For some reason, it still causes ripples in the press when an actor with Down Syndrome or a physical disability or intellectual difficulty takes a leading role in a film. Maybe Len Collin's feature bow can finally lay the matter to rest, as the ensemble he has assembled for Sanctuary is uniformly excellent. Mostly drawn from Galway's Blue Teapot Theatre Company, the cast was already familiar with Christian O'Reilly's screenplay, as they had performed it on stage in 2012. Thankfully, however, things have changed slightly since then, as the target of O'Reilly's satirical invective - Section 5 of the 1993 Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, which prevented unmarried persons with intellectual difficulties from having consensual sexual intercourse - was repealed in May 2017.

Some time before Christmas, Larry (Kieran Coppinger), who has Down Syndrome, jiggles with his piggy bank to try and get at his savings. When all efforts fail, he asks his mother (Eileen Gibbons) if he can borrow some money. But she is more concerned by the look he gives an underwear ad in her magazine and packs him off for a days work at a Galway burger bar before going on a cinema trip with his friends at the nearby day care centre.

In the hostel where she lives with Rita (Jennifer Cox) and Daragh (Richard Hickey), Sophie (Charlene Kelly), who suffers from a form of epilepsy that makes her tremble, is being equally furtive, as she snaps at her carer, Eileen (Caroline Grace Cassidy), while trying to sneak a red dress into her backpack. As they are picked up by a minibus, Larry calls Tom (Robert Doherty), one of the helpers at the centre, who has promised to do him a favour. Larry shows Tom the piggy bank in a dark room off the garage and he is about to walk away when he hears the sound of shattering porcelain. Taking the money he needs, Tom promises to keep his end of the bargain and Larry heads off with a swagger and a deep sigh of relief.

Meanwhile, Mrs Kelly (Orla McGivern) breaks the news to her regular work detail that they won't be stuffing envelopes any longer because the contract has expired. William (Frank Butcher), Matthew (Paul Connolly) and Andrew (Patrick Becker) enjoy feeling useful and are less than impressed when Mrs Kelly informs them that they will be taking DJ classes and having makeovers instead. Tom tries to explain that some eejit civil servant has decided to cap the amount of money they can earn and retain access to benefits and William is less than impressed.

As Larry finishes cleaning the toilets at the burger bar, Sophie begins to fret that he will miss the minibus taking them to the cinema. But Tom holds grumpy Jim the driver (Steven Monaghan) until Larry arrives and they set off. Despite Jim banning singing, the gang belt their way through Chumbawumba's `Tubthumping' and arrive at the multiplex in good spirits. Armed with popcorn and fizzy drinks, they take their seats. Peter (Michael Hayes) gets flustered when Sandy (Emer Macken) keeps asking him questions about the film he can't answer and threatens to change seats. But Tom orders them all to stay put when Sophie accidentally on purpose drops her popcorn in the aisle and Larry follows her out with Tom to get some more.

In fact, they are leaving the building altogether and heading to the nearby hotel, where Tom has made arrangements with his receptionist friend Clare (Karen Murphy) to let Larry and Sophie have a room to consummate their relationship. Unfortunately, Clare is not on the check-in desk when they arrive and Larry loses patience with Theresa (Tara Breathnach) when she tries to patronise him. Clare appears, however, and merely smiles when Tom pays for the room with the contents of Larry's piggy bank.

While the lovebirds head up to their room, Andrew slips out into the cinema foyer to try the sweets in the pick`n'mix display. Sampling one sweet from each tub, he spits them out when he doesn't like the taste and Danny (Christopher Dunne) from the popcorn stand comes over to ask him to desist. As Andrew makes his way back to the auditorium, William complains about the film not having enough spills and thrills and he takes exception to Peter asking him to keep quiet.

Meanwhile, as Sophie puts on her make-up in the bathroom, Larry asks Tom if he has a condom. Rather naively realising that the couple plan to have sex rather than just enjoy some alone time, Tom tries to explain that it's illegal for someone with Down Syndrome and epilepsy to make love outside marriage. He agrees when Larry declares it a stupid law and hints that he could go to jail if they get caught. But Larry is adamant and asks to borrow the condom he spotted in Tom's wallet, as he doesn't want to get Sophie pregnant. Realising Larry is going to take no notice of his warning, Tom hands over the prophylactic, but draws the line at giving instructions on how to put it on.

