There are few lazier ways to open a film review than with the construction, `Typical. You wait ages for a film about blah blah and then two come along at once.' However, when the subject in question is a discordant socialite who has no idea she can't sing, all attempts at cliché resistance are futile. After all, who would have thought that Meryl Streep would star in Stephen Frears's Florence Foster Jenkins so soon after Catherine Frot had played an equally atonal soprano in Xavier Giannoli's Marguerite? UK audiences will have to wait until May to see the biopic of the tone-deaf American diva, but the Gallic film à clef proves a more than adequate curtain-raiser, especially as the ever-engaging Frot won the César for Best Actress.

Paris, 1921 and conservatory graduate Hazel Klein (Christa Theret) arrives at the estate of Baron Georges Dumont (André Marcon) after being invited by his nouveau riche wife, Marguerite (Catherine Frot) to perform at a concert for war orphans hosted by her music society. Her muddy shoes catch the attention of Madelbos (Denis Mpunga), the black butler greeting the guests, and he advises her to clean them before she sings. As she mills nervously among the great and the good, Hazel bumps into gatecrashing journalist Lucien Beaumont (Sylvain Dieuaide) and his anarchist pal Kyril von Priest (Aubert Fenoy), who are amused that she knows nothing about the singing prowess of their hostess.

Having perform to modest acclaim, Hazel rejoins Lucien and Kyril in time to see Marguerite make her entrance. She is disappointed that her husband has failed to arrive in time (as he has feigned another breakdown in his sleek Sima-Standard motor), but launches with inexpert gusto into the `Queen of the Night' aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute. Notwithstanding the watchful glares of the devoted Madelbos, Lucien and Kyril can barely suppress their laughter at the piteous caterwauling and Hazel is amazed to see everyone else listening raptly as though in the presence of an angel.

She has to keep her wits about her when Madelbos takes her to Marguerite's room and her hostess acknowledges that she might have struggled to reach some of the higher notes. But Hazel dredges up a compliment before leaving Georges to make his excuses for missing another of his wife's triumphs. Lucien jokes that the members of the society consider Marguerite's generous patronage a small price to pay for having to endure her performances. But Kyril is keen to expose her lack of talent and is disappointed when Lucien writes an article claiming that Marguerite's `contains a human truth that rends the heart'.

As always after a recital, Madelbos sends Marguerite several bouquets from anonymous admirers. He also spends hours photographing her in the costumes of the great operatic heroines and wishes that Georges would show his wife the attention he lavishes on his mistress, Françoise Bellaire (Astrid Whettnall). Moreover, he doubts Lucien's sincerity when he asks Marguerite to appear at an event he is organising, which turns out to be a Dadaist happening. Yet, even though she way off key and out of time during her tableau rendition of `La Marseillaise', the nature of the gathering disguises her shortcomings and she remains safe in her delusion.

By consorting with avant-gardists, however, Marguerite incurs the wrath of the music society committee and she is expelled. Undaunted, she announces a solo performance and ignores Georges's protests to accept Lucien's offer of some lessons with Atos Pezzini (Michel Fau), a fading divo whose bohemian retinue includes fortune-telling bearded lady Félicité La Barbue (Sophia Leboutte). He is appalled by the noise she makes and has to be reminded that he is in no financial position to shatter her illusions. However, the lessons place a strain on Marguerite's voice and Georges pleads with her not to take the stage. But she loses faith in him after seeing him embracing Françoise in the street and emerges into the spotlight with a broken heart and a large pair of feathered wings.

Lucien and Hazel wince as the audience begins to murmur in discontent. Bur, miraculously, Marguerite begins to sing beautifully and seems set to enjoy a triumph when her vocal chords rupture and she collapses on the stage with blood seeping from her mouth. She is rushed to hospital. Yet, rather than being distressed by what has occurred, Marguerite blocks it out and becomes more convinced in her own mind that she is a feted soprano. Georges sees nothing wrong in keeping her in this state of blissful ignorance. But her doctor (Vincent Schmitt) insists on confronting her with a recording of her voice and Georges is powerless to stop him when his automobile actually does break down. He arrives to see Marguerite in a state of severe shock at what she has heard and she sinks into his arms in humiliated silence.

Naming his heroine after Groucho Marx's favourite stooge and giving her a factotum who resembles Erich von Stroheim in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950), Giannoli pays sly homage to Hollywood in this considered study of art, talent, tact and the truth. However, he and co-scenarist Marcia Romano allow things to drift into melodrama in the closing stages and they never quite manage to accommodate the hesitant romance between Dieuaide and Theret. However, abetted by cinematographer Glynn Speeckaert and production designer Martin Kurel, Giannoli's sense of pace and place is admirable.

