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Boxing clever with two broken lives

Rust and Bone, drama. Starring Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Armand Verdure, Celine Sallette, Corinne Masiero. Directed by Jacques Audiard. Cert 15A

In the wrong hands, a story about a burgeoning romance between a bouncer-turned-bareknuckle fighter and a female amputee who once trained killer whales could have been horrendous. Add in that the boxer has a tousle-haired five-year-old son in tow and you have the makings of a melodrama that even schlockmeister supreme Nicholas Sparks would deem too mawkish to commit to the screen.

Luckily, however, we have Jacques Audiard (The Beat that My Heart Skipped/A Prophet) at the helm and serious talent in the central roles, adding considerable weight to a sometimes slight story. In particular, Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard turns in a mesmerising performance as Stephanie, an outgoing if rather volatile woman who loses both her legs below the knee in an accident at the marine park where she works and plunges into anger and depression.

Opposite her, Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts continues Audiard's uncanny knack for handing relative unknowns career-making parts (Romain Duris and Tahar Rahim being previous beneficiaries) in the role of Ali. This character is deeply flawed but not incapable of redemption.

Yes, he's violent (Audiard doesn't flinch at showing the audience the brutality of illegal fighting matches in car parks on the Cote d'Azur) and a reluctant, frequently neglectful parent, but by witholding much of the detail of his background we're curiously drawn towards Ali as he and Stephanie form an unlikely couple.

At its core Rust and Bone is a story of two broken people coming together to make both their lives better. It's not a fluffy, bump-free ride by any means, but the performances by Cotillard (surely an Oscar nomination must be a cert) and Schoenaerts always ring true, while Audiard gives the film a look that is both beautiful and realistic. Go see it before Hollywood attempts a remake that's a cross between The Champ and Free Willy.

For a Good Time, Call..., comedy. Starring Lauren Anne Miller, Ari Graynor, Justin Long, Mark Webber, James Wolk, Mimi Rogers. Directed by James Travis. Cert 16

Clearly pitched at the demographic that made Bridesmaids such a huge hit, this mess of a movie would like to see itself as a liberating tale of female friendship with a bawdy, near-the- knuckle pretext but merely winds up wallowing about in a sub- Apatow swamp of smut and vulgarity.

Lauren Anne Miller (who co-wrote what passes for a script) plays Lauren, an uptight but well-organised publishing assistant who splits from her boring boyfriend and has to move in with Katie, a girl she hated in college (an exceptionally irritating Ari Graynor, last seen in The Sitter, the worst film of the year). Katie, who appears to have the IQ and emotional equilibrium of a not particularly bright 10-year-old, has a sideline working for a phone-sex company, but before you know it Lauren has helped set up their own operation and soon the pair are thriving. But can it last?

The film throws out so many mixed messages and shifts tone so wildly it's hard to keep up, as the crudity and cliches pile up on top of each other at an accelerated rate without any remote trace of wit or humour to make this fiasco even barely bearable. Mind-numbingly awful.

Elena, drama. Starring Nadezhda Markina, Andrei Smirnov, Elena Lyadova, Aleksey Rozin, Igor Ogurtsov. Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev. Cert Club

This subtle, evolving and involving drama may appear to unfold at a glacial pace but compared to director Andrey Zvyagintsev's last two outings, The Return and The Banishment, it cracks along like a Michael Bay movie that's been mainlining Red Bull. From the almost wordless domestic opening we assume that Elena (Nadezhda Markina) is the live-in housekeeper of Vladimir (Andrei Smirnov), sleeping in a separate bedroom and watching different programmes on TV, until it's revealed that they are, in fact, married.

A couple for just over a decade, she's helping to prop up her wastrel son and his family financially, much to her wealthy husband's chagrin. Vladimir has his own offspring problems, a dismissive and demanding daughter (Elena Lyadova), and when he suffers a heart attack the plot moves into a darker and more emotionally murky area entirely. Elena may be slow to reveal its power, but, driven by masterful, unshowy performances by the principal players, it makes for a memorable and lingering movie.

Sister, drama. Starring Kacey Mottet Klein, Lea Seydoux, Martin Compston, Gillian Anderson. Directed by Ursula Meier. Cert Club

The spectacular setting of the Swiss Alps provides the backdrop for this low-key study in survival, as 12-year-old Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) provides for his troubled older sister Louise (Lea Seydoux) by stealing skis, gloves and goggles from the tourists who frequent the slopes above the grim tower block where they live. Old before his time by economic necessity, Simon occasionally lets us see that he's really a lost little boy struggling to make sense of the world, having been let down by all the adults he'd come to rely on.

While there's an undeniable charm to elements of Sister, the story really isn't strong enough to sustain the movie all the way through, with the theme of abandonment being drilled home in way too heavy-handed a manner by the conclusion.