Although it may not be apparent on first sight, the films of Jan Svankmajer and David Cronenberg have much in common. Yet, while the Canadian favoured a distinctive brand of what was dubbed `body horror' in castigating an increasingly soulless consumer society, the Czech pioneered a form of `body satire' that similarly utilised corporeal parts and fluids to examine human frailty in the face of totalitarian oppression. Intriguingly, they now also share a bond through Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, as while Svankmajer had photographs of the pair beating seven shades out of each other in the visually inventive and intellectually demanding Surviving Life, Cronenberg has them exchanging stiff pleasantries for guarded barbs in A Dangerous Method, his deeply disappointing chronicle of the development of psychoanalysis in the early 1900s.

Dark impulses have always fascinated Cronenberg and he clearly detected them in The Talking Cure, Christopher Hampton's stage adaptation of John Kerr's 1993 book A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein, which centres on the affair between Jung (Michael Fassbender) and a disturbed Russian patient (Keira Knightley) that led to the Protestant Swiss doctor's growing detachment from his Austrian Jewish mentor (Viggo Mortensen). However, the battle between order and desire, science and nature and rationalism and spirituality has recently been engaged more challengingly by Simon Pummell in the docudrama Shock Head Soul, which takes place in the same era and focuses on the court case brought by German judge Daniel Paul Schreber (Hugo Kooschijn) to prove his sanity after publishing Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, which he had written (with a little help from the Writing Down Machine that transcribed his messages from God) while being treated by Professor Paul Fleschig (Thom Hoffman).

In Cronenberg's 1904, the 29 year-old Jung is expecting his first child with wealthy, but studiedly demure wife Emma (Sarah Gadon) when Sabina Spielrein arrives at the Burghölzli Clinic in Zurich suffering from paranoid hysteria. Sitting behind her in his consulting room to avoid making eye contact, Jung employs the method of Freudian analysis devised by his hero and succeeds in identifying that Spielrein's problems are rooted in the shame she felt at having enjoyed the spankings given by her father when she was a toddler.

Recognising Spielrein's feisty intelligence, Jung asks her to assist him in his experiments and she deduces that the passion in his marriage has been stifled by bourgeois convention while monitoring Emma's responses to a word association test. Jung is shocked when the virginal Spielrein offers to relieve his tensions. But, following his first meeting with Freud in Vienna, he comes to query his insistence on repressing desire while treating maverick analyst Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), whose hedonistic advice sparks an affair based on intellectual respect and corporal punishment.

As Jung's family grows, however, he begins to have qualms about the liaison and Spielrein slashes his cheek with a knife after he breaks up with her. She also demands that he tells Freud the truth about their relationship and wounds him further by agreeing with the Austrian's contention that most psychological disturbance has a sexual connection. Abashed by his admission and frustrated that Freud refuses to take seriously his ideas on extrasensory perception and mysticism, Jung becomes further alienated from his mentor during a sea voyage to New York, when Freud is stung by the fact that Jung can afford the first-class state room in which he dreams that the older man is a block on his ambition.

Despite a brief reunion, Jung and Spielrein eventually go their separate ways. When they next meet, on the eve of the Great War, she is married and pregnant and forging her own reputation in a field that is still regarded with scepticism by medics, scientists and academics alike. They admit to regretting that things didn't work out differently, but express their gratitude for the impact they have had upon each other before Cronenberg cuts to captions revealing that Freud died in London in 1939 after fleeing the Nazis, while Spielrein was murdered by German troops two years later in the Soviet Union. By contrast, Jung outlived both Emma and his mistress Toni Wolff to die in 1961. But such bald facts are somewhat symptomatic of this film's bloodless approach to a fascinating subject.

Considering the savagery with which Cronenberg had mocked psychotherapy in his 1979 chiller, The Brood, one might have expected this to be a more searching investigation into the strained friendship and increasingly bitter philosophical rivalry between Freud and Jung. But, while it keeps threatening to plunge into the dark dualities that made Dead Ringers (1988) so compelling, the action remains stubbornly superficial, as Hampton replaces civilised conversations with saturnine missives that even someone of Cronenberg's filmic ingenuity struggles to make visually intriguing.

