shaped her. On reaching her flat, she sits down at her desk and, having seen a cat hiss away a fox in the street, she starts to write with a confident tapping that suggests this time she's going all the way.

Having made such a confident start in her native Australia with 52 Tuesdays (2013), Sophie Hyde hits some sophomore buffers with this sprightly, but strained rite of thirtysomething passage that too often betrays the fact that it has been adapted from her own novel by a first-time screenwriter in Emma Jane Unsworth. The dialogue often zings, but it also clangs when Tyler is at her most contrivedly epigrammatic. Similarly, one can often hear the sound of bottles being swept away so that the next plot piece can be slotted into place. Not once do we see these baristas behind a counter, yet they can afford a spacious flat in a city centre Georgian terrace and can evidently afford to browse at the most exclusive thrift shops for their charity chic outfits. It's hinted that Tyler has money somewhere in her complicated past, but she is so devoid of backstory that such assumptions could easily be wide of the mark.

Laura's family is closer to hand, but they are only wheeled out to nudge the plot along or provide her with a shoulder to cry on when she's alienated everyone else. Considering they've been in Dublin together for a decade, they don't seem to be part of any social circle and have so lost track of reality in the midst of their giddy hedonistic whirl that the first hint of an extramural relationship reveals how flimsy their bonds are by tearing them apart. Indeed, this BFFship seems to be based more on quips and posturing than genuine feelings. 

But, at least there's some chemistry between Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat, as there is no spark whatsoever between Grainger and Fra Fee and even less with Dermot Murphy, as the pretentious poet-cum-salon host who could (and should) have been a cuttingly satirical caricature whose self-absorption snaps Laura out of her downward spiral. Instead, he's tiresomely louche in the same way that Jim is stultifyingly dull. 

Rocking Renate Henschke's costumes, the sparky Shawkat does well to inject some palpable passion into the Feminism for Beginners speeches she's saddled with, but she's very much there to provide comic relief and provoke conflict, as the dramatic focus falls squarely on Grainger. As she recently proved in Annabel Jankel's Tell It to the Bees, she's a compelling and persuasive presence, who says more with her eyes than she does with her dialogue. She fashions a plausible accent, but by not uttering a single word of Dublin slang, she exposes the pointlessness of stripping the action from its Mancunian origins, a folly that is compounded by Hyde's failure to make use of her distinctive location. In fact, we get so little sense of the city that this could have been filmed in Neasden and wouldn't have been any the worse for it. 

As so many of the pleasingly episodic scenes take place indoors, Louise Matthews's production design often comes to Hyde's rescue, as it allows cinematographer Bryon Mason (who also doubles, perhaps more effectively, as editor) to latch on to some clues within the mise-en-scène to suggest who these two women are. It's vital that cinema produces more pictures from what's been called `the girl's-eye view'. But there seems little point in simply coming up with the cine-equivalent of Chick Lit.

It's quite a leap from acting as line producer on Carlos Reygadas's Post Tenebras Lux (2012) to making one's feature debut as a writer and director. But, while Australian-born Daniel Graham doesn't quite go the distance with Opus Zero, he leaves a decent enough impression. That said, he invites greater curiosity with his online presence, which sees him boasting in an IMDB mini-biography of having interviewed such renowned film-makers as Theo Angelopoulos, Béla Tarr, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Alexander [sic] Sokurov, Aki Kaurismäki, Claire Denis, Jacques Audiard, Ousmane Sembène, Olivier Assayas and Todd Solondz. 

Yet, he hasn't bothered to add to his entry some of the shorts listed on his page on the Mandy Network website, even though La Forêt (2007) apparently played for a week at the Gate Cinema in Notting Hill. It also seems odd that his blurb reckons that he has produced nine shorts (which have been praised, by all accounts by Reygadas, Assayas, Ceylan and Kaurismäki, as well as Andrea Arnold, and Saverio Costanzo), while he only cites five in the accompanying filmography. Having dabbled in distribution in the past, Graham should know the value of getting one's facts straight, if only to keep ageing critics with nothing better to do from getting confused. 

As a Prelude gives way to Part One, composer Paul Parker (Willem Dafoe) flies to Real de Catorce in Mexico following the death of his father, Edward (Carlos Aragón). He signs the necessary paperwork and leaves his case at Edward's home before going to see Zero (Brontis Jodorowsky), who had been one of the old man's closest friends. He informs Paul that the silver mine had closed in 1956, which was the year that the Vatican dropped its index of forbidden texts. They visit the church, where Zero describes the traditional funeral service that his father had requested, as the bells begin to sound cacophonously and the camera peers upwards in a gentle pirouette to survey the domed ceiling. 

