Friday 30 May 2014

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office                         
for the weekend of May 23-25, 2014: 
1 (new) X-Men: Days of Future Past (12A) ***
2 (1) Godzilla (12A)
3 (2) Bad Neighbours (15)
4 (new) Postman Pat: the Movie (U) **
5 (new) Blended (12A) *
6 (6) Rio 2 (U) **
7 (4) The Other Woman (12A)
8 (5) The Two Faces of January (12A) ****
9 (3) The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (12A)
10 (re) The Lego Movie (U) ****  


My top five:
1. Venus in Fur [above]
2. Omar
3. Jimmy's Hall
4. For No Good Reason
5. Edge of Tomorrow

Top Ten DVD rentals:  
1 (1) Frozen (PG) **        
2 (2) 12 Years a Slave (15) ****    
3 (3) The Railway Man (15) ***  
4 (new) Inside Llewyn Davis (15) ****
5 (4) American Hustle (15) ****
6 (6) Gravity (12) *****
7 (new) I, Frankenstein (12A) **
8 (new) Philomena (12A) **** 
9 (new) August: Osage County (15)
10 (8) About Time (12) **
My top five:                            
1. 12 Years a Slave      
2. Inside Llewyn Davis    
3. Tim's Vermeer   
4. Dallas Buyers Club
5. The Rocket

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:                                                     
1. Mean Streets (Saturday, BBC2, 12.35am)
2. The American President (Wednesday, ITV1, 3am)
3. Cape Fear (Friday, ITV1, 10.35pm)
4. How to Train Your Dragon (Saturday, BBC1, 5.10pm)
5. Build My Gallows High (Saturday, BBC2, 1.35pm)

Battles of the sexes: "Edge of Tomorrow" and "Maleficent" (ST 01/06/14)

Edge of Tomorrow (12A) 113 mins ***
Maleficent (PG) 95 mins ***

The week’s widest releases suggest how, even in 2014, Hollywood continues to gender audiences. In the blue corner, we find man’s-man Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow, a well-tempered sci-fi item that welds the military hardware of Starship Troopers, Avatar and the Terminator movies, a streak of WW2 scholarship, and the irresistible be-kind-rewind conceit of 2011’s Source Code. If that sounds a lot of referents, well, that’s Doug Liman’s film in a titanium-plated nutshell: it’s déjà vu all over again, but that doesn’t stop it from making a virtue of it for some of its duration.

Cruise’s Major William Cage is a slick Army spokesperson whose TV appearances recruit expendable fodder for an ongoing war against some rooty-looking aliens known as Mimics. After angering warmonger-in-chief Brendan Gleeson, Cage receives a nasty shock: demoted to private status, he’s shipped off to fight exactly that fight he’s been schilling for. Call it payback for Top Gun. Dropped into Verdun – in a sequence engineered as a self-conscious upgrade of Saving Private Ryan’s opening assault – the guileless Cage is instantly killed. At which point, he’s revived several days prior, to fight once more. And die. And fight. And die. You get the idea.

The credited source is Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel “All You Need is Kill”, but one could add to that any number of videogames: its constituent missions – will Tom time his roll under that jeep right this time? – offer the pleasure of experiencing a character (and film) getting smarter with each pass. It’s a conceit that works almost as well for a soldier scrabbling for intel as it did for Bill Murray’s lovelorn weatherman in Groundhog Day: Cage has his own Andie MacDowell in Emily Blunt as the Army postergirl he drops alongside, and here an entertaining if inherently derivative entertainment touches upon something novel, possibly even progressive.

Major Cage’s ultimate calling, it proves, is as driver-cum-wingman for Blunt’s mission to take down the big boss, and it’s amusing to watch Cruise – at his least buff – ceding some of his usual control to his co-star: Liman makes a wry comic point of having Blunt off several provisional Toms once it’s established her timeline has no further use for them. Onlooking wives and girlfriends might just wish such string theory was more widely applicable – and in inspiring such potent role-reversal fantasies, Edge of Tomorrow gestures towards a vision of the sexes at least as supple and striking as its myriad tenticular lifeforms.

