Four decades after taking her first credit as a script supervisor, Martha Pinson makes her directorial bow with Tomorrow. She's worked on some important pictures in her time, but her reputation rests on her collaboration with Martin Scorsese, which began with the `Life Lessons' segment of New York Stories (1989). Such is his gratitude for Pinson's contribution to Bringing Out the Dead (1999), The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006), Shutter Island (2010) and Hugo (2011) that Scorsese has executive produced her debut feature. This marks his first direct involvement in a British production and it's a shame that this well-meaning drama, which has been co-written by its two stars. isn't more imaginative or involving. 

Struggling to acclimatise to civvy street after being paralysed by an IED while serving in Afghanistan, Tesla (Sebastian Street) hooks up with free spirit Sky (Stuart Brennan) after the latter's King Charles spaniel, Monty, catches the eye of Mandy (Joss Stone) in a London pub. While attending an art exhibition by Sky's friend, Lee-Ann (Sophie Kennedy Clark), Tesla is charmed by her flatmate, Katie (Stephanie Leonidas), an MA student who wants to open a restaurant and offers the wheelchair-bound veteran a chance to become her chef. 

He impresses her with a homemade veggie burger, but misses their rendezvous in Battersea Park when a taxi horn triggers a flashback to the ambush that injured him. She forgives him at Sky's birthday party and they go back to her place to make love. But Lee-Ann is nettled when Sky declines her invitation to spend the night and fails to notice that he is clearly hiding a secret, even when he ducks out of another invitation to hang out after Katie passes her exam and Sky promises to find the funding to launch her business.

Mr Charles (James Cosmo) is enthusiastic, but doesn't want Sky involved in the enterprise. However, Sky gives Lee-Ann some good advice when she falls into debt and he urges her to be up front with Katie about her problems and to keep working on her art. But Sky doesn't practice what he preaches, as he is ignoring letters from the NHS requesting that he contacts them about a course of treatment that he abandoned some 16 months earlier. As his condition deteriorates, Sky asks Tesla to cook him some soup. But Charles has found him a job at a Chelsea restaurant helping chef Milo (Paul Kaye) and Tesla has to refuse because he needs to keep proving that someone in a wheelchair can navigate a cramped kitchen. 

When Charles goes quiet, Katie takes a job in tele-support and Tristan (Will Tudor) flirts with her on the late shift. Meanwhile, Lee-Ann starts selling paintings online and offers to nurse Sky because he looks rough. Moreover, Tesla (who has been going to physio at the army services centre and discovers he is able to move a toe) is given a chance to run the kitchen when Milo is called away on an emergency. He messes up one dish out of 200 and is fired and his day goes from bad to worse when Katie takes him to an exhibition of war art and a flashback to the fateful explosion prompts him to accuse her of dating him out of pity. 

They argue and Tesla seeks out Sky for solace. However, he collapses at the pub and Tesla has to carry him to the nearby hospital, where he discovers that Charles is his father and disabuses him of the conviction that his son is a wastrel. With Tower Bridge and the Shard lit up behind him, Tesla also makes a Thames-side apology to Katie, who forgives him because she loves him. Charles and Sky also patch up when health worker Chris (Stephen Fry) persuades him to come clean about being HIV+ and he also reassures Lee-Ann that they can have a normal relationship. Completing the hopeful ever afters are Tesla's phone call to his army mates to meet up again and the receipt of the cheque to open Katie's restaurant. 

There's a genre of TV-movie that addresses the issues pertaining to a particular medical condition. It's rather callously nicknamed`the disease of the week movie' and Pinson and her scripting co-stars offer two for the price of one in this earnest, but hollow drama. Sebastian Street and Stuart Brennan couldn't be more sincere in considering PTSD and HIV, but their plotting and dialogue isn't strong enough to convince viewers that they are watching a slice of life. Despite the best efforts of Stephanie Leonidas and Sophie Kennedy Clark, the female characters are little more than attractive ciphers who love the chaps for all their physical and psychological hang-ups, while James Cosmo does what he can with a clichéd disapproving dad role. 

Cameos from Joss Stone and Stephen Fry say a good deal about Pinson's address book, but they don't add much to a picture that suggests little creative evolution since the shorts Don't Nobody Love the Game More Than Me (2001) and It's Not Saturday (2011), which each centre on African-American males of varying ages trying to keep their heads above water in New York City. Production designer Joe Barcham does a decent job contrasting Tesla's tatty flat, Katie and Lee-Ann's cosy apartment and Sky's flashy pad. But Pinson struggles to capture a vibrant sense of place, in spite of cinematographer Darran Bragg's slick shots of familiar London landmarks. Moreover, she fails to treat Tesla's trauma and Sky's virus as anything more than conveniently poignant plot points.

Having made an innovative debut with A Moving Image (2016), National Film and Television School graduate Shola Amoo takes a small step backwards with The Last Tree. Set in the early 2000s, this insight into a British-Nigerian boy's struggle to find a niche in a rough South London neighbourhood after an idyllic fostered spell in the country is vaguely autobiographical. But, despite its debts to Sally El Hossaini's My Brother the Devil (2012) and Barry Jenkins's Moonlight (2016), it's also frustratingly generic in its discussion of clashing cultures, generations and genders. 