Back home, Paul removes the panels from Edward's piano, looks at a photograph of Marianne (Valentina Manzini) and her daughter and finds a device of his father's invention that provides instantaneous translation of a two-way Anglo-Spanish conversation. He tries it out on Rubén (Francisco Rubén Coronado), a pig farmer who tells him how he uses an 11-inch knife when slaughtering the sows, as it causes them less distress. Paul also meets chair repairer José (José Concepción Macías) and asks him about Marianne, who was Romanian and worked in the local dye factory. José remembers her being Russian and as sad as she was beautiful, but can't recollect the daughter's name or what happened to them. They listen to a radio quiz and José is so impressed when Paul answers an obscure question that he asks if he knows Steven Spielberg.

Paul asks the parish priest (Noé Hernández) about Marianne, but he knows nothing about her and suggests that Paul tries the mayor. He is affronted when Paul queries why half the Mexican population has stopped going to mass and notes that this still means that 10 million people do. When pressed to state whether technology has turned people away from God, he claims there are many reasons and addiction that prevent good souls from hearing the Lord speaking to their hearts. Before leaving, Paul asks if he can record the ambient tone in the church, as he is researching the extent to which silence is a measure by which we value sound. Puzzled, the priest consents.

Taking a bus into the town, Paul joins a walking tour and chats Maia the guide (Irene Azuela). He tells her about Alexander Grandal, the Norwegian composer whose unfinished symphony he is seeking to complete because he is intrigued by his notions about death and disappearance. As an archaeologist, Maia believes that nothing ever vanishes and suggests that Paul may be embarking upon a wild goose chase in searching for Marianne, as there is a distinct possibility (despite the evidence of the photograph) that she never existed. 

They go to a wooden-seated cinema, where Paul promptly falls asleep and Maia leaves. He wanders into a bar where some men are playing poker dice and he dozes off on a bench and dreams the a lycra-clad cyclist appears from nowhere to offer his water bottle when he cuts his hand placing a flower at his father's grave. Waking to discover he has broken the translation device, he takes it to be repaired at an antique shop, from which he buys a portrait that he hangs at an angle on his wall. 

Despite not having worked on the score for a while, he feels inspired and declares in voiceover that he feels the time has come, at 60 years of age, to take life by the horns. He also has a profitable afternoon recording in the echoey church and smiles when four children march past him playing trumpets and drums. Back at Edward's place, Paul makes a bonfire of discarded items, while we cut away to a man knocking in a wooden sign that reads, `Pray to God, but keep rowing'

Part Two begins with documentary maker Daniel (Andrés Almeida) arriving in town with his assistants, Fernanda (Cassandra Ciangherotti) and Gilles (Leonardo Ortizgris). They call on the mayor (Antonio Zúñiga) to get his permission to shoot, but he doesn't understand the nature of the project. Daniel opines that it's a form of `structured chaos' and, when the mayor says it's very quiet around the town, he reassures him that they'll find something worth filming. As they leave, the mayor warns them that the old magnet factory has a deleterious effects on digital watches and phones, but they pay as little attention as they do to the revelation that it was once possible to walk to Miami before the formation of the Gulf of Mexico. 

The crew film a woman walking along the road, but Rubén refuses permission to let them record him slaughtering a sow, as their presence would make her jumpy. At the church, the priest proves more accommodating, but Daniel is bored by his account of the parish's history and doesn't seem that interested when he mentions that he had watched Paul communicating with the invisible. Annoyed that he can't get a signal for his phone, Daniel kicks his heels while Gilles films around the town. He tries to strike up a conversation with Paul, but he doesn't want to be interviewed and makes it clear he'd rather be left alone.

Having watched a couple of bikers weaving around a courtyard, the unit head into the hills to film three locals wandering along a path. As Gilles pans to follow them, the trio vanish. But Daniel is frustrated because, while he has a cinematic miracle in the can, nobody will believe the footage hasn't been doctored. He curses the fact that miracles and documentaries don't go together and agrees with Fernanda that they had better forget all about it and use the material they filmed in the Gulf instead. 

Nevertheless, they manage to persuade Paul to do an interview, but he quickly loses patience with Daniel's banal questions, especially when he asks if he is merely trying to imitate Grandal rather than compose some original music of his own. He particularly takes exception to being considered a musical ventriloquist, as he considers himself to be on  a voyage of discovery and he won't know until he reaches land whether he has achieved his goal. When Paul challenged Daniel's haphazard methods, he brings the subject back to the ethics of completing a work like Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls. Paul replies that he would have no time for intellectual illusion, but would welcome an honest assertion of the philosophical notion of the nature of ideas and the ownership of style. However, he  is spared further interrogation when the camera battery gives out.