Elsewhere, you sense women and children being ushered towards Maleficent, Disney’s live-action rethink of the Sleeping Beauty tale. Given that this narrative has already attracted the attentions of such avowedly feminist filmmakers as Catherine Breillat and Julia Leigh, one might wonder what there is to gain from seeing it further Disneyfied, but a semi-commendable otherness swirls around at least its opening acts; set against the Broadway-ready blandness of the corporation’s recent Frozen, it’s practically Angela Carter.

The thrust of Robert Stromberg’s film – adapted by Mouse House favourite Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King) – is that before succumbing to nominative determinism, curse-issuing fairy Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) lived a perfectly happy existence talking to the trees; that she turned to the dark side only after her sweetheart returned from a neighbouring patriarchy and, while she was sleeping, removed her of her wings. Aha, you cry: symbolism.

Woolverton’s boldest idea is to reimagine the original’s villainess as a vampish single mum, raising her despoiler’s firstborn Aurora (Elle Fanning) deep in Mother Nature’s bosom while daddy (Sharlto Copley) is away sabre-rattling. Even if it only involves flicking Aurora off a cliff, it’s Maleficent who’s left playing with this child; in her considered disdain, Woolverton proposes, there might be seen a form of parental love. Thus can the film hold a flattering mirror up to its audience: it makes a heroine of a careworn woman who just wants her little princess to sleep through.

There are competing influences here, and whenever it starts going somewhere interesting, some unseen committee intervenes to nudge everyone back towards the centre ground. As in Frozen, the men are such underwritten saps that the girls’ triumph feels a thin one, and the third act follows a template laid down by far boysier films in having its better ideas superceded by castle-smashing spectacle. Jolie, ever-arch, carries it so far: it functions on a par with 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman in offering okayish diversion without ever being as witty, radical or lasting as it might. A light sleeper, if you will.

Edge of Tomorrow and Maleficent are in cinemas nationwide.

"For No Good Reason" (The Guardian 30/05/14)

For No Good Reason ***
Dir: Charlie Paul. With: Ralph Steadman, Johnny Depp, Hunter S. Thompson. 89 mins. Cert: NC

Charlie Paul’s crazy-busy profile of artist and illustrator Ralph Steadman inevitably foregrounds the wild rides its subject enjoyed alongside Hunter S. Thompson; it makes a sound case for Steadman’s eruptive splurges (“a bit like being sick”) as a correlative to the element of chance inherent in Thompson’s writing. Elsewhere, Paul struggles to contain Steadman’s profligate energies in ninety minutes, and the waning presence of Johnny Depp, loitering between poor career choices to pull on a cigarillo and point at pictures, can’t give it shape. It’s at its strongest away from all things gonzo, where it can curate a space for Steadman to discuss his influences and swelling political discontent; it gets genuinely fascinating whenever Paul stops to watch him abusing Polaroids and other canvasses in his ink-splattered studio. “There’s an event going on in there,” says Ralph, stripping the toplayer off one print to unleash its innards. There’s one in here somewhere, too. 

For No Good Reason opens in selected cinemas from today.

"Miss and the Doctors/Tirez la Langue, Mademoiselle" (The Guardian 30/05/14)

Miss and the Doctors (Tirez La Langue, Mademoiselle) ***
Dir: Axelle Ropert. With: Cedric Kahn, Louise Bourgoin, Laurent Stocker. 102 mins. Cert: NC

History has led us to expect all films made by erstwhile French critics to be bold statements for the ages, yet that tendency gets gently subverted in this rather sweet divertissement from Axelle Ropert, a not-quite-romcom about yin-and-yang paediatrician brothers and the sad-seeming single mother brought into their orbit by a diabetic daughter. The raw material’s there for a glossily conventional love triangle, but the angles are ever-so-slightly wonky: for starters, these characters are out among the concrete blocks of the péripherique, and Ropert isolates them further in single shots that add an element of Kaurismaki or Hal Hartley-like deadpan, hinting at how everybody’s diverging, not converging. Attractively photographed, designed and played, it remains at all points devoted – in that very French way – to the specifics of what its characters actually do in this particular place: not one for the ages, perhaps, but just distinctive enough to make for a pleasant matinee. 