Eleven year-old Femi (Tai Golding) is blissfully happy living in rural Lincolnshire with his long-term foster mother, Mary (Denise Black) and playing in the mud with his three white classmates. He's less than enthused when biological mother, Yinka (Gbemisola Ikumelo) pays a visit and informs Mary that she's ready to take her son back to the tenement estate where she lives in South London. Feeling betrayed by Mary, who had promised that he could stay, Femi sulks during his farewell party and remains silently sullen as Bimpe (Layo-Christina Akinlude) drives him and Yinka from peaceful greenery to concrete bustle. 

A devout Yoruba Christian with traditional Nigerian attitudes to parenting, Yinka gives Femi little freedom and canes him when he fails to do his chores around the flat while she is out at work. When she grumbles that she didn't raise him to be rude, Femi shoots back that she didn't raise him at all. Yinka eavesdrops on his phone calls to Mary to make sure he says nothing negative about his new life and complains that Mary had neglected his spiritual life during his stay. She insists on praying over her son on his first day of school, where he is teased because of his full name (Olafemi) and is threatened with suspension when he gets into a fight with mouthy classmate, Dean (Shaqai White).

Running away rather than face Yinka's wrath, Femi mooches around the estate and plays football with some older boys. Five years later, however, Femi (Sam Adewunmi) is mates with Dean (Rasaq Kukoyi) and Tayo (Jayden Jean-Paul-Denis). They shoplift from the corner store and Femi beats up a white boy who has been snitching at school. In return for his action, local gangster Mace (Demmy Ladipo) gives him a phone and tells him to call at any time. When Femi goes to his red-lit lair, Mace asks if he wants to be trapped in a white man job or free like a black man should be. However, his poor attendance at school infuriates Yinka and Mr Williams (Nicholas Pinnock), a kindly teacher who has his best interests at heart. 

Femi prefers listening to The Cure to Tupac Shakur, but hides the fact from Dean and Tayo. He also disapproves of their teasing Tope (Ruthxjiah Bellenea) for having blue braids and the darkest skin in the class and she brushes aside his attempts to talk to her because he failed to intervene. He is much less respectful to Yinka and resents it when she invites Williams to the flat to have a man-to-man chat about knuckling down to pass some exams. As he has never known his father, Femi isn't ready to accept any loco parentis charity. However, he is surprised to discover that Mace is a doting dad to his young daughter after he is asked back to the flat after rescuing him from an ambush by two rival thugs.

Mace is impressed by the composure Femi shows while acting as lookout while he takes care of some business and swears that they are now brothers. They share a joint and Femi is still tripping when he gets to school and pushes Dean over for harassing Tope. In his imagination, she kisses him in gratitude, but he is hauled before Williams to explain his behaviour. Femi tries to act tough, but Williams stands up to him and the teenage winds up sobbing on his teacher's shoulder.

Shortly afterwards, Femi goes to see Mary and is surprised to find she is fostering Ola (Ameen Mustapha). He asks why she does it and she claims to enjoy the pride she feels at seeing her boys grow. But Femi points out that they are not `her boys' and she is stung into silence. Ola is glad to have a playmate and their horseplay in the garden softens Femi's rigid expression for the first time since he was last in this happy place. He hugs Ola and Mary before heading south, where he tries to study and be kinder to Yinka. However, Mace doesn't take kindly to Femi ignoring his phone calls and he orders minder Dwaune (Tuwaine Barrett) to give him a serious kicking in the gutter. 

Shocked by the sight of her son, Yinka apologises for bringing him to London. As she cleans the cuts on his face, she tries to explain that she had no one and only wanted to give him the good things that she never had. He regrets having said he hated her and they reach a new understanding, as he does with Tope at school. But Dean is a lost cause, as he has gravitated into Mace's orbit and Femi tries to put it all behind him when he travels to Lagos to meet his father, Babatunde (Kayode Freeman), who is a wealthy preacher. 

Realising that it took courage for Yinka to break away from this controlling man, Femi embraces her and flees the huge house where he clearly doesn't belong to sample life in the poorer quarters of the Nigerian capital. He also submits to a Yoruba blessing and paddles in the ocean before letting out a yell of defiance that cross cuts with the one his younger self let out on the wolds. 

Hinting at the kind of person that Femi will become, the African coda allows Amoo and cinematographer Stil Williams to contrast the look and light of the bustling city with those of the London enclave and the Lincolnshire countryside. Indeed, this sense of place is the acutest aspect of a picture that is so fixated with Femi that it doesn't have time to develop any of the secondary characters, including Yinka, whose transition from strict stranger to yearning mom feels as strained as the life-shaping brushes with Mary, Mace, Williams and Tope. 

Such is the potency of Sam Adewunmi's performance, however, that one can understand why Amoo would restrict his focus in such an intimate and intense treatise on identity. The physical contrast between Adewunmi and Tai Golding is a little jarring, but it reinforces the disconnect between the country boy and the town teen that is briefly repaired when Femi recognises his younger self in Ola (hence the name). Often depicted in close-up, as he reacts to situations over which he rarely has any control, Adewunmi conveys pent-up fury and potential in equal measure. But Amoo overdoes the use of travelling fish-eye shots and warped sound to suggest his sense of dislocation, although this is the only stylistic tic in a steady display of telling a story through character and place rather than through narrative contrivance.