While Daniel and Fernanda discuss the originality of ideas in a club playing a discofied version of Beethoven, Paul has his bonfire and rather callously tosses on the painting that his father had once hung on the wall. Edward's spirit seems to watch from the doorway before returning inside and we hear Paul musing on the fact that death has no loopholes as Daniel sifts through the ashes the following morning. A concluding coda shows Paul sending Edward on his way with a suitcase and the film ends as he stands before a light plane at the aerodrome. 

Over the last few weeks, Willem Dafoe has played Vincent van Gogh in Julian Schnabel's At Eternity's Gate and voiced a macho seagull in Christian Haas and Andrea Block's Birds of a Feather. So the task of drifting through a Mexican ghost town in pursuit of his father's memory, a stranger in a photo and the creative intentions of a long-dead Norwegian composer must have felt like just another day at the office. There are vague echoes in the purplish prose of Dafoe's narrating gig on Brady Corbet's Vox Lux. But there's something self-guying about the voiceovered verbosity, as there is about the persona of the director who doesn't seem to know what he's doing, let alone what he's searching for. And, in the ultimate bit of self-lacerating-reflexivity, Daniel Graham even has Dafoe fall asleep in a movie house. But, for all the calculated non-linearity, there's something satisfying about the way in which he leaves loose ends flapping and goads the audience into contemplating something more intellectually demanding than the latest CGI exploits of the Justice League. 

Despite numbering Carlos Reygadas among the associate producers, however, this is going to struggle to find its arthouse niche. Yet, in matching the effortless performances of Dafoe and Andrés Almeida, Mathiás Penachino's elegantly gliding camerawork reinforces the enticing aura of somnambulist existentialism, while also capturing the unique atmosphere of the setting and Claudio Ramirez Castelli's evocative interiors. Moreover, Colin Matthews's intriguing score keeps us as aurally uncertain about what will happen next as the meandering screenplay. In striving to adhere to the posited reflections on the nature of creativity, however, Graham occasionally comes unstuck, leaving his characters and his musings sounding a little vacuous. But his aesthetic and philosophical ambition are to be applauded.

Sandwiched between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, the Gaza Strip measures 25x7 miles and is home to two million people. Since 2007, its borders have been closed and daily life has continuously been interrupted by power cuts, petty restriction and sporadic violence. Filmed between the outbreak of the 50-day war in 2014 and the 2018 border protests known as the Great March of Return, Andrew McConnell and Garry Keane's Gaza seeks to show how the occupants of this disputed territory cope with daily life against the backdrop of the ongoing showdown between Hamas and the Israeli Defense Force. It's a laudable attempt to uncover some normalcy amidst the oppression and chaos. But, in striving to place greater emphasis on people rather than politics, experienced documentarist Keane and conflict photographer McConnell never quite strike the right balance between the informative and the emotive, with the consequence that this well-meaning survey provides a superficial snapshot of a complex question that would require a six-part series to do it justice. 

Opening captions explain that Israel destroyed its settlements and withdrew from Gaza in 2005, which encouraged the rise of the Islamic Resistance movement, Hamas, which has ruled the territory since the election of June 2007. In retaliation, Israel closed the borders and they have remained sealed ever since. Shown swimming in the sea with his pals, 14 year-old Ahmed Jamal Al Alqoraan has only ever known this state of siege. He is one of three brothers and 10 sisters born to a mother whose husband has two other wives and 27 other children. They live together in a three-room house the Der Al-Balah refugee camp, although the boys sometimes sleep by the sea to relieve the overcrowding. Ahmed longs to follow in his father's footsteps and become a fisherman and he revels in the freedom of being on the waves and learning about how to steer and use a GPS device. 

Speaking in flawless English, Karma Khaial also equates the sea with liberty. She lives in relative comfort with mother Manal Khalafawi, whose lawyer father was originally from Jerusalem. As Karma lets a caged bird perch on her finger, her mother declares that she is a sensitive soul and she confirms this by playing the cello and describing a dream in which she lives on an island surrounded by water that can take her anywhere she wants to go. Getting anywhere is a problem for taxi driver Ahmed Qasem, who came to Gaza as a twentysomething in the mid-1990s because he had heard that the locals were easy going and left you to get on with your life. A dashcam shows him telling one passenger around how cabbies used to nip off to do errands while driving a fare, while he roars with laughter as a woman adopts a child's voice to recite a poem. 