Back at the cinema, William has noticed that Tom, Larry and Sophie have failed to return and he wanders into the foyer to find them. Having seen a poster for a martial arts film, Matthew strikes a kung-fu pose before kicking open the cubicle doors in the toilets. But there's no sign of his friends. William asks Danny if he knows where they are and he suggests giving Tom a call. But there is no answer and Alice (Valerie Egan) rushes after Andrew when he wanders into the car park. He sees a dog in the back of one vehicle and barks through the window at a young couple kissing in the next car. When he almost walks into the road, Alice insists on holding his hand to make sure he stays safe.

Peter and Sandy remain in their seats watching the film. She invites him to put his arm around her and he tries to explain that he doesn't like it when she flirts with him. Sandy asks if it would be different if she looked like the heroine in the movie, but Peter insists it has nothing to do with looks and suggests that if Sandy really liked him she would respect his boundaries. Over at the hotel, Larry is also trying to do things right and ponders long and hard before deciding it would be better to put the condom under a pillow rather than on top of the Bible in the bedside cabinet. He falls off the bed when Sophie comes out in her red dress and she is still beaming with his reaction when they sit down at the table to talk.

As there is no sign of their friends on the main street, William suggests that he and Matthew pop into a pub to wait for them to show up, while taking advantage of a buy one get one free offer on Guinness. Meanwhile, at the hotel, Tom tells Clare what Larry and Sophie are up to and she is surprised that anyone passed such an insensitive law. He explains that it was intended to protect the vulnerable from abuse and Sophie confesses to Larry that she was assaulted by staff members at her last care home. But she wants this time to be special and they dance and kiss before using some of the `love talk' they have heard on the television. However, when he reaches for the condom, Sophie is furious with him for thinking she is that kind of girl. She feels he has tricked her in order to have his wicked way and asks him to call Tom so they can go home. Desperate not to mess things up, Larry swears he loves her and plays the Girls Aloud track `Love Machine' on his phone and, when he starts to dance for her, Sophie laughs so much that she joins in.

Aghast to discover that all but Peter, Sandy and Rita are left in the cinema, Tom heads into town, with Rita hot on his heels. She wants to visit the Christmas Fair and he promises to take her when everyone is accounted for. In the pub, William is affronted when Matthew suggests he is too old for romance, but bridles at the phrase `plenty more fish in the sea' because fish give him indigestion. Aware that Tom will be worried about them, William tells Matthew to drink up. But, as Tom hasn't returned his call, Matthew take umbrage and orders four more pints because he refuses to dance attendance.

Up in the bridal suite, Larry makes Sophie a cup of tea and she recalls the first time he served her. She was touched that he didn't fill the cup too full because of her tremor and, with a smile, she tells him that she wants to make love with him. Meanwhile, Peter confides to Sandy that he is glad they won't have to stuff envelopes any longer, as he wants to get a proper job like Larry. Sandy begins to cry because Peter was hurt by her flirting, but he puts his arm around her and tells her that she can do it to her heart's content when the others aren't around.

In the shopping mall, Andrew and Alice are followed by security guard Joseph (Stephen Marcus), who watches them try on jewellery at a stall run by Iseult (Amy-Joyce Hastings). When Joseph asks if they are okay, Andrew climbs a stepladder and gives him a big hug after putting a rapper chain around his neck. While they go off to have a go on a karaoke machine, Clare bumps into Tom, who is charging around in circles. She calms him down and he realises that Alice will always take care of Andrew, while William and Matthew are inseparable. But they fail to spot them on a whistlestop tour of pubs and Tom takes Clare by surprise when he gives her a kiss.

