Rude, appalling, irresistible

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Borat is the film comedy you should take to a desert island. It will render you hysterical at each viewing on your solar-powered iPod. It will also remind you that what distinguishes man from beast is laughter and what distinguishes intelligent man from politically correct man is the ability to laugh about anything.

The movie, made in the faux documentary style of the Borat TV shows, is rude, appalling, outrageous, irresistible. The brilliance of the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s title character – a Kazakh Candide, a gonzo Gulliver sent to beguile and entrap the gullible – is that he does the wrong things with a passion. He is sexist, racist, ageist, everything-ist. But how do you interrupt, let alone interdict, a man forever moving forward proclaiming his backwardness? We first meet him striding through his native village, strewing introductions as a farmer scatters feed. “That’s the village rapist. That’s the oldest woman; she’s 43.” Then we plane-hop with him to the US to test the limits of the west’s civility and forbearance.

The cheap grey suit, the moustache, the wild-man hair, the manic good manners are all perfect. So is the accent, sounding like a combine harvester running over an army of small field animals. All this man needs – instantly supplied – is the hidden camera enabling him to interrogate the unwitting politicians, feminists and etiquette counsellors, culminating in a scene so uproariously shocking, involving a dinner party, a minister and the products of a lavatory visit, that the film has nowhere higher, lower, or in any direction further, to go.

To prove the point, it doesn’t go further. The last few scenes of Borat fall off comprehensively. It is as if Cohen has out-leapfrogged his own out-rageousness and vanished over a cliff.

Does this excuse you from seeing it? No. In an 85-minute film, the 70 minutes that work are pure genius, a series of surreal set-ups and inspired embarrassments that do what great comedy should do: rearrange the furniture of our minds, do a feng shui on our brains. Will a hotel lift ever seem the same after the scene in which Borat starts unpacking his suitcase in it, assuming it is to be his room? Will the bull festivities of Pamplona be the same after the “running of the Jew” event, in which racism’s idiocy is exposed not with a palavering preachiness but with the lethal satiric literalism Swift perfected when he proposed – so modestly – his recipes for cooking unwanted children?

The title characters in the eerily compelling Little Children are not just kiddiewinks, cookable or otherwise. They are all of us. Todd Field’s first film since In the Bedroom opens the gate to the local playground and finds a young wife/mother with a wandering heart (Kate Winslet), plus little daughter, and a handsome housedad (Patrick Wilson) exercising his son in the absence of the boy’s career mum (Jennifer Connelly).

When the wife falls for the forbidden husband and he for her – their first love-play a bonking session in a laundry room, the throes of passion synch’d to the climaxing throbs of the washer-dryer – they enter the pan-generational world of transgression. Here we are all lost kids. Bogeymen stalk and notional grown-ups (partners, parents, friends) cast shadow-length frowns. The film’s chief scaremaker – its demon troll – is the local paedophile (Jackie Earle Haley), a persecuted monster, his ugliness multiplied in the “Avoid this man” posters fly-stuck in the neighbourhood, although he too is making a late, doomed bid for life-changing love.

The film is like a Philip Roth novel reworked by a mad magical realist. Roads signposted “Ecstasy” lead only to “Agony”, though who can know that in advance, since there is nowhere in Life we can get a map? At times Field himself seems lost. Does a character such as Noah Emmerich’s football jock and hunt-the-paedophile vigilante be-long with the tragic protagonists or the antic chorus? And the film’s ending, like that of In the Bedroom, follows sudden melodrama with a weird, un-announced blast of moral sanitation.

Even so, how many grown-up films are there about our inability to grow up? When Field was an actor he picked the right man to graduate him into directing. His last role was in Eyes Wide Shut. Little Children is not just a companion tale about the spooked paradise of sexual passion, it’s a showcase for Kubrickian inventiveness of camera movement, image-making (the horror world of a playground at night) and grace-notes such as the found bouquet of crumpled tissues that tells, in a light but lethally witty montage, all about one husband’s tissue of lies.

Drugs are a simpler subject than sex and a scarcely less frequent one on screen. How many times have we been to the drama buffet for the same helpings of guilt, anguish and redemption? Candy could have been sloppy seconds, or up-chuck umpteenths. But Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish, as Australian lovers hung up on heroin, act their hearts out, lured on by Geoffrey Rush’s Mephistophelean supplier, a gay chemistry professor and DIY dope-maker. Sometimes Neil Armfield’s film from a novel by Luke Davies is like a soap opera: Neighbours on narcotics. At others it is tough, bleakly witty, moving.

In Britain we are dealing with our own social-cultural hot topic: multi-
ethnicity. Penny Woolcock’s Mischief Night shapes a populous story of
northern-town life one November 4, a date apparently set aside there for pranks, mischief and mayhem. (Isn’t Hallowe’en enough?)

The plots swirl, dart and nibble like goldfish in a pond. A downtrodden young wife/mother (Kelli Hollis) re-falls for a Pakistani ex-flame (Ramon Tikaram). Kids get entangled with drug-dealers. A Muslim girl dreading an arranged marriage swaps headscarf for hoodie to go on the town. Woolcock (who directed TV’s The Death of Klinghoffer) can bring cogency to crowded canvases. But here she brings a little too much cosiness also. Did we need the schmaltzy Bollywoodish colours, the anodyne pop soundtrack, the nudging sense that this journey – for all its brief, animating perils and vivid vernacular – will end at Station Feelgood?

Paul Weiland’s Sixty Six celebrates the way the Jewish community has integrated itself in British life – or did on one historic occasion. On July 30 1966, synagogues emptied across the land. Reason? The World Cup Final was on TV. Poor 12-year-old Bernie (Gregg Sulkin) and his parents (Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Marsan) have booked that date for his bar mitzvah. Will anyone come? Can God intervene? Weiland, basing the story on his own childhood, offers some chuckles, some nice acting and lots of nostalgia.

Romanzo Criminale () is mobster mayhem by the kilometre: a 2½-hour tale of crime, intrigue and revenge in Rome, stretched over 25 years. Michele Placido’s draggy direction is a minus. The plus is the whiff of authenticity. Even the Godfather trilogy cannot claim the verismo of this tale shot in Italy, based on an Italian bestseller, steeped in Family values.

In The Page Turner (Denis Dercourt), a modest, glacial French thriller, a little girl falters in a piano exam and grows up to take revenge on the woman who failed her. Seineside Seventh Veil meets alco-pop All About Eve.

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