Miss and the Doctors opens in selected cinemas from today.

"Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys" (The Guardian 30/05/14)

Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys ***
Dir: Jessica Oreck. With: Aarne Aatsinki, Lasse Aatsinki. 84 mins. Cert: NC

Jessica Oreck’s Kickstarter-funded documentary moves in similar circles to the recent Sweetgrass and Leviathan: eschewing context for immersive textures, it plunges us into the lives of those Lasses (and lassies) with lassos charged with controlling Lapland’s reindeer population. While observing routines that wouldn’t be so alien to the Duke of Red River – building fences and fires, funnelling grunting beasts this way or that – it sometimes strays off the beaten track into shapelessness, but Oreck lends individual segments a quiet fascination: rarely can anyone have paid such rapt attention to reindeer dental records, or made such plain, quotidian drama from a wolverine hunt. Sensitive viewers should be warned of some grisliness involving those unfortunate Rudolphs marked for slaughter, though even this might be considered a show of Aatsinki’s honest curiosity, how Oreck reaches into the unglamorous guts of this world to pull out something you won’t have seen before. 

Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys is touring selected cinemas nationwide.

"A Million Ways to Die in the West" (The Guardian 30/05/14)

A Million Ways to Die in the West **
Dir: Seth MacFarlane. With: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson. 116 mins. Cert: 15

Fans of Ted’s aggressively scattershot misanthropy may be left wanting by Seth MacFarlane’s mock-Western follow-up; spiritually, it’s closer to a mid-range crowdpleaser like City Slickers than Blazing Saddles, too enamoured of genre convention to reach for the comic dynamite. As a sheep farmer who behaves like any other just-dumped fratboy, MacFarlane remains charmlessly needy, even after Charlize Theron’s gunslinger is roped on to reassure him what a catch he is. Warped excellence lurks in the shadows – in the background parade of violent deaths, and Gilbert Gottfried’s cameo as Abe Lincoln – but draggy pacing means the overall hit rate’s down on even late-period Family Guy

A Million Ways to Die in the West opens nationwide today.

"Heaven is For Real" (The Guardian 30/05/14)

Heaven is for Real **
Dir: Randall Wallace. With: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church. 99 mins. Cert: PG

After Easter’s shrill Sunday-school project God’s Not Dead, this latest spot of cinevangelism at least sports a theatrical heft: sometime Mel Gibson collaborator Randall Wallace directs, and ever-steady Greg Kinnear stars as real-life Wesleyan pastor/firefighter Todd Burpo (oh, hush), whose four-year-old son emerged from appendicitis claiming proofs of the afterlife. Wallace permits some debate as to what this tale represents – miracle? Horror show? Evidence of declining anaesthesiology standards? – yet that titular conclusion depends entirely on faith: what’s on screen peters out with a God-knows shrug before passing off a Lithuanian child’s painting as a photofit of Jesus. It looks a lot like Andrew “Lonely Boy” Gold

Heaven is For Real opens in selected cinemas from today.