All is not well with Sophie and Larry, either. Having downed a bottle of champagne, they are lying on the bed in white towelling bathrobes. But, while Sophie jokes about doing it in the bath so they can be dirty and clean at the same time, Larry is becoming maudlin because he knows their time is running out. By contrast, Peter has decided that it would be nice to kiss Sandy before the others get back. So, despite a dog collar glinting in the darkness a couple of rows behind them, they copy the couple on the screen and close in for their embrace.

As darkness falls, Tom finds Andrew and Alice bedecked in baseball caps, chains and shades as they emerge from the department store. He also finds William and Matthew, as they emerge from the pub and the latter promptly throws up on his shoes. But, as they return to the cinema, Peter and Sandy wander off in the other direction to find them. Fortunately, Rita is fast asleep in her seat and Tom hopes that he can track down the others before they are due to meet Sophie and Larry at a fast-food joint.

Over at the hotel, Larry is worried that Sophie might be pregnant because they failed to figure out how to use the condom. She reassures him that it takes lots of tries to make a baby, but isn't bothered if she is pregnant because she loves him and knows they could be a happy family. Larry reminds her that his parents and her carers might have something to say on the subject, but she is confident that things would work out fine. In the town centre, Tom becomes convinced that events are conspiring against him when Peter and Sandy are stopped by a policeman (Garrett Philipps). When Matthew and William blurt out that they are drunk, he demands to see Tom's ID and calls the station to check he should be in charge of the group. They agree they would rather be with him than Mrs Kelly. But, when Tom suggests they go and wait in the café, they demand to see where Sophie and Larry have been and threaten to tell the cop he intends sex trafficking them unless they get their way.

Larry and Sophie are debating what they would do if their child had Down Syndrome or epilepsy when Tom knocks on the door. He bundles the others inside, but Rita gets locked out and she heads off to the Christmas Fair. As William and Matthew help themselves to miniatures from the bar, Tom learns that Larry didn't use protection and curses him for being so reckless. The others are impressed that they have had sex, with the exception of Andrew, who calls Sophie names and tries to fight with Larry until he calms down by admitting he is just jealous because nobody has ever found him attractive.

At that moment, Alice realises that Rita is missing and Sophie has a minor fit and collapses on the floor. Tom realises that the alcohol has reacted with her medication and rushes off to find a doctor. He orders them to remain in the room and promises to come back with Rita. She is smoking dope and chugging beer with some kids at the fair, but is happy to see Tom. Back in the room, however, Sophie is struggling and Larry wants to fetch a doctor. Peter reminds them that Tom could get into trouble if the truth got out and he suggests they all keep schtum, with even Andrew agreeing when Alice gives him a wink. But when they take Sophie back down to reception, Theresa and Clare realise they have to call an ambulance and Mrs Kelly warns Tom that there will have to be an investigation when he returns with Rita.

Larry is dismayed that he is not allowed to go in the ambulance with Sophie and wipes away a tear as they ride back to the centre in the minibus. Rita is sparked out, but William and Matthew seem none the worse for their drink intake. Andrew and Alice hold hands on the backseat, while Peter looks fondly at Sandy. But the grim-faced Tom knows that he has not heard the last of this and Larry wonders if he will ever be allowed to see Sophie again, as the credits roll.

Revisiting some of the issues raised by Justin Edgar in his wheelchair-user comedy, Special People (2008), this is a warm, wise and witty picture that refuses to patronise either the cast or the audience by opting for easy answers or cosy conclusions. Indeed, the downbeat ending is one of the strengths of Christian O'Reilly's considered screenplay, even bearing in mind the fact that Section 5 has since been repealed. The scene in which Sophie discusses the abuse she has suffered is also incredibly powerful, as it not only reflects the care home scandals that have been exposed across Britain and Ireland in recent times, but it also highlights how badly misjudged Tom's best intentions actually were.

Robert Doherty makes an amiable fixer, but he is wholly upstaged by his co-stars. Kieran Coppinger and Charlotte Kelly are splendid as the lovers, but the affection demonstrated by Emer Macken and Michael Hayes and the Down Syndrome pair of Valerie Egan and Patrick Becker is just as touching. As is the bond between Frank Butcher and Paul Connolly, as they sup their pints and ponder the mysteries of the world with an ineffable logic that is both amusing and thought-provoking. The same is true of Jennifer Cox's willingness to go with the flow during her grand day out.