Last month saw CinemaItaliaUK make a welcome return from its summer break with a screening of Paolo Zucca's latest comedy. Such was the clamour for this sellout show that there will be another chance to see L'uomo che compro' la luna/The Man Who Bought the Moon on 12 October at the Regent Street Cinema in London.

The tone is set by the opening gag, as a motorist on a vast expanse of Sardinian salt flat stubbornly refuses to drive around a donkey blocking his path. This is the kind of situation that Milanese paratrooper Kevin Pirelli (Jacopo Cullin) will have to deal with when he returns to the island of his ancestors (under his real name of Gavino Zoccheddu) at the behest of Bureau of EuroAtlantic Security wonks Pino (Stefano Fresi) and Dino (Francesco Pannofino) to investigate rumours causing disquiet in diplomatic circles that a local has purchased the moon.  

Before he leaves, however, the blonde Kevin has to be taught the difference between a goat and a sheep by horse whisperer Badore (Benito Urgu). Moreover, he has to undergo a crash course in being a Sardinian, with Badore headbutting him for winning at a game of morra. He also gives him tips on how to stand with a beer, how to drink wine without getting drunk and the art of eating maggot-infested Brigante cheese. Badore also reveals that he is only helping Kevin because his grandfather was a notorious anarchist. But he still smashes a plate over Kevin's head when he makes a joke about Sardinians being intimate with their sheep.

Forced to apologise, Kevin accepts Badore's challenge for a s'istrumpa wrestling match and learns that the older man was forced to leave Sardinia (and his 10 children) after he accidentally shot a small boy scrumping cherries from his tree. He torched all of his possessions with the exception of a snow globe that helps him deal with nostalgia pangs. But Kevin manages to break it and Baldore orders him to leave to prepare for his final examination, which involves him dressing in a traditional peasant suit, answering a series of viva voce questions and shooting a wild boar released from a hole in the wall. He passes with flying colours and Badore rewards him with a penknife. But he is assassinated by Pino and Dino to preventing him from returning home and jeopardising Kevin's mission.

On Sardinia, the truck driver is still beeping his horn at the immovable mule, as the dark-haired Kevin gets seasick on the ferry across the Tyrrhenian Sea. Passing up the opportunity for a game of morra, he lands in Cagliari and quickly discovers that things have changed since Badore left home. He sticks out like a sore thumb, as he crosses the island on foot and by bus, speaking only to a suspicious local who swears at him after a briefly brusque exchange. 

Eventually, Kevin arrives in Mean Peak, where he is challenged to a Leonesque game of bar football by a grizzled local. He wins with some panache and further inspires trust by triumphing at morra and singing a quatrain. However, he forgets Badore's tip about drinking hooch and gets blotto and blurts out that he is a secret agent in the pay of the Americans who has come to discover who bought the moon. Battered and bloodied, Kevin flees through the woods with the entire population at his heels. However, they stop chasing when he steals a tethered donkey and is picked up in his truck by Taneddu (Lazar Ristovski) when he finds him sprawling on the salt flat. 

While Taneddu is out fishing with a hand grenade, Teresa (Ángela Molina) tends to Kevin's wounds and he is amazed to wake and find he has completely healed. After a huge seafood supper, Kevin learns from Teresa that Taneddu gave her the Moon after they married in defiance of her father's wishes. When he presses his host, Taneddu explains that he wrote to claim the lunar surface on a res nullius application. But, when Apollo 11 landed in 1969, Neil Armstrong became entitled to a 10% ownership because he was the first to set foot there. Despite efforts to get him to sell his share, Armstrong never replied to Taneddu's correspondence. But he still claims a majority stake, because, as a private citizen, he isn't bound by the terms of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty preventing nations from asserting sovereignty over the void. 

Back in his room, Kevin tries to contact Pino and Dino. But Badore's ghost appears to remind him of the Sardinian tenets of loyalty, respect and gratitude. He also reveals that the island's heroes and heroines live on the Moon and he introduces Kevin to Antonio Gramsci, Eleanor of Arborea, Hampsicora, Antoni Simon Mossa, Leonardo Alagon, Paskedda Zau, St Ephysius, Giovanni Maria Angioy, Emilia Lussu and Grazia Deledda. Kevin also meets his own grandfather, who urges him to choose the right side, as Sardinians have always done. 

Returning to the fisherman's shack, Kevin tries to send a message that his mission should be aborted. But his machine breaks down and he is chased by the men from Mean Peak when he climbs a hill to get a signal on Taneddu's phone. He looks out to sea to see Pino and Dino arriving in a dinghy with submarine back-up. But Teresa summons the Moon by playing her pipes and it causes the tide to go out and strand the naval invasion. The locals cheer and Kevin resumes the name Gavino to nail his colours to the mast. As the film ends, Taneddu replaces the Stars and Stripes on the lunar surface with the Bandiera dei Quattro Mori. 