"Mariachi Gringo" (The Guardian 30/05/14)

Mariachi Gringo **
Dir: Tom Gustafson. With: Shawn Ashmore, Martha Higareda, Kate Burton. 107 mins. Cert: NC

Are distributors utilising some hidden Lucky Dip option on Netflix in deciding what to release? Case in point: this sunny, good-natured yet inescapably middling indie about a depressed Kansas farmboy (minor X-Man Shawn Ashmore) who finds unlikely joy in becoming a mariachi. Tom Gustafson’s film proves genial to a fault: those golden cornfields don’t appear remotely depressing, while raven-haired waitress Martha Higareda exists solely to turn a white male frown upside down. Overlook its dramatic shortcomings, and you’ll still require a tolerance for music waved politely away in restaurants: after 107 minutes of pseudo-Calexicana, I’d be happy never to hear another insistent trumpet again. 

Mariachi Gringo opens in selected cinemas from today.

"Downhill" (The Guardian 30/05/14)

Downhill **
Dir: James Rouse. With: Richard Lumsden, Ned Dennehy, Jeremy Swift. 98 mins. Cert: 15

Adland maven James Rouse treads a well-trodden path in his feature debut by following a quartet of middle-aged blokes on Wainwright’s Coast-to-Coast Walk through the Lakes. From its faux- vérité shooting style to its recognisable small-screen faces, its reference points are almost entirely televisual, though – despite the game cast’s improvised efforts – it never once approaches that funny, revealing territory The Trip, for one, has entered in tracking the effects of looming mortality on the male psyche. Instead, it rambles on, in ways both lit. and fig.: a grey, farty plod, with increasingly little to sustain it bar the scenery. 

Downhill opens in selected cinemas from today.

Friday 23 May 2014

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office                       
for the weekend of May 16-18, 2014: 
1 (new) Godzilla (12A)
2 (1) Bad Neighbours (15)
3 (2) The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (12A)
4 (3) The Other Woman (12A)
5 (new) The Two Faces of January (12A) ****
6 (4) Rio 2 (U) **
7 (6) Tarzan (PG)
8 (5) Pompeii (12A)
9 (11) The Wind Rises (PG) **** 
10 (9) Captain America: The Winter Soldier (12A) ***

My top five:
1. A Touch of Sin  
2. The Two Faces of January  
3. Next Goal Wins    
4. Frank   
5. The Wind Rises
Top Ten DVD rentals:  
1 (1) Frozen (PG) **      
2 (2) 12 Years a Slave (15) ****  
3 (3) The Railway Man (15) ***
4 (6) American Hustle (15) ****
5 (7) Saving Mr. Banks (PG) ***
6 (5) Gravity (12) *****
7 (8) Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (12A) **
8 (9) About Time (12) **
9 (new) R.I.P.D. (12)
10 (new) Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (15)

My top five:                          
1. 12 Years a Slave    
2. Inside Llewyn Davis  
3. Tim's Vermeer [above]  
4. Stranger by the Lake  
5. The Railway Man         

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:                                                   
1. No Way Out (Saturday, BBC1, 12.15am)
2. Total Recall (Wednesday, ITV1, 11.10pm)
3. Berberian Sound Studio (Sunday, C4, 12.25am)
4. A Cock and Bull Story (Sunday, BBC2, 11.30pm)
5. Bend It Like Beckham (Saturday, BBC2, 11pm)

"Run & Jump" (The Guardian 23/05/14)

Run & Jump ***
Dir: Steph Green. With: Maxine Peake, Edward MacLiam, Will Forte. 106 mins. Cert: 15

This Irish-set feature debut from US-born director Steph Green is heartfelt and noteworthy in putting on screen a stroke sufferer – Edward MacLiam’s Conor – who isn’t drooling or wheelchair-bound, but a hyperactive soul, trapped within challenging behavioural patterns. What’s around him is undoubtedly melodramatic: Conor’s wife Venetia (Maxine Peake) is torn between upholding her wedding vows and a growing attraction to Ted (Will Forte), the American neurobiologist who’s become a default father to her children. It’s also prone to debutant missteps, chiefly an overreliance on picturesque montages, offered as mitigation against anything more upsetting. Yet it’s persuasive in its quieter, observational stretches, as when Green trusts a series of mealtime looks and glances to convey the faultlines opening up in this household. Peake, warmly sketching a woman busy fooling herself everything will work out, and Forte, every bit as precise as he was in Nebraska, keep it honest, and within touching distance of genuine poignancy. 