Making his feature bow after a distinguished career in small-screen writing and having made the shorts Bound (2014) and Fair's Fare (2016), Len Collin shows complete faith in his cast, as he keeps Russell Gleason's camera close to the characters during the dialogue sequences. But he also allows him to roam around Galway city centre to reveal the temptations that might lead the wanderers astray and reinforce the magnitude of Tom's task in rounding them up. Playfully designed by Sonja Mohlich, buoyantly edited by Julian Ulrichs and jauntily scored by Joseph Conlan, the action recalls Peter Foott's The Young Offenders (2016) in keeping the audience in good humour and off-guard.

A handful of Korean-American film-makers have come to the fore in recent times. Among them are Joseph Khan (Torque, 2004 & Detention, 2011), Michael Kang (The Motel, 2005 & West 32nd, 2007), So Yong Kim (In Between Days, 2006; Treeless Mountain, 2008 & For Ellen, 2012) and Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who became the first woman to solo direct a big-budget animated feature with the Oscar-nominated Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011) and Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016). Now their ranks are swelled by Justin Chon, who follows the underwhelming slacker comedy, Man Up (2015), with Gook, which marks the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots with a quirky study of race relations that owes debts to the early works of Spike Lee and Kevin Smith.

As 29 April 1992 dawns over the Los Angeles neighbourhood of Paramount, Eli (Justin Chon) drives to collect a consignment of knock-off shoes for the store he inherited from his father with his younger brother, Daniel (David So). He is forced to scrap the deal when a vehicle driven by Cesar (Cesar Garcia)  comes cruising along the street and Eli is subjected to a kicking. Undaunted, he heads home to rouse Daniel, who is writing lyrics in his bedroom.

Nearby, 11 year-old Kamilla (Simone Baker) is getting ready to go to school. Sister Regina (Omono Okojie) is half-heartedly watching the news, which is dominated by the imminent verdict in the case against the LAPD officers who subjected Rodney King to a savage assault. Brother Keith (Curtiss Cook, Jr.) reminds Kamilla to stay away from the shoe shop, as there has been bad blood between the families since their mother perished alongside Eli and Daniel's father in a robbery.

Skateboarding along, Kamilla drops into the liquor store owned by Mr Kim (Sang Chon). She pays for a drink and a packet of cigarettes (with money stolen from her sister) and tells Kim that some black kids are tagging his paintwork. When he rushes out, Kamilla helps herself to some Twinkies and Daniel and Eli have to defend her when the furious Kim comes to confront her. Eli tells her to go to school, as they can't afford any more trouble. But Daniel finds her chores to do when she protests that classes have been cancelled because of the Rodney King thing.

Business is brisk, although nobody seems to be buying anything and Daniel manages to insult the only customer at the till. Frustrated, Eli takes Kamilla to lunch. He is dismayed to find that the Hispanic gang has daubed racist remarks all over his car and he and Kamilla have fun pretending to be in a disaster movie when they drive through the car wash. Unfortunately, the graffiti remains and Keith spots his sister in the passenger seat when they drive past his corner. But Kamilla insists she isn't afraid of her brother and enjoys hanging out with Eli and Daniel as they don't make any demands on her.

When they get back to the shop, Eli gives Kamilla a free pair of Air Jordan trainers and joins Daniel in a goofy dance routine to `Maneater' by Darryl Hall and John Oates. Yet, when Daniel flirts with some black customers and offers them generous discount, Eli loses his temper and throws shoes at him while ranting about how useless he is. Daniel wipes away tears, as Eli smokes in his car and calms himself down by looking at pictures of his parents. However, his mood scarcely improves when  Regina pages him to bring Kamilla home and he discovers that his car won't start.

Daniel has an appointment at a recording studio in a rough part of town and runs into Keith and his pals. They have just heard that the King cops have been acquitted and they take out their frustration on Daniel. However, they leave him cowering in an alley when Keith gets a message informing him that there is stuff going free in the looting that has started in the South Central neighbourhood. Back at the shop, Eli has a rush of customers and needs to break a $50 bill. He sends Kamilla to ask Kim for change, but he pulls a gun on her and Eli storms over the road to have a blazing argument with the older man before stealing some hooch and sweets from the shelves. Fuming on the pavement, Kim watches as Kamilla dances and Eli does handbrake turns around her in front of his store.