The support playing is solid, with Marcon conveying a peculiar sort of caring caddishness, while Dieuaide similarly manages to be both cynical and sympathetic. Elsewhere, the cameoing Fau revels in a little operatic stereotyping, while the Congolese Mpunga (outside a rather crude sex scene) embodies the dignity that he alone detects in his misguidedly narcissistic mistress. But the picture succeeds entirely because Frot plays a faintly ridiculous character with a passionate sincerity and deadpan poignancy that can be simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking. Her expression on realising that Marcon (who married her for her money) has betrayed her is devastating, while the way in which she crumbles on hearing how she really sounds delivers the meandering denouement from redundancy. She also deserves credit for lip-synching so skillfully to a playback containing her own voice and a slightly distorted overdub. It will be fascinating to see how she compares to the peerless Streep.

Another woman struggles to be taken seriously in Massimiliano Bruni's Gli ultimi sarann ultimi/The Last Will Be Last, the latest presentation by CinemaItaliaUK, which will screen at the Genesis Cinema in London on 20 March. Working from his own 2005 play and reuniting with its star Paola Cortellesi, Bruni sets out to explore the extent to which business, politics, religion and the law impact on the lives of ordinary people who have no say in their conduct. But, while he seeks to reveal the effects of the recession on a group of close-knit friends, Bruni lets his realist guard down and allows the action to become increasingly melodramatic.

Paola Cortellesi is the glue holding together a group of friends in a small town in the Lazio region of central Italy. She is particularly close to Silvia Salvatori, who has four children with her ever-complaining partner Giorgio Caputo, and Cortellesi keeps hoping that she and husband Alessandro Gassmann can finally conceive. However, as Gassmann is a work shy chancer always looking to do a shady deal, they need her salary from a large textile factory on the outskirts. She has a good relationship with executive Diego Ribon, who assures her that her contract will be renewed when she manages to find a job for a friend of a friend.

Veteran cop Fabrizio Bentivoglio has recently been transferred to the town from Rome after causing the death of his younger partner by failing to fire at an armed addict. Aware of the disdain of his new colleagues, he is paired with Maria Di Biase, who is ostracised on account of her gender and body shape. The mild-mannered Bentivoglio seems oblivious to such matters, to the extent that he starts dating hairdresser Irma Carolina di Monte without realising she is a transsexual.

Much to her delight, Cortellesi discovers she is pregnant. But she is overheard calling Gassmann from the factory and she is appalled when manager Francesco Acquaroli informs her that he is letting her go for failing to notify him of her condition during her contract negotiations. She pleads with Ribon to support her, but he can only make vague promises about when she is ready to return to work after giving birth. Secretary Alessandra Costanzo and security guard Stefano Fresi feel sorry for her, but they are powerless to prevent her dismissal. However, Salvatori asks Cortellesi to join the catering firm she runs with Ilaria Spada, as she knows that the workshy Gassmann can't be relied on to bring in a steady wage.

Forced to work over Christmas because no one will swap shifts, Bentivoglio has to cut short a visit from his elderly mother, who delights in the fact that the town's eccentric antennae means that she can hear daily mass through the sink and toilet in her son's rented bathroom. However, she is smart enough to know that Di Monte is transgender and Bentivoglio is so humiliated and betrayed at what he considers to be her dishonesty that he breaks off all contact with her and drowns his sorrow on New Year's Eve with Di Biase.

Things are no better for Cortellesi, who has used her savings to buy Gassmann a lighter with the Lazio FC crest on it. Moreover, she has lost her catering gig because of a chauvinist client and been forced to quit the water therapy she had been enjoying because she can no longer afford the sessions. She is also becoming frustrated by Gassmann's get rich quick schemes and, when he fills their home with unsold wooden chairs, she orders him to get a proper job. Angry at being forced to work on a construction site, Gassmann slams the money down on the table and stalks out after a row over his selfishness.

Cortellesi is distraught when Gassmann fails to come home and she wanders around the town looking for him the next morning. Preparations are underway for the annual carnival and Cortellesi allows a shopkeeping friend to talk her into having her hair done by Di Monte. Unfortunately, she finds Gassmann's lighter in the woman's apartment and can barely control her fury. She walks through the crowds watching the costume parade and bumps into Ribon, who warns her that the company is facing liquidation and that he also faces redundancy.