Making the most of locations in Vienna and beside Lake Constance, James McAteer's production design and Peter Suschitzky's cinematography are impeccable. However, Denise Cronenberg's costumes are merely as functional as Howard Shore's score, while the quality of the performances is decidedly variable. Apart from the odd flash of sardonic wit and nettled egotism, Viggo Mortensen seems intent on remaining infuriatingly impassive behind his beard and fug of cigar smoke, while Michael Fassbender seems intent on doing a passable impression of Daniel Day-Lewis's Cecil Vyse in the Merchant-Ivory adaptation of A Room With a View (1985). As for Keira Knightley, who would have been in her element in the Indo-American heritage pictures that were once the jewel of the British cinematic crown, she opens with an excruciatingly inept display of over-acted lunacy before regaining her composure to convey creditably the difficulties facing a woman striving to be taken seriously in a man's world.

With factual accuracy and actorly aptness often coming at a premium, lavish production values and narrative coherence are usually the very least one can expect from a period piece. Given the topic and the available talent, therefore, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that A Dangerous Method represents a missed opportunity for both Cronenberg and his cast, who seem too caught up in the gravitas of the scenario to invest it with much scholarly insight, ethical conflict, emotional authenticity or dramatic significance.

Despite telling a markedly more frivolous story, Michael Curtiz's Casablanca makes for considerably more satisfying viewing. Indeed, seven decades after it was originally released, it still justifies its status among the most revered classics of the Hollywood studio era. Some are bound to claim that the travails of Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund in war-torn Morocco amount to no more than a hill of beans in our supposedly sophisticated cinematic times. But many more will be eager to renew a beautiful friendship with a movie that was based on an unproduced play and could easily have starred George Raft or Ronald Reagan had either been able to recognise a quality script when they saw it.

Since running guns to help Ethiopia resist Mussolini's invading forces and fighting for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) has run a nightclub in Casablanca. Simply interested in making a profit, he turns a blind eye to the political affiliations of his clientele. However, he retains a soft spot for underdogs and, when black marketeer Ugarte (Peter Lorre) confides that he has letters of transit that can guarantee the bearers safe passage to Portugal, Rick agrees to keep the documents safe when his shady pal is arrested by corrupt Vichy police captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains).

Rick soon has a potential buyer for the papers when old flame Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) slips into the Café Américain and asks house pianst Sam (Dooley Wilson) to play her favourite song, `As Time Goes By'. Enraged at hearing a tune with unhappy associations, Rick calms down when Ilsa explains that she ran out on him in Paris because she had learned that the husband she believed had perished in a concentration camp had escaped. Now she needs the letters of transit to smuggle Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) to neutral America, where he could continue his work on behalf of the Czechoslovak resistance.

Aware that business rival Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet) and the newly arrived German major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) suspect he is up to no good, Rick reluctantly agrees to help. Entrusting Ilsa to kindly waiter Carl (SK Sakall), he springs Laszlo from Renault's jail. However, just as Rick persuades Ilsa to join her husband on a plane to Lisbon, Strasser appears through the nocturnal fog.

Reduced to its essentials, the storyline hardly seems remarkable. But such is Michael Curtiz's mastery of his medium that it not only seizes the imagination, but it also retains its grip long after the last of the many quotable lines has been uttered. Much of the credit should go to Howard Koch and twins Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein, who transformed Murray Burnett and Joan Alison's stage misfire Everybody Comes to Rick's by packing it with drama, wit, romance, suspense and patriotic pride.

Art director Carl Jules Weyl, cinematographer Arthur Edeson, editor Don Siegel and composer Max Steiner all ensure this rose above the Warner Bros median, while character actors of the calibre of Rains, Veidt, Henreid and the peerless pairing of Lorre and Greenstreet provide unforgettable support without once stealing focus from Bogart or Bergman. In only her fourth film since arriving from Sweden, Bergman poignantly conveys the heartache she feels on having to choose between a man she admires and the one she adores, while Bogie exudes the world-weary cynicism he eventually overcomes to make the supreme sacrifice for love.

Shooting on a limited budget and a tight schedule, nobody thought they were making anything other than another flagwaver. But the picture went on release shortly after the Allied summit at Casablanca and linked the title with a surge of optimism that the tide was finally beginning to turn against the Axis. The more overtly propagandist elements jar slightly in our less consensual age, but this remains exceptional entertainment. So, round up your usual suspects and go to see this masterclass in factory film-making on the big screen. You'll regret it if you don't. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.