Following up the hugely popular 2013 comedy, The Referee, Paolo Zucca is rather fortunate that this affectionate satire on Sardinian provincialism and American colonialism coincides with Donald Trump's recent inquiry about acquiring Greenland from the Danes, He also benefits from a stellar performance by Jacopo Cullin, who shifts between knockabout and pathos with a dexterity that keeps the audience rooting for a swaggering nincompoop who isn't always entirely genial. He is drolly supported by Stefano Fresi and Francesco Pannofino, as the portly handlers who are ready to resort to a little skullduggery, and it's always a pleasure to see Spanish actress Ángela Molina. But they all come close to being eclipsed by Method acting donkeys Sol and Luna.

Scripting with Barbara Alberti and Geppi Cucciari, Zucca puts an absurdist spin on some familiar culture clash tropes, many of which are less than subtle and often overdone. But Ramiro Civita's imagery is a treat and there's an irresistible whimsicality about the picture that recalls the postwar British comedies of the expat Italian director Mario Zampi. All of which makes the producing credit of Argentinian director Daniel Burman all the more curious.

The Nazi occupation of Norway has been examined in numerous films since the Second World War. Keen to show support for their besieged ally, British and American film-makers commended Norwegian resistance in Dorothy Arzner's First Comes Courage (1940), John Farrow's Commandos Strike At Dawn, Harold French's The Day Will Dawn, Spencer Gordon Bennett's They Raid By Night (all 1942), Lewis Milestone's Edge of Darkness, and Irving Picher's The Moon Is Down (both 1943). In the immediate postwar period, the heroism of the partisans was celebrated in Jean Dréville and Titus Vibe-Müller's Operation Swallow (1948) and Arne Skouen's Oscar-nominated Ni Liv (1957), an account of the agonising ordeal of national icon, Jan Baalsruud, which also inspired Harald Zwart's serviceable 12th Man (2017).

There was something of a lull following Walter Graumann's 633 Squadron (1964) and Anthony Mann's The Heroes of Telemark (1965). But the `now it can be told' format has been frequently dusted down since Hans Petter Moland directed The Last Lieutenant (1993), with Jan Troell's Hamsun (1996), Erik Poppe's The King's Choice (2016), Ole Christian Madsen's Flame and Citron, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg's Max Manus: Man of War (both 2008), Adrian Vitoria's Age of Heroes (2011) and Petter Næss's Into the White (2012) deftly blending fact and fiction to ensure that the sacrifices made by the embattled population will never be forgotten. 

The latest feature to be added to this list is sophomore Ross Clarke's The Birdcatcher. Based on actual events and taking its title from Psalm 91, this is an ardent attempt to commemorate those who suffered in the Norwegian Holocaust. But, despite the extensive research conducted by screenwriter Tor Morten Venaasen, Clarke's follow-up to his little-seen debut, Desiree (2015), lacks authenticity and depth. 

In the port of Torheim in 1942, Esther (Sarah-Sofie Boussnina) practices speeches from Macbeth in a bedroom whose walls are festooned with Hollywood pin-ups. Father Hans (Dag Mahmberg) is a barber, while mother Rebecca (Andrea Bræin Hovig) is concerned by the imposition of a curfew and the growing threat posed by the Nazis to the city's Jewish population. When regular customer Tor (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) is forced to join the German patrols rounding up Jews, Hans reassures his daughter that everything will be okay. But, even though Tor helps smuggle Esther and Rebecca away in a truck, they are stopped by a patrol and, having been hidden in a secret compartment, Esther is left to fend for herself in a snowy wilderness.

She is spotted by Aksel (Arthur Hakalanti), a teenager with cerebral palsy, whose quisling father, Johann (Jakob Cedergren), detests the Jews and the British. He brings Esther some clothes and she cuts her long hair with her father's razor and adopts the name Ola (after the missing son of the family's downstairs neighbour) to pass herself off as a boy. Local German commander Herman (August Diehl) accepts Ola's story and wife Anna (Laura Birn) persuades Johann to hire the boy to help brother-in-law Fred (Johannes Kuhnke) with chores around the farm. 

Ola befriends a pig she nicknames `Bogie' because he has the same eyes as Humphrey Bogart and hides from Aksel the fact that his mother is having an affair with Herman. Such is Johann's commitment to the fascist cause, he stands for election for the Nasjonal Samling and goes to Torheim on party business. In his absence, Ola plans to flee for the Swedish border and agrees to let Aksel come with her. But he becomes too engrossed in the newsreel at the nearby cinema and they miss their chance to slip away from Anna and Herman. When she chides him for not being focussed, Anna discovers her secret and agrees to remain silent when Esther threatens to expose her affair. 

Johann returns feeling buoyant after securing an election nomination and gives Ola a party uniform. He also teaches him how to shoot and Aksel is jealous because his father regards him as a weakling. However, when he tries to chop down the Christmas tree to uphold a family tradition, he succeeds only in gashing his leg and Fred taunts him for being an embarrassment. Anna intervenes to prevent the doctor from giving Ola a check-up and pities her when Johann slaughters Bogie and she vomits after eating pork. But they are all on tenterhooks that their secrets will be uncovered. 