As Bentivoglio asks Di Monte to forgive him and share a beer, Cortellesi walks to the factory and bursts past Fresi and his dozing buddy to confront Acquaroli in his office. He urges her to go home, as he is in no position to offer anyone work. But Cortellesi seizes Fresi's gun and holds Acquaroli and Costanzo hostage, as Gassmann races across town to try to explain his infidelity. Stressed when her waters break, Cortellesi fires a shot that is heard by Bentivoglio, as he drives to a bar with Di Monte. They go to investigate and Gassmann arrives to see witness Cortellesi being shot in the shoulder by the frightened cop. An ambulance is called and Cortellesi gives birth with Gassmann supporting her head. Bentivoglio walks outside in a daze and hands his gun belt to his commanding officer.

A closing coda shows Gassmann chatting to his young son, while working as a mechanic. As the camera pulls back, Cortellesi looks back from gazing across a green field. But it's not made clear whether she is alive or dead. This ambiguity feels rather forced, however, especially as the action has been dotted with flashbacks to the gunpoint showdown and random images of the boy mooching around the town as though he has no one to care for him. The design was clearly to coax the audience into thinking that Cortellesi has either been killed or has been jailed after shooting someone. But, while this device helps open out the play, it feels as contrived as the overheated denouement that plays out to Maurizio Filardo's glutinous score.

Employing a Roman dialect, but missing the raw realism that the Dardenne brothers brought to Two Days, One Night (2014), Bruni makes decent use of the locale with cinematographer Alessandro Pesci, while the supporting performances are creditably strong. Gassmann does what he can with the thinly written role of the scurrilous charmer, while Bentivoglio is touchingly conflicted as the broken man crushed by loneliness and guilt. But the picture would fall apart without the excellence of Paola Cortellesi, who summons the spirit of Anna Magnani in portraying an everywoman with the odds stacked overwhelmingly against her. However, even she can only raise this to the level of superior soap.

Plausibility is at even more of a premium in The Ones Below, the directorial debut of playwright and Royal Shakespeare Company Associate Director, David Farr. Taking far too many cues from Claude Chabrol, Roman Polanski and Brian De Palma, this is an utterly predictable Metroland thriller that crams so many clichés into its short running time that there is no room for backstory and character depth, let alone suspense and logic.

Having been together for a decade, Clémence Poésy and Stephen Campbell Moore have decided to have a child. She has been reluctant until now because mother Deborah Findley has always been so cold (seemingly since the suicide of Poésy's beloved brother), but she starts to feel excited after seeing her baby's face in a sonogram. Poésy is also buoyed because new neighbours are moving into the downstairs flat and she is pleased to see that them tidying up the overgrown garden she can see from her window.

Curious to meet the newcomers after seeing their shoes left neatly on the doormat, Poésy lingers in the hallway and accepts an invitation from the equally pregnant Laura Birn to go swimming at her exclusive health club. She is Finnish and clearly adores older husband, David Morrissey (who has already overheard Poésy bitching about the kitschy garden design while picking up a takeaway at the restaurant where she and Moore are dining with friends). So, Poésy invites them to supper because too few Londoners take the trouble to get to know their neighbours.

As Moore cooks, the light bulb pops in the hall and Poésy is about to climb a stepladder to replace it when her guests arrive. Birn seems more on edge around Morrissey, who has little flair for small talk and asks blunt questions about his hosts and their relationship. Whenever Morrissey is away from the table, Birn takes hurried sips of wine and tries to keep the conversation light. She reveals she met her husband in Frankfurt after he had divorced his Chinese wife and explains that they have been trying to get pregnant for seven years. Boasting that he is a wealthy man accustomed to getting what he wants, Morrissey snaps at Poésy when she betrays her previous ambivalence and they decide to leave when Birn complains of feeling tired.

In her eagerness to escape, however, she trips over Poésy's cat in the darkened hallway and falls down the stairs. The distraught Morrissey bellows threats at Moore when he tries to help and they retreat inside. A few days later, they bump into the couple and learn that their son has been stillborn. Poésy tries to apologise. But, when Birn spurns her and declares that she doesn't deserve the `thing' growing inside her, Poésy accuses her of being tipsy. Birn denies having had any alcohol and a furious Morrissey orders them to leave, as Moore urges Poésy to let them grieve in peace.

