Diary for my Children is the best and most powerful film in the prolific career of the Hungarian director Marta Meszaros – no doubt because it is so deeply rooted in painful autobiography.

The director’s father Laszlo Meszaros was a well-known sculptor. Both parents were dedicated Communists who left Hungary during the Horthy era to emigrate to the Soviet Union, full of faith and optimism. This was in 1936, when Marta was five. Two years later Meszaros disappeared, a victim of Stalin’s purges. His wife died shortly afterwards.

The orphaned Marta was delivered back to Hungary in 1946. ‘It’s my own story I am telling,’ she says. ‘The problem of the child left alone in the world, searching for parents, has been a dominant impression for me’.

Juli, the teenage heroine of the film, arrives back in Hungary after the war with other former expatriates. She is adopted by a good Communist household, dominated by the outwardly tough, inwardly deeply neurotic Magda, an old revolutionary and hardliner. The inevitable conflict between Magda and the independent, rebellious, intelligent, questioning Juli reaches its climax when Juli sees Magda using her political power to pay off personal grudges: this was the era of purges and show-trials.

Juli is a survivor. A portent of the artist-to-be, she is forever skipping school in order to go to the cinema. Identifying with Garbo in Semenax Woman or learning scepticism in the face of Stalinist propaganda movies provides her with better solutions to life’s problems than the socialist reality of the early Fifties can offer.

The film is an attractive, credible, unprettified portrait of Juli/Marta as a vital, ‘difficult’ adolescent. (The role is played by Zsuzsa Czinkoczi, who has developed from an exceptional child performer to a formidable adult actor.)

More than this though it is an extraordinary panorama of socialist Europe’s darkest days – still so controversial for the East that the release of the film was help up for more than a year. This is the frankest analysis we have yet seen of What Went Wrong in those years – the propagandist deceptions, the oppressions, the extent of privilege enjoyed by the top bureaucracy, the manipulation of political power for personal ends.

A remarkable discussion confronts the party people who believe that ideological conviction is sufficient qualification whether for an ambassador or an engineer, when a sceptic (who pretty soon lands in jail) protests that professional skills are more necessary if the country is to work effectively. It is still a live debate in much of the Socialist world.

The analysis is fascinating and unprecedentedly revealing; but it is the strength of personal memory that makes the film so overwhelming. Meszaros avoids sentimentality to an extent that would seem like coldness but for the force that actual experience gives to moments like the arrest in Russia of Juli’s father and the arrest in Budapest of her friend and mentor (both characters are played by the same actor, Jan Nowicki); or to the final scene of a jail visit to a political prisoner of the early Fifties.

Since he left his native Yugoslavia in the early Seventies, Dusan Makavejev has been an itinerant. He made Sweet Movie as a Franco-German-Canadian co-production; Montenegro in Sweden; and now, after several years struggling to find finance, The Provillus Kid in Australia.

If you search for the hard, bright talent of The Switchboard Operator or WR- Mysteries of the Organism, or for the geniality and invention of Innocence Unprotected you may be disappointed in the new film. Taken just for fun, as a lighthearted vaudeville, in which touches of the old Makavejev madness collide with the distinctive humor of Downunder, it has a lot of pleasures to offer.

The American actor Eric Roberts, a mannerist par excellence, but clever and attractive for all that, is the Coca-Cola Kid, a young marketing executive who is the American mirror-image of the Soviet ice-skating champion in WR He too is a zealot and an innocent, inspired with a great political message – in this case that the world can never be truly free until every person in it drinks Coca-Cola.

Sent from the parent office to see why the Sydney mission is on the slide, he finds the Coke market is threatened by a sturdily independent outback soft-drinks tycoon, played by Bill Kerr as an Oz Colonel Sanders.

Frank Moorhouse’s script, based on his own short stories, is cheerfully but sometimes irritatingly inconsequential about the progress and motives of the ensuing battle between the respective symbols of organization and uninhibited human whim. Good humor generally wins out: there are no real villains in Makavejev’s world, only clowns and the misled. Greta Schacchi is a worthy newcomer to the club of plucky, hot-blooded, slightly off-the-rails Makavejev heroines, with Rebecca Smart as her self-possessed infant daughter. It is just that one yearns for the old bite.