Surviving a scare when Herman brings Tor to the farm for interrogation in the sauna, Ola wears the blue uniform when Johann entertains NS dignitaries. He also helps Anna cover the bruises on her face when her husband beats her for her adultery and notices that the necklace she is wearing once belonged to her mother. During supper, however, Johann learns that his farm is about to be requisitioned and he is dismayed that everything he has worked for after an impoverished childhood will be stolen. Nevertheless, he is too drunk to think straight and strips Ola in the sauna in a bid to make a man of him in front of his guests. 

Aghast to discover the truth, Johann is humiliated when Esther accuses him of harbouring Jews and she barricades everyone inside the wooden hut and sets light to it. Johann manages to escape and, when Herman shoots Fred, he kills the German who had cuckolded him before blowing his own brains out. Anna urges Esther and Aksel to leave in the horse sledge and they make a dash across six miles of treacherous country to sanctuary. However, they have to cross a frozen lake to reach Sweden and a bogus flash forward to the pair enjoying a trailer for a Greta Garbo movie cuts back to show Akesel drowning in a hole in the ice, as Esther lies on the snow and sobs. 

A closing sequence in Torheim in 1945 sees Esther re-open her father's shop and banish a snooty customer who brands Anna a Nazi slut. In gratitude for her courage, Esther sits her down, plonks an ill-fitting wig on her shaven head and applies some lip gloss. They smile bravely into the mirror with clutched hands, as Jim Copperthwaite's over-emphatic score ladles on the schmaltz. It's a suitably gauche ending to a film that stumbles at every melodramatic turn in exploiting an atrocity for cheap thrills.

Whatever truth there is in the narrative is compromised by the clumsiness of the writing and direction. Dotting the action with inelegant borrowings from the likes of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List (1993) and James Cameron's Titanic (1997), Clarke consistently opts for style over substance, as he lingers on John Christian Rosenlund's atmospheric snowscapes to suggest a country huddling against the cold in anticipation of a thaw. But too many key moments are bungled, with the climactic sequence in which Aksel drowns being stupefyingly inept, as the faux flash forward turns out to be a cheesy sleight of hand, while his submerging is all the more risible for the fact that Esther is bone dry (surely she would be soaking if she had tried to help him) as she kneels on secure ice right beside a hole that leaves on wondering how the lad ended up in the water, as it certainly isn't big enough for an entire sledge to have fallen through. 

Even though she makes a rather unconvincing boy, Sarah-Sofie Boussnina emotes soulfully as Esther/Ola and she is supported with conviction by such fine actors as Jakob Cedergren, Laura Birn and August Diehl, who adds yet another Nazi to his CV after Quentin Tatantino's Inglourious Basterds (2009). Production designer Åsa Nilsson also deserves credit for farmstead interiors, although the decision to filling Esther's room with film stars links her a little too blatantly to Anne Frank, who had pasted pictures of Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland, Norma Shearer, Lily Bouwmeester and Heinz Rühmann on the wall of her Amsterdam attic.

Polish debutant Adrian Panek deserved to reach a wider audience with Daas (2011), which revealed the baleful influence that Jewish mystic Jacob Frank exerted over the court of 18th-century Austrian emperor, Joseph II. Receiving a limited release in the UK, Panek's sophomore outing sees him switch focus from immortality to inhumanity in Werewolf, which is set towards the end of the Second World War in the vicinity of the Gross-Rosen forced labour camps that were operated by the Nazis in South-West Poland. The central storyline is indebted to William Golding's Lord of the Flies. But, despite the odd flash of allegorical ingenuity, this grim fable lacks the 1954 novel's insight and savagery. 

As the Nazis execute the surviving Jewish inmates of Camp Wolfsberg at Gross-Rosen in February 1945, Wladek (Kamil Polnisiak) secures the safety of his dorm-mates by having them do press-ups to amuse the guards. An Alsatian mauls a dying man and rats scurry everywhere, as the Red Army liberates the camp and the children are taken to an orphanage run by the embittered Jadwiga (Danuta Stenka). She hopes that 20 year-old Hanka (Sonia Mietielica) will help her look after her fellow refugees. But she is keen to leave for Warsaw at the earliest opportunity.

As Hanys (Nicolas Przygoda) is from Silesia, the younger kids nickname him `Krauthead' and he responds to their taunting with violence. The bespectacled Wladek looks on, but doesn't intervene, as he has come to learn that the best way to survive is to avoid confrontation. He finds a golf club and is hitting balls in the woods when he stumbles across a man wearing a blue-striped uniform lying in the undergrowth with his throat ripped out. That night, as Wladek watches Hanka sleep, he spots Hanys tiptoeing out of the dormitory. He doesn't get very far, however, before he is stopped in his tracks by a ravenous dog. 

Next morning, Hanka stitches the gash in Hanys's arm after he spends the night in a tree. As he had stolen the last of the provisions, there is no more food after a meagre breakfast of potatoes that Siwy (Jakub Syska), Ruda (Helena Mazur), Czarny (Krzysztof Durski), Chudy (Maksymilian Balcerowski), Duza (Julia Slusarczyk) and Mala (Matylda Ignasiak) gobble with their hands, as they don't know how to use cutlery. Jadwiga suggests foraging for berries in the woods, but Wladek drifts off alone to check on the dying man and recognises him as one of the German guards, who had been trying to disguise himself as an inmate. As he stands on a rocky ledge, Hanys urges him to jump, but Wladek becomes more determined than ever to survive when they find Jadwiga's body on the woodland path with her throat shredded. 