A few days later, Poésy receives a note from Birn saying that they have returned to Germany to get over their trauma. She wishes her luck with her baby and promises that they will be back soon. However, Poésy is more worried about her struggle to bond with her son, who keeps her awake at night and drains her of all energy. She is also put out by Findlay's complete lack of interest in her grandson and fumes with Moore for inviting her to visit. Ironically, her arrival coincides with Birn and Morrissey's return and Poésy is too exhausted to resist when Birn asks to hold the infant and turns to show her doting spouse.

Over the next couple of days, Birn makes an effort to patch things up with Poésy, who is being left to fend for herself because Moore is so busy at the office. So, when Poésy needs someone to babysit while she visits her brother's grave, she accepts Birn's offer and returns to find them both asleep. What she doesn't know, however, is that Birn took the child for a walk. But does she also put something in the homemade lemonade to make the baby react against Poésy's breast milk. And who steals the spare key just before the gas is left on and the bath overflows?

Convinced something sinister is going on, the increasingly pallid Poésy sneaks back upstairs after leaving her son with Birn and watches with horror from the upper window as the Finn proceeds to breastfeed in her manicured garden. When Birn next goes swimming, Poésy breaks into the downstairs flat and finds a photograph of Morrisey and Birn holding her child on the wall of the room they had decorated for their own offspring. Yet, when she brings Moore down to show him the picture and the snaps on Birn's phone, there is nothing to be seen.

Moore follows the overwrought Poésy to the nearby canal and promises to find new accommodation. However, he draws the line at spending a two nights in a hotel and hands Poésy the milk bottle from the front step before dashing off to meet a mysterious benefactor to his website. No longer speaking to `the ones below', Poésy watches Birn lounging in her garden as she sips on her milk. However, she suddenly feels dizzy and crumples to the floor.

Peeved at being called away on a wild goose chase, Moore gets home to find Poésy dead in the bath with an open bottle of pills nearby. He rushes to the towpath and finds an overturned pram and reaches the awful conclusion that his wife must have drowned their child before taking her own life. It doesn't occur to him, of course, that the cat has suddenly gone missing or that Morrissey has vanished with indecent haste shortly after Poésy's funeral. Consequently, he fails to reach the inevitable conclusion that Farr insists on showing us in a tiresome flashbacking coda, as Birn serenely takes a ferry to the continent to be reunited with her husband and son.

This climactic insult to the audience's intelligence caps off a picture that seems intent from the outset on brandishing the director's cinematic credentials. Farr has clearly been mugging up on the Polanski `apartment trilogy' of Repulsion (1965), Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Tenant (1976), while production designer Francesca Di Mattola was evidently dispatched to familiarise herself with the work of Perry Ferguson and Hal Pereira on Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1948) and Rear Window (1954) respectively. All of which would be fine if such borrowings had been used in a subtle or original manner. But everything about this film bears an amdram tinge that makes its largely positive notices all the more baffling.

So many things about the scenario make no sense. If Morrissey is so smugly wealthy, why does he move into a ground-floor flat in a renovated suburban terrace? Why does Poésy not seek medical help to cope with her postnatal depression, given her concerns about her mother and brother? Moreover, who accepts the loss of a spare key with such equanimity when odd things keep happening with the cooker controls and bath taps? And why does Moore not insist on the canal being dragged for the corpse of his son? Surely an incident of this kind would involve the police, who would probably put two and two together on finding the drowned cat that Moore only seems to notice is missing in the latter stages of packing.

Granted, Ed Rutherford's camerawork is admirable, while Poésy tries hard to be as flintily vulnerable as fellow model-turned-actress Agyness Deyn in Bryn Higgins's Electricity (2014). But Moore singularly fails to register as her dullard spouse, while Birn does her best impression of Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock's Marnie (1964) and Morrissey strikes a series of mannered poses in colour co-ordinated sweaters to deliver his lines in a bluff monotone that belongs in an ITV `grim oop north' serial from the 1970s. A bit of bleak humour might have helped matters. But, for all its assured surface style, this lacks suspense and authenticity.

There's no shortage of imagination or ingenuity in the week's other debut release. Indeed, co-directors Haider Zafar and Marcus Flemmings cram so many ideas into The Conversations that it is sometimes difficult keeping up with the self-reflexive stream of consciousness. Destined to become a cult curio rather than a commercial hit, this is a bold and inventive piece of film-making. It has its share of dramatic and structural problems, but it consistently challenges the audience to follow its logic and fathom the meaning of its themes.