Run & Jump opens in selected cinemas from today.

"Postman Pat: The Movie" (The Guardian 23/05/14)

Postman Pat: The Movie **
Dir: Mike Disa. Animation with the voices of: David Tennant, Rupert Grint, Jim Broadbent. 88 mins. Cert: U

Culture shock for the over-nines: here is New Pat – computer-animated, married, with a son called Julian (!) and the voice of Stephen Mangan – puttering round a conspicuously inclusive Greendale. Stick-in-the-muds may cavil, though the only truly objectionable aspect of Mike Disa’s modernisation is its reliance on that In-Cowell-We-Trust trope worn thin by recent kiddie sequels, necessitating its hero’s participation in televised talent lojinks. Sly incidental jokes about Pat’s place in the mediascape amuse, but The Lego Movie set the bar high for such knowing brand optimisation: Disa can’t really satirise society’s homogenised speed-freakery when his songs feature Ronan Keating and his animation looks scarcely finished.

Postman Pat: The Movie opens in cinemas nationwide today.

"Driving Miss Daisy: The Play" (The Guardian 23/05/14)

Driving Miss Daisy: The Play **
Dir: Peter Ots. With: Angela Lansbury, James Earl Jones, Boyd Gaines. 85 mins. Cert: U.

If converting an Oscar-winning film back into a play made financial sense for theatres, to then beam the play back into cinemas looks like a clear case of pop culture ravenously pursuing its own tail. In fairness, this record of last year’s staging at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre has brisk timing and, in Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones, two hefty stage presences behind it. Yet the material remains benignly undramatic – pootling past real prejudice, lest it spook the coachtrippers – and any purpose, beyond pumping dormant screens for extra revenue, has been left at the roadside: at least the movie framed some nice scenery through its rear windscreen. 

Driving Miss Daisy: The Play screens in selected cinemas this Sunday.

"Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return" (The Guardian 23/05/14)

Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return **
Dirs: Will Finn, Daniel St. Pierre. Animation with the voices of: Lea Michele, Kelsey Grammer, Dan Aykroyd. 92 mins. Cert: U

Even by the standards of allowance-snatching half-term filler, this is pretty indifferent: a computer-animated sequel-cum-afterthought that sees Dorothy (voiced by Glee’s Lea Michele) recalled to Oz to rescue her old walking friends from the Wicked Witch’s wickeder brother. Her boilerplate quest is flecked with variable animation, lame jokes and samey songs; the cynicism peaks in a sequence in the breakaway republic of Candyland, where every image intends to frogmarch the kids back to the concession stand. It’d be a perverse soul who spent £30 carting the family off to this, when they could pick up the all-pleasing, ever-sparkling original on DVD for a fiver.

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return opens in selected cinemas from today.

"Blended" (The Guardian 23/05/14)

Blended *
Dir: Frank Coraci. With: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Wendi McLendon-Covey. 117 mins. Cert: 12A

Hopes were high for this reunion of those behind 1998’s enduring The Wedding Singer, but it proves very much un film de Sandler: so lazy you feel unconscionably guilty for snorting at the three jokes in its two hours that merit any response. Getting bickering single parents Sandler and Drew Barrymore to South Africa requires contrivances so grinding they momentarily obscure all the sniggering about lesbians. The rest treats the locals with the expected sensitivity, while paying moist-eyed tribute to an ideal of “blended” families undermined by singularly charmless child performers. As for the scene in which Sandler rides an ostrich: has humanity learnt nothing from the career of Bernie Clifton?

Blended opens in cinemas nationwide today. 

