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Back by Populaire demand

IN keeping with an event that is one long billet-doux to film, the Glasgow Film Festival begins today, Valentine's Day, with Populaire (HHHH, GFT, tonight, sold out, tomorrow, 1pm), a French romantic comedy that charms up a storm.

TAKE A LETTER: In the charming French romantic comedy Populaire, which opens this year's festival today, Deborah Francois takes the lead as secretary Rose.
TAKE A LETTER: In the charming French romantic comedy Populaire, which opens this year's festival today, Deborah Francois takes the lead as secretary Rose.

At its heart is speed typing, hitherto not well known as an aphrodisiac, but this is France. Deborah Francois plays Rose, a country girl who dreams of being a secretary to a dashing boss (Romain Duris). He, meanwhile, fantasises about a candidate who can win the world speed typing championship. A delightfully silly premise, which director Regis Roinsard mines with glee.

Jack Black and director Richard Linklater revive the successful partnership behind School of Rock for the equally endearing Bernie (HHHH, Cineworld, tomorrow, 3.45pm; Saturday, 8.45pm). Black is the titular funeral director beloved by the community he serves. He even has time for the spectacularly mean Marjorie (Shirley MacLaine). Can his friendship change her ways? Done in a mockumentary style, Linklater's drama is slyly funny and nicely outrageous. The biggest shocker of all is that it is based on a true story.

Cristian Mungui made his name in European and world cinema with the Palme d'Or-winning abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days. In Beyond the Hills (HHH, Cineworld, tomorrow, 1.15pm; Sunday, 6.15pm) his focus is once again on a woman's lot, this time in an Orthodox monastery in Moldavia where Voichita, a novice, welcomes her troubled friend from the city. While wonderfully detailed, exhaustion sets in even before events take a turn for the overblown.

If you can't wait for Joss Whedon's serving of Shakespeare in Much Ado About Nothing, there is more of England's bard in Caesar Must Die (HHH, Cineworld, tomorrow, 4pm; Saturday, 7.10pm). Directed by the Taviani brothers, and set in the Rebibbia prison in Rome, inmates are shown rehearsing and reflecting on what Julius Caesar means to them. Moody and atmospheric, often oppressively so, it won the Golden Bear in Berlin last year.

Songs for Amy supplies the answer to what that Lorna Anderson did next after playing Amber Murdoch in River City. She is the gal of the title in the Galway-set comedy drama Songs for Amy (HH, GFT, tomorrow, 8.20pm; Cineworld, Sunday, 1.30pm), with Sean Maguire as the singer-songwriter husband-to-be who loved and lost her due to his stag night shenanigans. Also starting Ford Kiernan, there are some sweet moments, but the humour is as broad as the River Corrib, with some larger than life acting to match.

For those keen on historical drama, the haunting Lore (HHHH, GFT, tomorrow 6pm; Cineworld, Saturday, 7pm) is a must see. Adapted from Rachel Seiffert's best-selling novel, The Dark Room, Cate Shortland's film tells the story of 14-year-old Lore, the daughter of a Nazi officer who must flee across Germany with her younger siblings as the Allies take control. Utterly gripping, with a terrific performance from Saskia Rosendahl in the title role.

The occasional high and the many lows of young love are portrayed in Rob Savage's impressive Strings (HHH, Cineworld, tomorrow, 4.15pm; Saturday 9.15pm). Grace and Jon (Philine Lembeck and Oliver Malam) are leaving school and preparing for whatever comes next, but first they fancy trying love out for size. Savage, just 18 when the shoot started, handles the material like a director several times his age, and his equally youthful cast make their mark too. Any young filmmaker wondering what on earth they can possibly do with a micro-budget (in Savage's case, £3000) should catch this.

Contemporary Saudi Arabia is the setting for the eye-opening coming of age drama Wadjda (HHHH, Cineworld, Sunday, 9.15pm; Monday, 3.30pm). Waad Mohammed plays the girl who has one all-consuming ambition: to beat her friend Abdullah in a bike race. In this ultraconservative society she might as well want to ride her bike on the moon. A fascinating and quietly moving look at life in the desert kingdom, all the more remarkable for being directed by a woman, Haifaa Al-Mansour.