Educated in Jordan, Mahmoud Osama Riashi returned home to work as a photographer. However, having seen so many friends get killed or wounded in the war, he decided to quit and become a lifeguard because of his lifelong passion for the sea. It bothers him that Gaza is like `a big open prison', with little food or drinkable water and an intermittent electricity supply that restricts power to four hours a day. The power cuts prevent an elderly tailor Mohamed Hamo from running his business. He misses the time when he had 80 machines in his factory, as he now has to make do with two and can barely feed himself. Moreover, he laments the closure of the Rafeh crossing into Egypt and the Erez frontier with Israel and blames Hamas for Gaza being cut off from the world. The thousands gathering for a rally (complete with green flags and balaclava-wearing, weapon-toting paramilitaries) would disagree, but Keane and McDonnell are content to acknowledge the internecine tension rather than examine it.

Abu Amer Bakr also longs for the past, as the imposition of a three-mile limit has destroyed the local fishing industry. He maintains his boat in the hope that he can cast his nets without fear of being arrested by an Israeli gunboat skipper or be humiliated by being sprayed with sewage. Bakr's son has been in prison for two years for fishing with hooks with a couple of pals and he breaks the news to the grandsons who sit on his knee in identical polo shirts. It's not all grim struggle, however, as we see young and old alike enjoying themselves at a rap concert in a fairylit enclave by the beach. But a cutaway takes us to the ruins of bombed-out buildings, where some people still live in the habitable flats of what have become decimated shells. 

Red Crescent paramedic Ibrahim Abu Alkas reveals that tension has been building before the Great March of Return on 15 May 2018 and this has led to an increase in stone throwing at the border. As the Palestinians set fire to tyres to create a thick pall of smoke, the IDF respond with tear gas and bullets and the paramedic bemoans the fact that a generation of young men have had no outlet for their frustration other than to hurl rocks at an implacable enemy. Many have been killed and more wounded, with the result that they are unable to work to support their families. Unless a reconciliation is agreed, this situation will continue to deteriorate with Gazans being the biggest sufferers. 

Among the casualties is Yousri Al-Goul, a wheelchair-bound twentysomething, who has become a rapper to avoid being a `burden on society'. He recalls growing up during the Second Intifada and how he was shot in the chest by Israeli troops who had already hit him three times in the legs. Rather than be bitter, however, he has channelled his rage into his music and he hopes that his words can provide solace, as well as inspiration. A montage shows that life goes on, with people going out at night, shopping for t-shirts and fruit, and attending dance classes.  

Meanwhile, Ahmed is struggling at school and his teacher admits that he is the weakest in the class because his parents don't always check on his attendance. We meet his father, Jamal Abu Alqoraan, who needs a piece of paper to remember which of his children attend school. He is relieved that some of the older kids are approaching marriageable age so he can get a few of them out of the house, as he confides that overcrowding was the main reason why he decided against taking a fourth wife. Ahmed would happily spend his days fishing with his brother Hani, but reveals that the catches are poor and he sometimes has to subsist on salt. 

By contrast, Karma has a much easier life, as she plays basketball at her school and dreams of landing a scholarship to study abroad. But she is just as trapped by the sea's invisible border as Ahmed, even though she models for Aida Abu Sitta, the designer who staged Gaza's first fashion show. She talks about her attitude to wearing the hijab as a religious symbol and as a way of forcing people to judge her on her essence rather than her looks. Her mother shows Karma photographs of her youth, when nobody was covered and she could wear a swimsuit on the beach. Khalafawi never imagined she would raise her children against the backdrop of three wars and wonders when it's ever going to stop. 

Father of six Ali Abu Yassin regrets the fact that none of his children has been able to find a job, even though they all have university degrees. He is an actor and theatre director and sings with cabby Qasem, as they try to keep their stress levels down while negotiating the rush hour traffic. It saddens him to see people existing rather than living and laments that men have wasted 15 years playing backgammon on the street because they have nothing better to do and have become so inured to suffering that they no longer realise how oppressed they are.

Abu Bakr goes to greet his son, Ammar, as he is released from prison. They embrace and return to the neighbourhood with black flags flying from their cars. A gunman fires into the air, as Ammar makes his way indoors and a member of the Popular Front uses a loudhailer to welcome him home on behalf of the movement. The politicising of Ammar's homecoming is contrasted with the paramedic rushing to the border wall to treat youths injured while throwing stones at the IDF. One operating a giant catapult wears a Guy Fawkes mask, while footage of the paramedics trying to pray while carnage is occurring all around them is counterpointed by complaints that the siege has resulted in shortages of medical supplies, while those in Israel have the best of everything. 