The diminutive and mute Mala had managed to escape the predator unharmed and Hanka keeps her close when a pair of Red Army soldiers turn up after dark in their truck. Lonka (Oleksandr Shcherbyna) tries to force himself on Hanka and she feels betrayed when Wladek does nothing to help her and it's left to Hanys to attack the Russian with the golf club. He gets a beating for his trouble, but both troopers are attacked by the ferocious hounds and Mala has to hide in the dumb waiter after she is locked out of the kitchen by her terrified friends. Fortunately, they are able to retrieve her and Hanka sleeps with a knife beside her, but she gets to use it to slice the hunk of bread that Hanys had been hiding.

Wandering in the night, Wladek sees one of the dogs through a glass door. He recalls the command the guards used to give to make the animals sit and the creature allows him to pass unharmed after he removes his striped jacket. Creeping into the woods, Wladek finds some water trickling down a moss-covered wall. Venturing into the basement, he also finds a large tin and presents it to the others the next morning. Hanka opens the can to discover it contains engine grease and Wladek defiantly eats a mouthful to save face. 

Hanys is convinced they are all going to die, as no one will come to their aid. But Hanka refuses to let him make a run for the Russian truck to see it there is any food inside. With the kids reduced to licking condensation off the walls, she finds a red dress in Jadwiga's suitcase and some lipstick. She enjoys feeling normal again and dozes off on a sofa on the balcony, only to wake to find Wladek standing over her and she slaps him across the head. Consequently, he says nothing about his newfound power to tame the dogs and keeps going for nocturnal strolls while the others sleep.

Having decided to drink the vodka the Russians brought, the tipsy children throw stuff off the upstairs landing in a gleeful orgy of senseless destruction. However, they realise help is not going to come when Hanys finds Lonka's mangled corpse in a wardrobe standing outside the front door and Hanka agrees that they are going to have to find a way to reach the truck. Hanys creates a diversion to allow Hanka a chance to run to the vehicle. However, she can't find the keys and a barking dog prevents her from reaching the gun that fell out of the cab as she climbed in. Seeing Hanys rushing towards the coal chute, Wladek tries to eliminate his rival for Hanka's affection by bolting the grille. But Hanys makes it safely through another window and, unwilling to pay a price for his treachery, Wladek runs into the trees with the dogs allowing him to pass. 

In his guilt-racked distress, Wladek does press-ups to punish himself before coming across a bunker in the woods. Inside, he finds an SS soldier (Werner Daelan) who warns him that the Soviets are killing Germans like lice. He gives Wladek some food, but the boy smashes him over the head with a bottle when he tries to grab the arm bearing his camp tattoo. Meanwhile, Hanys and the others explore the house and find an exhausted dog lying on the floor. Mala brings it some water and talks to the animal as she pats it. Suddenly realising that the beasts have been trained to react to the striped jackets, Hanys removes his and leads the tamed Alsatian through the front door. When he gives orders in German, those waiting outside come to heel and Hanka is able to leave the truck without harm. 

While the children go in search of Wladek, he returns to the house, where he is ambushed by the SS soldier. He tries to throttle the boy, but Hanys belts him across the head with the golf club and the youths flee. The Nazi chases them, only to be set upon by the dogs. But Hanka gives him an object lesson in being merciful, as she calls off the animals and leaves the German to take his chances against the advancing Russians. Accepting Wladek back among their number, the survivors walk back towards civilisation. 

Despite its earnest efforts to warn against the rise of far-right groups across Europe and beyond, this hybrid horror is no more dramatically sophisticated than such consciously bad taste schlockers as Tommy Wirkola's Dead Snow (2009) or Dominik Hartl's Attack of the Lederhosen Zombies (2016). Indeed, these exploitation flicks do a better job of establishing the lie of the land than Panek, who fails to explain the distances involved from Gross-Rosen to the house and how close the Red Army is to the retreating Nazis. Consequently, the only source of peril and suspense comes from the besieging German Shepherds. Yet, as it's made clear early on that the dogs are not going to be allowed to harm the kids, it's only a matter of time before they discover Wladek's unform-shedding secret and are able to walk free unscathed. 

This flaw in the storyline doesn't detract from the commitment of the young cast, however, with the doll-like Matylda Ignasiak and the spitefully selfish Maksymilian Balcerowski doing every bit as well as Nicolas Przygoda, Sonia Mietielica and Kamil Polnisiak, whose simmering impassivity leaves the deepest impression, as he struggles to channel the resourcefulness he has honed through unimaginable suffering into a greater sense of communal responsibility. 

By contrast, the adults are mere ciphers and Panek's script tends to introduce them whenever the flagging narrative needs a kickstart. His direction is more astute, however, and he is ably abetted by cinematographer Dominik Danilczyk, production designer Anna Wunderlich, composer Antoni Komasa-Lazarkiewicz and sound mixers Mariusz Bielecki and Grzegorz Kucharski, who contribute as much to the canine threat as dog trainer Gergo Benkoczy. The notion that dogs only go rogue when obeying wicked humans isn't a new one. Nor is the concept of putting faith in the innocence of children when the moral order has broken down. But Panek draws his parallels cogently enough, even though this lacks generic rigour and vigour.