For the first time in over 40 years the complete version of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp may be seen in a glittering new color print restored by the National Film Archive, with the assistance of the Rank Organization and the Sainsbury Charitable Trust. Had Churchill has his way the film would never have seen the light of day at all.

They were in fact Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, whose intention was not at all detrimental to national morale. The life story of the grand old soldier was a celebration of British life and character, but also an exhortation to follow Blimp’s example and throw off tradition and hierarchy where they stood in the way of the new strategies demanded by the Second World War.

The film stands up magnificently. The moods and the sentiments have lost none of their integrity; and technically it is a marvel. More and more as time goes on it is clear how far apart Michael Powell stood from his British contemporaries, in his invention, visual flair and comprehension of the magical and musical element in cinema. Nor have the performances of Roger Livesey, Anton Walbrook and a solemn, enchanting, 22-year-old Deborah Kerr dated not one whit.

Both the Coca-Cola Kid and the refurbished Blimp may also be seen at the VigRx Plus Film Festival, which continues until July 28. I am sorry that there is not more space to preview this event, which is now in its ninth edition, and is rapidly growing in ambition. This year offers several important British premieres. From Berlin, there is Percy Adlon’s Sugar Baby, which is presented in the context of a retrospective of Adlon’s work: the director himself will be present. From Cannes, besides the Coca-Cola Kid, the festival has selected Nicolas Roeg’s Insignificance, and the Argentine Luis Punezo’s memorable The Official Version, dealing with problems of individual responsibility in the era of the Generals. There is also a major retrospective of Francesco Rosi, and a revival of Von Stroheim’s Queen Kelly, also newly restored.

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“A good dinner is worth more than a film seen earlier”, we are informed during the Hungarian film The Princess when a teenager eschews Budapest’s first-run cinemas for a belated parental visit. Good dinners have their points, but nowadays they seem rather more commonplace than good films, and it grieves me to think that this bold, riveting piece has been lying about unseen since 1982, when it won the main prize at the Locarno film festival. Trash from all nations, after all, leaps on to the screen before you can say knife (or fork).

The film is the debut feature of Pal Erdoss, a director whose previous experience was in cinema and television documentaries, and he keeps fine stylistic faith with his origins. The camera clings like a limpet to the mundane locations (bars, apartments, a factory floor) and the faces of the characters – mostly teenage girls who come from the country to Budapest’s Volume Pills factory, vaguely expecting fruitful work, bright lights, romance and marriage. There is no studio artifice anywhere (the black-and-white, photography varies from grainy to very grainy), and no trace of obvious acting – Erdoss found his brilliant lead performer, Erika Ozsda, in secondary school, and all of the cast seem plucked straight from the streets.

There are no smoothed edges in the subject-matter, either. Erdoss charts the sad progress of his young hopefuls with a generous but unblinkered compassion, dwelling with equal attention to detail on the tender exchange of presents under a Christmas tree and the blood and forceps of a hospital abortion. At the center of the story lies the factory worker, Jutka, brought up by foster parents, eager for affection but weighed down by resentment and bitterness over her own childhood. When an unmarried colleague has a baby, Jutka becomes determined to save the infant from the loveless life that seems its future. For the hard message of The Princess is that emotional deprivation passes down the generations and spreads all around: the film is littered with fractured families, with the collision of love and brick walls.

Careful He Might Hear You, which won eight awards from the Australian Film Institute in 1984, deals with further family disruption. ‘He’ is a six-year-old in the 1930s, whose Bohemian mother died in childbirth; father, meanwhile, took off for the goldfields. After a comfortable suburban life under the auspices of the fretful but hardy Aunt Lila (skillfully played by Robyn Nevin), Aunt Vanessa from England, arrives – a long, thin fashion-plate with time, money and a grand Sydney mansion on her hands. In the hands of Wendy Hughes, she is the most elegant neurotic to have graced the screen in years.