Sitting on a bench outside the shop, Eli swigs down the purloined booze before giving Kamilla a skateboard lesson. A couple of pals cycle past on their chopper bikes to ask Eli if he fancies coming looting and he tells them not to put bad ideas into Kamilla's head. As they watch the smoke swirling into the dusk sky from South Central, Eli gives Kamilla a snapshot of her mother at the store and she tucks it in her pocket. She sings and sways, as the violence gets out of hand a few streets away and Daniel finds himself in the middle of it when the recording studio boss makes him pay for his session by helping him carry contraband to his car. However, he doesn't get far before he is dragged out of the car and beaten by a gang of angry African-Americans.

Watching events unfold on TV, Kamilla asks Eli if he thinks the mayhem will reach their area. He is reassuring her that there is nothing here worth stealing when Regina comes looking for her sister. They have an awkward conversation while Kamilla gathers her stuff and she hands Eli the flower she has been wearing in her hair as a parting gift. As they drive home, they nearly hit a speeding van being driven by Mr Kim, who has given Daniel a lift to spare him further beatings. He explains that he did his national service in South Korea with Daniel's father and they had remained good friends.

Kamilla sits on the sofa with Keith and he beams when she gives him the cigarettes. They watch the news coverage of the riots before she asks her brother to tell her something about their mom. Softening from his street tough persona, Keith recalls how nice she was, even though she could give him a wallop if he stepped out of line. He then notices the Air Jordan box in Kamilla's bag and loses his temper when he sees the snapshot. Regina tries to intervene, as he berates his sister for daring to refer to the Koreans who got their mother killed as `family'. Following Kamilla into her room, he demands to know if Eli has any more sneakers in the storeroom and calls his pals to organise a raid.

Meanwhile, Eli is trying to fix his car with his Hispanic buddy, Jesus (Ben Munoz). He discovers he has run out of petrol and is cursing his luck when he gets a call from Regina to go home, as it won't be safe at the shop tonight. Kim drops Daniel off and Eli rages at him for swanning off without telling him where he was going. Daniel locks himself in the car and Kim urges Eli to sit down, as he describes what happened on the day his father and Kamilla's mother were killed. He sighs that few migrants succeed in realising their dream of giving their children a better life, as not belonging is a difficult problem to overcome.

As they chat, Kamilla sneaks out of the house with Keith's gun in her bag. She runs on to the concourse as the brothers are listening to Daniel's demo tape on the car stereo. He is peeved that the sound of the studio dog barking can be heard on the recording and only cracks a smile when Eli asks what a fat ugly dude like him knows about R&B and love songs. Kamilla warns them that Keith is on the warpath. But Daniel refuses to help move the sneakers, as he is tired of the shop and Eli telling him what to do. They fight and Kamilla pleads with them to stay calm before leaving for the nearby diner with Daniel.

Eli packs the trainers into two large cardboard boxes and is locking the gate when Cesar drives past. He pulls a gun on Eli and steals the boxes and he shuffles over to the diner to join Daniel and Kamilla. As they are leaving, they spot Jesus, who informs them that he has hidden the Air Jordans on the roof and left a can of petrol so Eli can start the car. They rush back to the shop to rescue their precious stock, as Cesar and his homies discover they have stolen nothing but women's high heels.

Just as Eli starts throwing bin bags of trainers off the roof, however, Keith and his pals roll around the corner. He fires his gun into the air and demands the shoes. High above them, Eli decides it's not worth playing the hero and starts throwing the sneakers into the car park one at a time. His buddies are delighted with their haul. But Keith is livid that Eli has made a fool of him and orders them to turn the car around. Up on the roof, Eli has decided to sell up and make a fresh start somewhere else. However, Kamilla feels betrayed because she has placed all her trust in him and she climbs down the ladder, as he brother's vehicle returns. He rages at Eli and Daniel for ruining his life and his cohorts start lobbing rocks through the windows. They are about to light a Molotov cocktail when Kamilla rushes out with her brother's gun, which goes off when she trips.