The BFI Player is a wonderful thing, as makes treasures and curios from the UK's various film archives available online. A few more old feature films might be offered for free or token fees, but when it comes to newsreels, home movies and amateur items, this priceless resource comes into its own. Where else could you view The Skimsters (1959), a record of water-skiing on Loch Earn in Perthshire that won the Marshall Quaich award at the Scottish Amateur Film Festival? 

Narrated by BBC newsreader Richard Baker, this 11-minute snippet is of particular relevance this week, as its maker is front and centre in Harry Birrell Presents Films of Love & War, a tribute to a passionate cineaste that has been compiled by Matt Pinder from the 400 cans of fim that were discovered in a Glasgow shed. Including recollections from Birrell's actress/producer granddaughter, Catrina, and extracts from his diaries read by Richard Madden, this is anything but a nostalgic wallow. It's a unique account of the 20th century that does full justice to Birrell's journal musing: `The passage of time often dims the mirror and the memories fade forever, unless some small spark lights the fire again.'

As Carina recalls in an opening voiceover, Harry Birrell devoted his life to making films and her four year-old father features in a 1959 short made in the family's very own cinema. He was given his first cine camera in 1928 and the 10 year-old quickly mastered the techniques. But it wasn't until 1940 that he began writing the diaries that he hoped would give his mother an insight into his life in case he perished while serving King and Country in the Second World War. 

Birrell was born on 16 March 1918, but never knew his father, as he was killed at Salonika a month before the Great War ended. His mother raised him and older sister Betty on a widow's pension. But, in 1938, he left for London to train to become a surveyor and was dazzled by the city's landmarks and bright lights. Moreover, he became a frequent patron of the Dominion Cinema, where he saw Edmond Goulding's Dark Victory and Sam Wood's Goodbye Mr Chips (both 1939). 

When now swimming at the lido or rowing on the lake at Regent's Park, Birrell had a front row seat as the crowds greeted Neville Chamberlain on his return from Munich in 1938. He was wrong about having secured `peace for our time', but Birrell wrote to his mother (in a letter enclosed with his laundry bundle) about having seen cabinet ministers entering No.10 Downing Street. In her reply, Mrs Birrell cursed the waste of the previous conflict that had robbed her of a husband and her children of a father. She hopes that her son will be safe, but he was much too enamoured of Barbara Smith to be bothered about Adolf Hitler. 

Sadly, nothing came of this crush, just as the Anschluss passed without a shot being fired in anger. So, Birrell headed north to holiday at Blackwaterfoot on the Isle of Arran with some bright young things. He made use of some new colour stock to capture a glorious sunset. But the August headlines made increasingly grim reading and the Nazi-Soviet Pact prompted the party to break up and Birrell lamented that this group of people would never meet together again. 

Back in London, he volunteered for the Army, in the hope of attaining a swift commission. Training with the Cameronians at Hamilton Barracks proved a shock to the system, however, and he was relieved to be posted to Dunbar, where he made `Officer Cadet Training Unit 165'. The footage shows troops performing various tasks around the base, as Birrell's diary recalls the capitulation of northern Europe and the fact that he was sent to guard the Scottish coast in June 1940 in case the Nazis invaded. 

He was soon stood down and returned for a passing out parade before returning to Blackwaterfoot for an idyllic August leave that saw him meet the love of his life, Ann Craig. She was reading Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind when he first set eyes on her and their fate was sealed when a blindfolded friend paired them at a dance. They kissed during a walk to the King's Cave and spent the rest of the week together, not knowing if they would have a future together. Following a farewell dinner in Glasgow, Birrell sailed to India on the SS Britannia, which paused briefly at Sierra Leone before arriving in Bombay (as Mumbai was then called) after weeks at sea. 

Falling on his feet, Birrell was attached to the Gurkha Rifles and got to spend a night in the Taj Mahal Hotel. However, he was shocked by the poverty he witnessed and took moving and still pictures of what he saw before taking the train to Shillong in Assam, where he was at the Happy Valley station close to the Burmese border. Taken aback to be put in command of his own battalion, Birrell was even more alarmed by the slaughter of live animals by kukhurie during the Dashain celebrations. But he filmed anyway and was relieved that the final bull was beheaded in a single swipe, as superstition dictated that the regiment's good fortune depended on the success of the blow. But all seemed well as they were posted to Karachi, where Birrell took his troops swimming in the sea.

At this point, Pinder imposes an interval to introduce Birrell's friend, 
Norman Spiers, who shows us clips from `Himalayan Heaven', which he filmed in the Kodacolor film that he had persuaded his superiors it was better to use to enable him to detect camouflage amongst the trees. He certainly made effective use of it filming his pals water-skiing in Kashmir. But Birrell's days with the unit were numbered, as Japan had declared war and his experience as a surveyor prompted a transfer to the Survey of India at Dehradun.

