Clean. (R) On one level, Olivier Assayas's Clean falls into the genre of gorgeous-junkie cautionary tales, but beyond that it's a bitter sketch of the airless, stenchy subterraniums of the fringe rock world, down to the bad hygiene and inveterate dream-spinning. Maggie Cheung, as the recovering heroine struggling to reclaim her life and reacquaint herself with her young son, stalks through the film's cellars, all-night diners, and clouds of cheap ideas with a guileless awkwardness, never fitting in and aware that she is loathed. It's a film of frustrated meetings, humiliations, and petty struggle working in a Parisian Chinese eatery, eating crow with successful ex-partners, attacking an acquaintance's medicine cabinet in a moment of emotional collapse. Cheung and Assayas famously signed their divorce on the set, and the circumstances could only have added to the uncompromising unlikability of Cheung's character. Hitting the ground in his ultra-naturalistic mode, Assayas only uncages his star's formidable smile once or twice, never demanding our empathy, making Clean a uniquely pungent portrait of dependent personalities and the strain they put on the social weave. (Michael Atkinson) TV
L'Enfant. (R) The makers of this Belgian drama, about a 20-year-old hustler who sells his infant son like a bag of weed, have referred to it as a "love story," and so it is. As the film opens, we discover that Bruno (Jérémie Renier), a panhandler and petty thief, has traded his apartment for a hat and a jacket, leaving his girlfriend Sonia (Déborah François), fresh out of the maternity ward, clutching their wailing newborn and needing shelter. Spendthrift Dad does spring for a stroller at one point, but we sense that the grown enfant is being wheeled in some other direction. Indeed, he makes a deal to sell nine-day-old Jimmy on the black market for a wad of Euros, then appears genuinely surprised when Sonia doesn't buy his argument that they can simply make another baby to replace the one he's just hocked. As Bruno hustles to recover Jimmy, L'Enfant nudges its protagonist and its audience toward unlikely affection. No wonder the brothers call it a love story. (Rob Nelson) PF
Over the Hedge. (PG) Reviewed in this issue. (Robert Wilonsky) ARN, CPP, DP, EG, GL, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL
See No Evil. Here's a good reason to avoid juvie: They apparently make kids clean old hotels. And so help you God, if it's the one in See No Evil, be prepared to run from a serial killer who's lurking in one of the rooms. Oh yeah, and make sure the cop who's there isn't the same guy who shot the killer years ago. It's what's called a conflict of interest. Happy scrubbing! (NR) ARN, CGX, J14, MR, RON, STCH, STCL
Water. (PG-13) Production on the third and most powerful chapter of Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta's "Elements" trilogy was delayed for years by religious fundamentalists who staged demonstrations, torched the filmmaker's sets, and threatened her life. But she was not to be thwarted. This work of gorgeous fury, about the virtual imprisonment of millions of Hindu widows in the years before independence, transforms Mehta's feminist rage into an eloquent testament to the hunger for freedom. Her heroines, an eight-year-old widow called Chuyia (played by Sarala, a child chosen from a village in Sri Lanka) and a beautiful woman in her twenties (Lisa Ray), come to embody the spirit of the time (the film is set in 1938), when the great liberationist Mahatma Gandhi was on the rise, but the old repressions were still very much in force. (Gallo) HP
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