"Top Dog" (The Guardian 23/05/14)

Top Dog *
Dir: Martin Kemp. With: Vincent Regan, Leo Gregory, Ricci Harnett. 94 mins. Cert: 18

Low-level ladsploitation, directed by Spandau Ballet’s Martin Kemp and adapted by Green Street writer Dougie Brimson from what’s billed as his “cult novel”, with family man Leo Gregory running into trouble amid the North London protection rackets. “This is all a bit Lock, Stock, isn’t it?” muses one ne’er-do-well, raising early hopes the genre might finally have become self-aware, but Kemp assembles the subsequent rucking in taprooms and damp backalleys with scant style or wit: the incidental music’s particularly offensive, and it’s forever dubious around women. DVD beckons, yet the content is so leaden as to make that Spandau reunion seem creatively worthwhile.

Top Dog opens in selected cinemas today, ahead of its DVD release on Monday.

At the LTFF: "The Impeccables"

The Impeccables is a bracingly impressionistic study of two thirtysomething sisters on holiday in the Aegean: the vivacious, flirty Yasemin (Esra Bezen Bilgin) and the paler, nervier Lale (Ipek Türktan). The scars on the latter's back, and the phones that go unanswered are the first indications this pair are escaping something (or someone) in their past - the advantage writer Emine Yildirim and director Ramin Matin have is that they don't need to give the game away so early, so immediately compelling is the needling relationship between the two siblings: every conversation they have ends in a squabble, and matters take a turn for the outright Baby Jane-ish when Lale strikes up a bond with the nice-guy neighbour Yasemin invites over for dinner one night.

Both women, it transpires, are at the mercy of their bodies, and their sex: Lale spends the first days of the trip anxiously awaiting her period, while Yasemin insists on getting up early to jog around the island, the better to spend the rest of the day lounging around in a bikini, trying to catch the eye. "Are you in heat again?," her sister wonders, a question Yasemin answers more or less on the spot by getting it on with a passing stranger in a cramped cabana. The fact the pipes in the sisters' villa are playing up appears not unconnected; same goes for the TV news bulletin we hear reporting a steep rise in violence against Turkish women, just another of the ways Matin finds of suggesting unease within his otherwise sundrenched widescreen frames.

Further assistance comes from the very good leads, whose chalk-and-cheese performances precisely describe every last ebb and flow in the passive-aggressive intimacy these sisters have come to cling to like a liferaft - without realising it might not take the weight of their combined baggage, and might yet pull them both under. You'll have your own ideas about the effectiveness of the final revelation, which seemed to me to throw up just as many questions as it resolves, but the whole is most impressively controlled: something like a Catherine Breillat movie with warm blood, rather than strychnine, coarsing through its veins.

The Impeccables screens at the Rio Cinema this Sunday at 9.15pm, again on Thu 29 at 6.45, and then at the Hackney Picturehouse on Sat 31 at 3pm.

Thursday 22 May 2014

At the LTFF: "Circle"

Circle, a beguiling oddity from writer-director Atıl İnaç, operates at such a low level of drollery that no synopsis would do justice to how funny it is, and just how moving it becomes: it plays something like a Roy Andersson film for a while, but with the sickly grey-green palette replaced by warm, honeyed yellows - evidence of its maker's altogether sunnier, more amenable demeanour. It opens as a depressive philosophy lecturer (Fatih Al, who actually looks the part) learns of his father's death; upon returning to the country to sell off the family's land, he finds it's been zoned off for development by the municipality. Clearly, no-one is going anywhere: across town, the same municipality is closing down a theatre, while up in the hills, there sits a pristine new airport built by someone who got their angles wrong, where a crew of men in high-visibility tabards wait for the day planes will be allowed to land there.