Finally, being trapped in a strange town with an uncertain future is also the theme of David Redmon and Ashley Sabin's documentary Girl Model. Dividing its focus between an ex-model who now scouts for new talent for the lucrative Japanese market and a Russian teenager who is deposited in Tokyo and expected to fend for herself, this is a well-meaning exposé of the exploitation of young women by unscrupulous agencies and the clients and consumers they serve. However, as the project was suggested by one of its subjects, it's difficult to gauge how authentic and objective it really is.

In the late 1990s, Ashley Arbaugh began keeping a video diary to record her growing disenchantment with the world of modelling. Yet, despite being made utterly miserable by the endless round of casting calls and photo shoots and the need to remain painfully thin to satisfy potential customers, she now shuttles between Connecticut, Siberia, Paris and Tokyo to find fresh faces for the Noah agency run by Tigran, a former military man with a past strewn with dark deeds for which he hopes to atone by delivering pretty young things from poverty. He insists he is on something of a religious crusade, but his motives seem as self-serving as those of his Japanese counterpart, Messiah, whose Switch company signs adolescents to contracts that entirely benefit the draftee and are subject to capricious change.

Yet 13 year-old Nadya Vall is so desperate to leave Novosibirsk and earn the dollars that will enable her parents to extend their ramshackle home that she is willing to agree to any conditions at the end of a cattle call that sees Arbaugh and her contact callously discarding hopefuls because they lack the pre-pubescent looks that Japanese clients demand. Her job done, Arbaugh boards a Trans-Siberian express and confides to the camera that she finds her work satisfying because it gives her freedom and exciting because it's impossible to know which of her discoveries will make the grade. However, such perks depend on innocents abroad being taken advantage of by ruthless operators who will abandon them the moment they no longer serve a profitable purpose.

Nadya has been promised two assignments in Tokyo and a pay cheque of $8000. But no sooner has she settled into poky digs with the marginally more streetwise Madlen than she discovers that she has been misled. Thus, she is forced to schlepp across the city to casting calls where she can't understand what anyone is saying and receives no advice on how to improve her prospects. She asks to come home during a tearful phone call to her mother and the piteousness of her plight is highlighted by Rachel, a 23 year-old model who reveals that the agencies engage in the systematic deception, trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable kids, whom they keep starved of food and on the verge of debt so that they are compelled to keep working.

Back in Connecticut, Arbaugh shows Redmon and Sabin around her glass house, which she admits leaves her feeling scared at night because of its remote location. However, she seems more than a little creepy herself, as she keeps a couple of naked baby dolls on the sofa (and confesses to having dissected a third) and a box of candid snapshots of the feet and legs of the girls she assesses. About to undergo surgery for a couple of seemingly serious gynaecological problems, Arbaugh longs to become a mother. Yet she fails to exhibit any maternal instincts when she visits Nadya and Madlen and they quickly realise there is no point in raising their misgivings as Arbaugh has survived similar situations herself and seems to trust Tigran and Messiah so implicitly.

Bored with the dead-end routine, Madlen goes on an eating binge and is sent home for breach of contract. But Nadya battles on and is pleased finally to find one of her photos in a magazine. Yet her relief is evident when she flies back to Siberia and it's dismaying to read in the closing captions that she subsequently quit school and followed a second visit to Japan with trips to Taiwan and China. The sight of her pouting in heavy make-up for a client video is even more appalling, however, as is Arbaugh's shrugging remark that many of the girls drift into prostitution because they see no difference between selling their image and their bodies. But at least they haven't sold their souls.

The ease with which Arbaugh avers that girls never get into debt in Japan as she recruits 13 year-old Maria sums up this contradictory, self-deluded attention seeker and one wonders how she feels about her depiction in this skewed profile. Redmon and Sabin reserve their special contempt for Tigran and Messiah (while avoiding overt accusations about either), but they clearly deem Arbaugh a ghoulish hypocrite, whose willingness to discuss the most intimate details of her private life typifies the pathetic need for approval common to most reality subjects.

They are more sympathetic towards Nadya, but more might have been made of the pressure exerted by her family and the extent of the penury she is hoping to alleviate. Moreover, the makers might have delved more trenchantly into the Japanese fixation with youth and beauty that extends beyond advertising into the manga comic-books whose wide-eyed heroes and heroines have prompted juvenile readers to adopt the commodified `shippuden look' that imported models like Nadya unwittingly reinforce as an aspirational ideal.