Dentist-cum-wannabe stand-up comic Haider Zafar is having a crisis. Reeling from the news that girlfriend Daniella Down is about to return New York, he consults boffins Lucien Morgan, Tom Bonington and Julian Lamoral-Roberts and asks them to repair his damaged memories so that he can make sense of the relationship and why he is unable to function since Down left. They fit him with a silver skull cap and begin probing his mind.

A fast cut shows Zafar (wearing a long wig and false beard) speeding along a country road in a car with Anna Leong Brophy and Michaek Keane. He is trying to escape a band of would-be brides led by Anoushka Mond, who zaps him with a ray gun before Brophy comes to his aid. They hole up in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere and Zafar quickly tires of Keane's sardonic interjections, as he tries to make sense of a large lipstick kiss on the barn wall and the fact that it's raining golf tees.

A nocturnal encounter with a human cow unnerves Zafar, who is told to focus on his novel by Brophy, while Keane informs him he is a cardboard box salesman. Following a flashback to a chat with club manager Frank Jakerman about the secret of good comedy, Zafar recalls moments with Down in a gallery and on a night-time rooftop. But he loses his temper with Keane when he quotes from his manuscript and gets a lecture on the benefits of password protection.

During a shopping expedition, Zafar reflects on how he met Down in a supermarket and how she smiled at him from the audience at a gig. He showed her a monochrome student film in which he plays a shamus opposite femme fatale Isabelle Marlowe. But, as he remembers the moment, he realises his actions are being recorded by a film crew. Moreover, his bearded self tries to interrupt the shoot and Down comes out of character to ask how she should play the scene. As the story resumes, Zafar wonders what he is doing in Down's apartment. Yet, he stays the night on her settee and is rewarded with eggs for breakfast.

Struggling to make sense of what is going on in his mind, Zafar visits shrink Bernadette Wood. She inquires whether he is gay before deducing he is a claustrophobic with commitment issues. He thinks back to his 29th birthday and being forced to endure a formal introduction to prospective bride Kubra Khan, who only interests him because her favourite film is Citizen Kane. Wood asks if he thinks there would be any point in flying to New York to tell Down how he feels about her. But, while Zafar dismisses her conclusion that you can't always get what you want, he likes the notion that he should find a quiet place to seek solace.

Unfortunately, his trip to the local mosque ends in a fight and a reprimand from the imam and Zafar flits back to a meeting with Down's friend, Eddie Bagayawa, who promises to find him a spot on a TV comedy show. He is discomfited by the fact that Down and Bagayawa were once engaged. But he also finds sudden fame a burden and he reacts angrily to a fan who recognises him as he walks incognito through the streets of London with Brophy and Keane. He complains that they have done precious little to help him and Brophy slaps him so hard across the face that his false beard falls off.

Sinking to his knees, Zafar pleads with the scientists to fix his memories. But a black-and-white, subtitled visit to a restaurant gets sidetracked by a hindsight quest for revenge against a flirtatious waiter and he concedes that he no longer knows where memory, fantasy and reality meet (if they do). He tries to take comfort from the night Down admitted she liked him as they strolled along the Thames. But the image malfunctions and the eggheads inform him that he can't be fixed and they switch off their machine.

Zafar finds himself looking out over some fields with Brophy and she compares them to a golf course. Suddenly, he is on a tee with dentist sister Llila Vis, who taunts Down about that fact that her job in PR is a waste of time. She also teases Zafar that their parents will never accept a blonde daughter-in-law and Down breaks the news that her visa has expired and that she has to go home. He tries to prevent her from packing, but she kisses him goodbye at the airport and he rushes back to the farmhouse for the company of Brophy and Keane.

They lock him out and he is amazed to see them chatting to Down. He bursts inside and accuses them of contaminating his memories. Down reminds him that things cant always end the way we want them to and they hug when she tells him she loves him. Suddenly, Zafar is alone on stage and seems to come to, as though he had been daydreaming in front of the audience. He jokes that they have just witnessed a breakdown and snaps back at a heckler by accusing him of not being sufficiently clever to understand his material. Smiling wryly, he refuses him a refund and notes that this is the perfect metaphor for existence, as we all pay for something better and are disappointed with what he get.

As the credits start to roll, a coda shows Down telling Zafar about a farmhouse she used to visit as a child and how it became her sanctuary. She can no longer remember where it is, but knows that, however fleetingly, things come into our lives for a reason and he is left to search for the positives in their relationship.