As the Deputy Director of Map Publication, Birrell was responsible for an area covering the Middle East to the Philippines However, he was soon on his travels to survey a potential transport route to Tibet through the Himalayas and he got to travel on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, whose locomotives had been built in Glasgow. Possibly among the first Europeans to see the terrain, Birrell next found himself recording tides in the Bay of Bengal, as Burma fell and the Allied Command needed to have new maps drawn of potential battlegrounds. In his journal, Birrell complains that the work was hard, but he is aware that he is miles away from the fighting in some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. 

By Christmas 1942, Birrell was bored, even though Calcutta had experienced air raids. Consequently, he asked to see some action and was sent back to Imphal Plain on the Assam border to map Japanese gun placements and recce the landscape prior to any counteroffensive. He was proud of his ragtag band, who made light of spending one night in a minefield and having to survive on tins of bully beef dropped by the RAF. Communicating solely by heliograph, Birrell compiled 10 maps to enable air sorties to strafe the Japanese. In reward, he was given leave to travel to Nepal and his colour footage of Kathmandu is stunning, as he got to stay with the Maharajah. He also witnessed the Indra Jatra festival that coincided with the fall of Italy in 1943. 

An accident with a Sten gun cost the life of one of Birrell's trusted Sepoys in 1944 and he describes the effect on morale of this unexpected loss. But worse was to follow in Manipur, as the Japanese dug in for a long siege at Tamu. By the time Birrell's men entered the town, they found so many dead that they had to use bulldozers to bury them. One colleague found a photo of a pretty girl in the uniform of a soldier whose flesh had been devoured by ants and they felt nothing but pity for him. Feeling a long way from home, Birrell trawled through his memories and, in the only misstep in the entire documentary, Pinder strives to recreate his sense of ennui in a montage segment accompanied by the sentimental ditty, `A Tree in the Meadow', which wasn't actually written until 1948. 

Rather oddly, we cut away from this moment of high wartime drama to show Carina and her father, Johnny, using a wheelbarrow to take Birrell's film trunks for analysis and restoration. We see close-ups of Carina smiling as she watches projected images on a wall, including those of her grandfather's 1953 marriage to Joan. They had three children and the movies of them playing are charming, especially the clip of Johnny playing cowboys with one of his sisters, who rolls over dramatically having been shot in front of the fireplace. Equally droll is a shot of an aged Birrell wading fully clothed into the sea so that only his straw hat remains.

But, as Spiers reports, Birrell's sight deteriorated over time and he needed to use a white cane. Moreover, he could no longer see the images he had captured up to his death in 1993, when he was 74 and Carina was eight. Rather than end here, however, Pinder takes us back to the last diary, which was written in 1945. He ran out of film on a jungle expedition into Burma and we have to rely on his eloquence, as he describes how he and his best buddy Freddy Forte managed to survive the onslaught when 800 Japanese advanced on their camp. Carina reads the passage to Freddy's daughter, Caroline Payne, who wishes she had asked more questions when he was still alive. 

Scrounging stock from Allied reinforcements, Birrell resumed filming on the long trek to Rangoon. He had a front-row view of Lord Louis Mountbatten's victory parade and paid his last handsome tribute to the Gurkhas. In all, he had lost just one man and survived the entire conflict without a scratch. But it's clear from the footage that Birrell had aged in Asia and he admits in his journal that his appetite for life has been depleted and that he is anxious about how he will adapt to civilian life. 

In `The Long Journey Home', he chronicles a sightseeing jaunt en route to a posting in Singapore. He then took a leisurely Cook's Tour home through the Middle East and made it back to Blighty in 1947. The only time he had fired his gun in anger had been at a snake that had fallen out of a tree. Carina suggests he wasn't a war hero in the conventional sense, but this seems a little unfair. He did his bit and made a difference and no more could be asked of anyone. Towards the end of his life, he bequeathed his films to his children. But, in looking back, he also urged them to keep looking forward. 

What a find these reels are and what admirable use Matt Pinder and co-editor Colin Monie have made of them. One can only imagine what else is contained in canisters that have defied the elements in keeping the celluloid in such remarkable condition for so long in a wooden shed. Perhaps the pick of the pics has already been incorporated into this compelling memoir, but it's to be hoped that a few more Harry Birrell presentations make it into the public domain. 

He was clearly a born film-maker, as he had an eye for a telling image and an intuitive sense of framing. Indeed, there's a guerilla feel to much of the wartime footage that gives it an immediacy that isn't always apparent in official newsreel coverage. As well as having an insatiable curiosity for the world around him, Birrell was also something of a showman and more might have been made of the fact that, in the 1950s, he converted two bedrooms at the family home in Giffnock, near Glasgow, into the smallest working cinema in Scotland. In addition to 25 red velvet seats (which are visible in the opening sequence), there was also a balcony and drawing curtains across the big screen that were weighted with lemonade bottles. 

Nevertheless, with composer Ian Dolamore deftly supplementing the original scores of Harry Lubin, this is a gem that will engross and enchant everyone who sees it. If it doesn't make it to a cinema on our patch, keep an eye on the TV listings, as BBC Scotland has been involved in the project and it may well fetch up on the iPlayer.