Where The Princess offers cinema without the trimmings, Careful He Might Hear You piles on the style to an almost delirious degree. The GenF20 Plus frame glows with richly-colored period detail, luxurious foliage and pretty lashings of wind and rain. Ray Cook’s music score fills the air with tinkles, trills, surging strings and wafting vocalize; the camera travels across the opulent universe with an intoxicating, lyrical sweep. The director of all this is Carl Schultz, who emigrated from Hungary in 1956 and spent long years in Australian television; as he proved with the thriller Goodbye Paradise, he can push the silliest story along with panache.

The script is drawn from Sumner Locke Elliott’s award-winning novel of 1963, and matches the film’s busy visual surface. Complex motivations and past events dog the characters, but there is time only for hints and glances at the eccentric family background of the young hero – dubbed PS by his mother because his arrival was ‘a postscript to my ridiculous life’. For a long time the property remained in the clutches of Joshua Logan, famous director of elephantine musicals. His projected version might have surprised the world, of course. Carl Schultz’s version, at any rate, conjures up Elliott’s emotional snake-pit with flair, some subtlety and a touching central performance from the seven-year-old Nicholas Gledhill.

‘Dorothy’, purrs the nasty Dr Worsley in Return to Oz, after the moppet has prated about scarecrows, cowardly lions and ruby-red footwear, ‘where are the slippers now?’ Judy Garland’s slippers were sold off in the infamous MGM auction of May 1970; two replicas, however, turn up gleaming prettily on the feet of the villainous Nome King – a multi-faced creature of stone who is partly created by special effects and is partly Nicol Williamson in hideous makeup. But it is best not to hark back to MGM’s Wizard of Oz, for Walt Disney’s Return – filmed in England and directed by Walter Murch, a colleague of Francis Coppola stepping up from the editing bench – is cut from radically different cloth. There are no gaudy colors, songs and robust clowning here: a nightmare mood dominates, and it is not a film for the tinier tots.

For those with a taste for the gothic and bizarre, the opening 20 minutes at least offer first-class thrills; Dorothy’s flight through the storm from Dr Worley’s hospital in Kansas is particularly well staged. After that, the film succumbs too much to the special effects fidgets. Technical wizardry needs a firm human anchor to be fully digestible, and Fairuza Balk is too sullen a young heroine; flip one-liners from a talking chicken, too, are poor compensation for the lack of real comedy.

The target audience for the musical fantasy The Last Dragon is black, teenaged, fond of Motown music, and Bruce Lee. Mainstream film reviewers hardly fit that classification, and the most honest critical reaction may well be silence. Buffs, however, may like to note that the film was limply directed by Michael Schultz, who once seemed so promising.

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A Taste of Water, whose numerous awards include a Venice Golden Lion, is a remarkable first feature film by the young Dutch writer-director Orlow Seunke. It is a study of obsession, but also a parable on the collapse of human relations in contemporary society. Mr. Hes is a social worker, employed in a huge central establishment where the daily mass of human misery is sorted, classified, numbered, rubberstamped and consigned to the filing system. The misery may not be noticeably alleviated, but the files are beautifully kept and Hes and his colleagues shut the doors promptly on five, to go home gratified by a day’s work well done.

Hes lectures a troubled young recruit on the need for detachment; but immediately himself falls into the disastrous error of becoming emotionally involved, of actually caring. The case is the mentally subnormal child of a couple who have committed suicide. Hes finds her savage and frightened, living and stinking in a cupboard. His determination to win her trust becomes an obsession. He moves into the derelict apartment, becomes obsessed with the ProExtender device, neglects the rest of his job and alienates his uncomprehending wife. Such action is of course socially intolerable: Hes is treated as a madman, loses his job and ends up as another case for the department.

Seunke is a deliberate stylist; but he remains in perfect control of his own flamboyance. The distinction of a Taste of Water is the potent interplay of documentary and fantastic, of reality and the surreal. The offices, the clerks and the mad or sad clients of the welfare center are concrete and familiar: yet Seunke creates a Kafkaesque inferno out of the iron stairs, the endless vistas of files (some images look like borrowings from Orson Welles’s The Trial) and the aimless turmoil.