What follows is a surprisingly involving study of backwater inertia. While waiting for his case to be reviewed by the authorities, the philosopher takes a job at this non-airport and rents a property adjacent to the theatre's former director (Nazan Kesal), a single mother whose teenage daughter has terminal cancer. The latter isn't the only one sitting around waiting to die, we sense: the philosopher and the director keep bumping into one another around town, yet all they can do is nod politely, both parties apparently unwilling to break the cycles of resignation and despair they've trapped themselves in. At one point, the philosopher cites the ancient Chinese curse "May you be reincarnated in a period of transition", and that's more or less exactly what Circle describes: a handful of nondescript weeks or months during which these characters will be made subject to a fraught yet essentially niggling process of change.

We should credit İnaç and his cast with filling these frames with a kind of life, however circumscribed: three-a-side kickabouts on the wide open space of the airstrip, a peculiar pub game that requires participants to put their necks in a noose, a course for female undertakers held in a dusty antechamber lit to resemble a Rembrandt tableau. İnaç's trump card is the stumbling, rueful almost-romance between two lived-in protagonists who are only too aware of their own limitations, and the external obstacles that might come between them: a narrative that opens up what might merely have seemed a rather arcane and self-sealed world. Yet every strand here ekes out something striking or resonant, not least a wryly persuasive sense of the hoops you sometimes have to pass through to achieve anything in a one-horse town such as this.

Circle screens with a Q&A at the Rio Cinema this Sunday at 3.45, and on Wed 28 at 6.30, and then at the Ray Dolby Theatre on Sun 1 June at 4.30pm.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

At the LTFF: "Cycle"

You go into some films blindfolded, and thus can only ever be surprised by where they lead you. Dervis Zaim's hybrid work Cycle was apparently shot over several years, yet - as its title suggests - it keeps returning to the same spot in the calendar year: the annual sheep-washing festival held by shepherds living in the hills of Hasanpasa. This weekend of music, prayer and gunfire climaxes with the lambs being allowed to charge through the streets, in a cuddlier version of Pamplona's running with the bulls; the shepherd who steers his flock to a lake at the bottom of the hills fastest is declared that year's winner. Astonishingly, this competition is televised, and even has its own Phil "The Power" Taylor in Ramazan Bayar: an apparently unbeatable veteran who continues to see off far younger contenders.

To label Zaim's film straight documentary would be a little disingenuous, as it keeps falling back on elements of structured reality, as though it were an especially arcane ITV2 docusoap. The competition, certainly, appears genuine, yet between runs, Zaim offers stilted, possibly scripted encounters, perhaps designed to set his subjects at ease: more than once, he cuts to a medium close-up of a shepherd who's clearly been told to look meaningfully at something inferred off-camera, and a final-reel hunting expedition rings patently false. Yet Cycle may be less about these men - lined, taciturn, in most cases only just more forthcoming than their livestock - than it is about the rituals they're engaged in. There's a little of 2010's leftfield arthouse hit Le Quattro Volte in the way Zaim describes the interactions between the shepherds, the seasons and the landscape, while painterly cinematography does for this region in daylight what Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Once Upon a Time in Anatolia did for it at night.

It goes somewhere new around the halfway mark, as one of Bayar's young rivals elects to break away from the herd and tries to make a go of it in the city, though we see how the job he ends up in - working the slaughterhouse floor in a halal butchers - entirely reconfigures his relationship with the sheep: where once he was content to jolly them along, now he's expected to slit their throats. (This may be A Metaphor for Capitalism.) A slightly lazy dichotomy - country good (because its people look out for one another, and step over spiders), city bad (because everybody's rude and on the make) - becomes apparent around this point, pushed through by Zaim's fondness for contrasting the sunbaked hills with precisely framed studies of the young shepherd freezing his ass off in the cold. Its partisanship can be forgiven, however, for the stunning images it beams back from this corner of the world: awkward and fumbling as it sometimes is about it, it is finally a film that takes off the blindfold.

Cycle screens at the Rio Cinema on Sat 24 at 6.45pm, and again on Tue 27 at 2.15pm.