Craig Zobel's Compliance (HHH, Cineworld, Sunday, 9pm; Monday, 1.15pm) is a film that will have you screaming at the screen, but in a good way. Becky and her colleagues at a fast-food joint in Ohio are gearing up for a busy Friday when a call comes in from the police accusing Becky of theft. Sandra the supervisor has to take charge until the police can get to the restaurant – and matters go right into the deep fat fryer from there.

About Face: Supermodels Then and Now (HHH, GFT, Monday, 4.40pm) is a documentary which arrives wearing the HBO label of quality. Models from Carmen Dell'Orefice to Jerry Hall talk in fascinating fashion about the old days and the new ways, showing themselves to have rather more va va voom than their successors. Among a clutch of divas, Dell'Orefice, 81, is the star, boasting that among the goodies modelling helped her buy was her first husband.

Time winds back to the Second World War with the brooding In the Fog (HHH, Cineworld, tomorrow 6pm; Saturday, 2.15pm). Adapted from the novel by Vassil Bykov, Sergei Loznitsa's drama centres around the fate of Sushenya, a railway worker accused of collaborating with the Nazis. Though relentlessly bleak, there's a bright flame of humanity at its core.

That old smoothie chops Richard Gere tries to talk and charm his way out of trouble in the thriller Arbitrage (HHH, GFT, Monday, 6.15pm; Tuesday, 1.30pm). Gere's performance as a financial master of the universe heading for a collision with reality earned him a Golden Globe nomination. Plays like a glossy TV movie, and The Bonfire of the Vanities (the novel, not the film) did all this better, but worth a look for Gere.

Several young stars are born in Rufus Norris's outstanding British drama Broken (HHHH, GFT, Tuesday, 8.45pm; Wednesday, 1.30pm). The twinkliest of them all is Eloise Laurence, who plays Skunk, a tomboyish tweenie who does her best to be kind and thoughtful to all. Not easy when you live in a cul-de-sac of warring neighbours. Tim Roth is excellent as Skunk's dad, with Cillian Murphy earning more gold stars as her teacher. Scalpel-sharp, heartbreakingly sweet and all round unforgettable.

Memory lane is paved with great tunes in Good Vibrations (HHH, Cineworld, Monday, 9.15pm; Tuesday, 1.30pm), the true story of Belfast record shop owner Terri Hooley, who helped give the world The Undertones and educated a generation in good music. The low budget is sometimes only too apparent, but the energy is unmistakable. Kicks for everyone, not just those who were teenagers at the time.

Spanish chiller Sleep Tight (HH, Cineworld, Monday 9pm, Tuesday, 4.15pm) will help you do anything but. Luis Tosar turns in a nightmare-inducing performance as the concierge of a swanky apartment block in Barcelona. Outwardly friendly and willing to help anyone, Cesar has another side. Slicky done by Jaume Balaguero (a co-director of Rec), but the drama strains credulity, and there's a streak of nastiness here that leaves a sour aftertaste.

Welcome to Niaqornat, the titular Village at the End of the World (HHH, Cineworld, Tuesday, 6.45pm; Wednesday, 4.30pm). With a population of 59, this Inuit village in Greenland has learned to be self-reliant, but with the fish factory closed, and the villagers' way of life under threat, it is going to be touch and go whether Niaqornat will survive. Despite the village's size, all human life is here and director Sarah Gavron does a remarkable job in bringing it out. Rather too many shots of the sewage collector at work, but otherwise the iceberg-strewn scenery is stunning.

Denmark's Susanne Bier (Brothers, After the Wedding) is one of the classiest directors working in Europe (and sometimes Hollywood) today. In Love is All You Need (HHHH, Cineworld, Tuesday, 8.30pm; Wednesday 1.15pm) she turns in a rom-com that is as smart as it is enchanting. Trine Dyrholm plays Ida, who is heading for her daughter's wedding in Italy. Father of the groom is Pierce Brosnan's still broken-hearted widower. The setting is sun-soaked and heavenly, the script is witty, and Mr Brosnan could even out-smoothie chops Mr Gere. A treat.

Tickets from today at GFT, Glasgow or Cineworld, Glasgow, from tomorrow. Call 0141 332 6535 or visit www.glasgowfilm.org/festival.

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