This is not an easy film. It makes demands and often falls short of the expectations it sets for itself. But Zafar and Flemmings have produced a highly distinctive study of a broken heart and the restlessness of the screenplay, Luke Oliver's photography and Carmela Iandoli's editing ensures that the viewer can never simply sit back in their seat and demand to be entertained. Those who fail to engage with the difficult shifts in time, tone and scene will be utterly bemused. Indeed, even those striving to pay attention and elicit meaning may find themselves frustrated and lost in places. But that is part of the appeal.

The performances are a bit patchy, with Zafar sometimes struggling with the more emotive speeches. He also falls victim to the curse of depicting stand-up, as there has yet to be a movie in which a screen comic's gags are funny or convincingly delivered. However, he makes an engagingly troubled soul and it is hard not to feel sorry for him as he comes to terms with losing the girl of his dreams. In this regard, Zafar and Down recall Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall (1977). But the writing isn't quite of the same calibre, with Flemmings labouring to make the stands involving Brophy and Keane and the scientists work. The digressions involving Wood and Bagayawa and the mosque scuffle also fall flat. But much more pays off and first-timers who take risks and attempt to say something new deserve much more credit than those who take the safe option.

Finally, this week, Patricio Guzmán presents The Pearl Button, the central strand of a trilogy that started with Nostalgia for the Light (2010) and will conclude with a treatise on the Andes mountains. Ever since he released his three-part masterpiece, The Battle of Chile (1975-79), Guzmán has devoted himself to exposing the crimes of General Augusto Pinochet and this lyrical rumination on 150 years of colonial oppression, genocide and tyranny suggests that time has done little to heal old wounds. Exquisitely photographed, thoughtfully assembled and devastatingly simple in its clarity, this should cut deep. But Guzmán strays into territory usually associated with Werner Herzog and, as a result, this lacks the trenchancy and restraint one has come to expect from Latin America's finest documentarist.

Over shots of a water drop encased in a 3000 year-old block of quartz, Guzmán ponders in voiceover the origins of water on Earth and, in turning to the formation of the Patagonian Archipelago, he questions why Chile has failed to exploit its 2670-miles coastline. He recalls the five tribes that once inhabited the region of Tierra del Fuego and laments that only a handful of their descendants remain from the Kawésqar, Sekk'nam, Yámana, Hausch and Aoniken peoples. Gabriela Paterito, Cristina Calderon and Martin G. Calderon are trying to preserve their ancient language and culture, but it is an uphill struggle in a country that forever looks back on its history with regret and/or shame.

Stunning Katell Djian images of melting glaciers and waterfalls are accompanied by the forbidding boom of cracking ice and the soothing sound of cascading rain in Alvaro Silva Wuth and Jean-Jacques Quinet's extraordinary sonic mix. But Guzmán is less interested in the ecological significance of this disappearing seascape, but in its symbolic comparison to the indigenous peoples who were systematically wiped out by Spanish conquistadores and by Chilean farmers respectively seeking to appropriate their riches and their land. He also recalls how, following the overthrow of Salvador Allende on 11 September 1973, Pinochet's henchmen used to strap pieces of railway line to the bagged-up bodies of the desaparecidos before dumping them from helicopters into the ocean. By all accounts, as many as 14,000 people perished in this manner, including Marta Ugarte, whose face is shown in its excruciating death throes in a photograph fished out of the water.

A button is found barnacled to a recovered piece of track and Guzmán relates the story of four Fuegians who were taken to Britain by Captain Robert FitzRoy of HMS Beagle in 1830. One youth was sold for a mother of pearl button and acquired the nickname Jemmy Button when he and York Minster, Boat Memory and the female Fuegia Basket were subjected to supposedly civilising influences in London. However, when he returned to Chile a year later (with Charles Darwin among his fellow passengers), Jemmy found he no longer belonged and he was later questioned about the murder of some Christian missionaries in Wulaia Bay.

In addition to Djian's awe-inspiring digital visions of the sea, sky and sand, Guzmán also includes examples of Paz Errázuriz's monochrome portraits of coastal communities and artist Emma Malig's distinctive parchment map of Chile's sprawling outline. He also talks to journalist Javier Rebolledo, anthropologist Claudio Mercado and poet Raúl Zurita about the connections between the country's past and present. But, while there is no doubting his humanist sincerity and commitment to his career-long cause, the reconstruction of the Pinochet executions feels gratuitous, while the inclusion of computer-generated interludes positing the presence of vaporous nebulae in other solar systems imposes a faux poeticism that ill serves the serious issues at hand.