Driving through arid terrain with a donkey cart trotting past, Qasem explains that he spent 20 months in prison for debt and was astonished to find some of the richest men in Gaza behind bars for being unable to pay their bills. One old man in a café, Rami Diab, complains that Israel has taken away the Strip's industrial and agricultural means of support in a bid to starve them into submission and he believes the dead are now better off than those living in Gaza. Qasem compares the situation to being stranded in the mud in a car with flat tyres, as we see footage of rain cascading down the streets on which kids are playing with no knowledge of anything better. 

The director warms up for a performance on an open-air stage and a woman in the audience, Mona Abu Sharekh, is moved by the story of a grieving father. She lost an older brother to the struggle and is appalled that her seven year-old son has already lived through two wars. We see slow-motion footage of a black-shrouded corpse being carried head high though a narrow street to reinforce the notion that everyone in Gaza has suffered loss and join paramedic Alkas on another dash to the hospital with a man caught in a tear gas attack. He reveals that he works 16-hour shifts and once didn't see his family for 53 days.

As the lights go out again, we see streets being lit by car headlamps and young boys whirling sparks over their heads in slow-motion (to the rather manipulative backing of Ray Fabi's saccharine string score). Lightning rips through the sky and shots of Ahmed eating fish on the beach with his brothers and Karma playing her cello outdoors presage footage of a rocket attack that shows how suddenly any semblance of calm can be decimated by Israeli force. Jerky handheld footage replaces the meticulous compositions we have seen thus far, as the streets descend into panic and rescue workers rush into bombed buildings to recover the living and the dead. At the Al Shifaa Hospital, the medical staff does what it can, as the corridors fill with loved ones wailing in helpless anguish as children are stretchered in with sometimes fatal injuries. 

Four of the dead are from the Bakr family and we see Abu telling his prayer bead between footage of the funerals. People drift back into the target zone as if they are shuffling through a nightmare and the camera lingers on one man sobbing in the wreckage of what was once his home. A news report notes that 2200 Gazans died during the 50-day war, with nearly 500 of them being children. Yet only 66 Israeli soldiers and six civilians perished during the same period. Men pray in the street outside a mosque whose minaret appears to have fallen on to a neighbouring building. For once, there's no one on the beach, as the shockwaves ripple through the community.

Parked beside a ruined apartment complex, Qasem smokes a cigarette in gratitude that he escaped this time. But he claims no one can ever feel safe in Gaza. Khalafawi comes to look at her old residence, which was once occupied by Israeli soldiers to snipe at the Palestinians throwing stones over the wall. She recalls seeing her parents being abused and spent her adolescence dreaming of the day she could kill the enemy. However, she came to learn that violence is not the answer and she has committed herself to resisting in other ways. 

A slow tracking shot captures a wheelchair through the bars of a devastated building (and we immediately think of the disabled rapper) before Alkas tells the film-makers that he's not made of iron and sometimes wonders how much longer he can endure the horrors he sees on a daily basis. A cut across four years shows us Ahmed playing on the beach with his brothers to witnessing the bloody events of 15 May, when 60 protesters were killed and 2500 were wounded. As black smoke rises from the sands, the camera lifts up on a drone to survey the scene before we join Karma looking out of her window and wondering when it will all end. She plays her cello beside a crumpled building in a low-stooping bid for pathos on behalf of film-makers who seem to have forgotten her complaint that outsiders only offer Palestinians sympathy instead of doing something tangible to help them. 

Closing on a shot of Ahmed paddling out to sea on a coracle, this is a hugely frustrating and ultimately disappointing film. McConnell and Keene couldn't have better intentions in putting themselves at risk so that the rest of the world can grasp daily reality in Gaza and witness the dignity and doughtiness of its residents. Indeed, it would be fascinating to learn how they operated and how they managed to smuggle their equipment and footage out of the enclave. But, while they meet some engaging characters during their sojourn, there's something Flahertyesque about their presentation. McConnell's compositions are always just a touch too picturesque, while the cinéma vérité approach exonerates them from having to draw any inferences or conclusions from what they witness. 

This is fine, in so far as it forces the audience to think for themselves. But it also leaves the subjects in isolation, as we are told precious little about their circumstances and only those with a good deal of foreknowledge will be able genuinely to appreciate the full gravity of their plight. Keene and McConnell also struggle to retain their previous detachment during the harrowing closing segment. But their use of slo-mo and the mawkish score seeks to manipulate the viewer's response to their footage. A particularly troubling sequence involves the little girl in purple at the Al Shifaa Hospital. The first time we see her, she appears lifeless. But she later wakes up and is seen running around in the street. Was this footage taken before or after the child was injured and, if she didn't die in the attack (as one can only hope she didn't), isn't the image that appears to suggest she did callously cynical?