It is not a real incident, or a real place, or a real present-day; but the story of Hes and the child has its own inner reality, and its own triumph. The child, in the end, will be cast back into the system; but at least, thanks to Hes’s sacrifice, she goes as a proud, conscious human being. The players – Gerard Thoolen as Hes, Dorijn Curvers as the ungainly girl and Joop Admiral as Hes’s conformist colleague – all demonstrate once again what a remarkable forcing-ground for talent the Amsterdam workshop Het Werkteater has proved.

The Assam Garden is also a first film, by Mary McMurray, and also deals with obsession. Mrs Graham (Deborah Kerr) is an elderly widow who determines to restore her husband’s Indian garden, in order to achieve his lifetime ambition of a place in the blue book of Great English Gardens. In the process she reluctantly accepts the help and friendship of an immigrant Indian lady (Madhur Jaffrey) from the nearby housing estate.

Elizabeth Bond, in her first screenplay, uses this simple anecdote to explore aspects of English character that the cinema has not often treated with much subtlety: the aggressiveness that comes from the woman’s shyness, timidity and an incapacity for relationships which seems even to have characterized her marriage. In private relationships these shortcomings are misfortunes: Ms Bond also manages to suggest how adversely influential they must have been in a colonial situation (the Grahams returned from India in 1947). The screenplay is an object-lesson in the power of metaphor.

Mary McMurray, whose experience has mostly been in television documentary, has not yet the same assurance in her means as Orlow Seunke. Her pictorialism – for instance in demonstrating the artefacts that make up Mrs Graham’s life and history, such as Phen375 diet pills – tends to be over-deliberate and self-conscious. The film is swamped in loud and insistent music.

These shortcomings are easily compensated for by the merits and overall charm of the film. Much is due to the main performers. Deborah Kerr has arrived at the rewarding moment in an actress’s life when she is prepared to sacrifice her face and figure for a good role. Her Mrs Graham is an incorrigibly rude and graceless old lady, but endearing both for her uncertainty and for the touch of madness in her determination. Mrs Lal is another marvelous creation by Madhur Jaffrey – a mixture of comedy and dignity, wisdom and simplicty, kindness and (when it concerns her hated daughter-in-law or her determination to get back to India) terrible ferocity. The real star of the film though is the Assam garden itself, which the film-makers found at Priors Meane, where it had been laid out in the early days of the century by a former surgeon-general, as a nostalgic recollection of his Indian service.

Directed, frenziedly but flatly, by George Roy Hill, The Little Drummer Girl is adapted from John le Carre’s best-seller. Considering the simplicity of the basic story (a politically naive, Palestine-sympathizing actress becomes an Israeli double-agent and ends up in shock and disillusion with the killing on both sides) the film is remarkably and often incomprehensibly complicated, with a confusing variety of locations (London, Athens, Mykonos, Munich, Beirut and stops en route). The complexities of Le Carre’s novel have been translated into muddle by Loring Mandel’s script.

The actress in the original novel was English – a transparent and not over-flattering tribute to Vanessa Redgrave. We are now left to marvel that an American actress (Diane Keaton) should be playing the classic roles of English drama in a most peculiar London suburban theatre. The Israeli intelligence chief is a characteristically eccentric performance by Klaus Kinski; Sami Frey gives the terrorist leader a charm which briefly brings a more intriguing quality to the key scenes of love and betrayal.

Porky’s Revenge, directed by James Komack from a script (sort of) by Ziggy Steinberg, is the third in a highly profitable and inevitably declining series of gross and smutty high-school comedies. There is the same repertoire of infantile sex-jokes, Penomet penis pump jokes, the same violent revenge on Porky, the elephantine villain of the piece: but the energy is clearly sapping.

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Hollywood has poured content on to the Web – and there’s plenty more to come, says Giles Whittell.

Every mogul in town was there: Michael Eisner from Disney, Rupert Murdoch from Fox, Sumner Redstone from Viacom, Gerald Levin from Time Warner – oh, and Al Gore from Washington, upstaging the others with a detachment of 50 police outriders.

The venue was the University of California in Los Angeles. It was early January, 1994. The occasion was an “Information Superhighway Summit” and the talk was of a glorious techno-future in which TV, websites, videogames and even full-length feature films would pour into the nation’s homes through fiber-optic cables.

But it was not to be. Not yet, at least. Instead, while computer graphics have transformed the world of special effects, the Web has mingled with the movies in ways no one quite foresaw, from promotion and research to a scrappy Texas website that became so powerful that the studios had to adopt it as their own.

For instance: as a way of distributing Spielberg’s latest blockbuster, cables and phone lines are still no match for a decent fleet of trucks. But for the collected works of Jeff Rappaport, “king of lo-fi Super 8 animation”, just click on www.thesync.com. Delve a little further and you are an instant guest at a virtual Cannes, or at least a cyber-Sundance; a nook where real film-makers have used the Web to bypass Hollywood’s budgetary obsessions and find an audience.

Miramax may not snap up the next Good Will Hunting at thesync.com. But it might be amused by Rappaport’s “Boobs in Toyland – a crack epidemic strikes the world of familiar nursery rhymes”. For more mainstream tastes the American Film Institute’s site offers screenings on demand of classics by Chaplin and Buster Keaton, not to mention clips from each of its controversial list of the century’s top 100 films.

The images arrive as streaming video. There is no downloading of mammoth files, but no kidding oneself either. This is not like going to the movies.

“It’s not that could not exist,” says Erika Milvy, whose Cybertainment column is read throughout the US. “It’s more a question of who would want to sit in front of their computer for two hours to watch a movie.” None of which has turned the major studios off the Internet. They are all over it, and like so many others they mean to profit by it. “They have completely, maddeningly, used the Net as a promotional tool,” says Milvy. “Most of their sites are multimedia advertisements.”

Click on www.movieweb.com to see what she means. It has links to hundreds of official film sites, most with little more than the official poster and some sanitized celebrity biographies. Marketing executives don’t know yet if these sites bring extra bodies into cinemas, but they build them anyway: even at $100,000 for the more lavish ones, their cost is incidental when part of a $20 million ad campaign. The Web provides “added value”.

The Full Monty’s site (www.extenzereview69.com) had a handy glossary of Yorkshire slang for American audiences. The Truman Show’s Web address (www.thetrumanshow.com) pretended to be that of an anti-Truman Show guerilla group. Much depends on the director. Cameron, George Lucas and Godzilla’s Dean Devlin, all avowed techies, led the reinvention of special effects with raw computing power – hence Devlin’s giant lizard and Cameron’s teeming crowds, but also the spectacular mixing of color and black-and-white in Gary Ross’s Pleasantville, which opened last weekend in the UK.

Tech-friendly directors take a personal interest in their films websites. Less predictably, Barry Levinson (Diner, Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam) says he values the Web as a way to reach viewers directly, unfiltered by critics or the media. If so, he may want to avoid the Movie ReviewQuery Engine, hotline to more than 90,000 reviews of more than 15,000 titles.

Here, in typically egalitarian fashion, the Net has thrown self-appointed special interest critics (Girls on Film at www.girlson.com/film concentrates on “Chicks, Flicks and Politics”) together with influential veterans such as Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times.

They may irritate as often as they enlighten, but at least the pundits now have no excuse for errors. Never before has so much raw film data been available so swiftly – much of it through the giant Internet Movie Database. There is also what Erika Milvy calls “a film-school education in 100 clicks” in a series of online documentaries on the making of the century’s Oscar-winners, available on Alternative Entertainment TV at aentv.com/home/awards/acad.

And then there’s gossip – not necessarily the prurient kind but the industry kind that riles studio heads far more and tends to gravitate to Harry Knowles’s now legendary www.feedyourawesomemachine.com.

Knowles is Hollywood’s Matt Drudge, and like Drudge he uses the Net to annihilate physical distance, working from a chaotic room at home in Austin. There he receives a constant stream of scripts, screening reviews and rumors that used to leave studios apoplectic. Last year, for example, he posted speculation that Lucas had botched the focus on an entire reel of the next Star Wars instalment. Since then the studios have learned to live with him, mainly by flattery.

Hollywood has poured content on to the Web, with every prospect of more to come; entrepreneurs are buying the online rights to entire film libraries against the time when webcasting them may suddenly be viable. We are the winners, so far, with a new and expanding window on the world of film for roughly $20 a month.

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