Realising his sister has been shot, Keith pleads with Eli to get her to the nearest hospital and he cradles her in the backseat as they drive. They find a doctor who wheels Kamilla away on a gurney and Keith turns his fury on to Eli before trying to punch himself for causing this calamity. Eli calms him down and they sit slumped in the corridor waiting for news. It's not good and Eli sobs as he drives back to the shop. He shakes his head when Daniel wanders out to greet him and they light one of the Molotovs and watch the family legacy go up in flames, as the picture ends with the opening shot of Kamilla's ghost dancing in front of the blazing building.

Photographed by Ante Cheng in a glassy monochrome that reinforces the stark nature of the narrative, this is a bold, if flawed attempt to use the King riots as a way of highlighting how few lessons have been learned over the last quarter century. For all the tensions between the Korean, Hispanic and black characters, however, the most telling moment comes when Keith and Kamilla are sitting alone together and she wonders whether their mother is looking down on them and he snorts that nobody is keeping an eye on their kind. As retorts to Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric go, this one is short, simple and to the point.

Yet Chon reins in the fury that had fuelled Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (1989), even as he departs from the slacker banter of Kevin Smith's Clerks (1994) during the disappointingly melodramatic denouement. Moreover, he allows a little generational pathos to seep into proceedings during the heart-to-heart between Eli and Mr Kim, who is played with soft-centred bolshiness by the director's debuting father, Sang Chon, whose store was looted during the 1992 disturbances.

David So and Curtiss Cook, Jr. show well as Eli and Kamilla's siblings. But the acting honours go to the tweenage Simone Baker, who shifts between foul-mouthed sass and misfitting vulnerability without once seeming winsome. Her demise is a misjudgement, however, as is some of the more unnecessarily energetic camerawork. But this is as stark as its title suggests, although it also has its moments of disarming poetry.

Marking Ingmar Bergman's first excursion into English, The Touch (1971) was conceived to make money and the iconic Swedish director admitted in his 1993 memoir, Images: My Life in Film, that agreeing to make the picture was one of the worst decisions of his life. `The story I bungled so badly,' he wrote, `was based on something extremely personal to me: the secret life of someone who loves becomes gradually the only real life and the real life becomes an illusion.' He claimed that this was his first love story and some have suspected that there is an autobiographical, if not confessional aspect to the drama, which Bergman made while preparing to marry his fifth and final wife, Ingrid Karlebo. However, he was also influenced by the death of an actor friend some 15 years earlier and by the recent passing of his pastor father, Erik, with whom he had had an often difficult relationship.

Indeed, the story opens with Bibi Andersson being called to the hospital where her mother, Barbro Hiort af Ornäs, has just died. She looks at her possessions on the bedside table and bursts into tears when the nurse insists that she takes her wedding and engagement rings. As she sobs in an cloakroom, Andersson is interrupted by Elliott Gould, who asks if there is anything he can do to help before beating a hasty retreat.

During the credit sequence showing scenes around the Swedish island of Gotland, however, Andersson and Gould are seen wandering around together and he comes to her house as a guest after he is treated for kidney stones by her surgeon husband, Max von Sydow. He meets their children, Maria Nolgård and Staffan Hallerstam, and gets cheerfully drunk looking at family photos. However, in between telling the couple about his archaeological dig at a nearby church, he also informs Andersson that he fell in love with her the moment he saw her and jokingly asks Von Sydow during a slide show if he has a picture of his wife naked.

Despite the fact she has been happily married to Von Sydow for 15 years and feels uncomfortable when Gould touches her hand while showing her the smiling wooden statue of the Virgin Mary he has uncovered, Andersson beams coyly at herself in the mirror on arriving home. She toys with telling her husband that something is on her mind, but throws herself into her daily routine instead. A housekeeping montage follows that is full of modish camera angles and transitions, as Andersson is seen through cupboard doors and racks of clothing, while she masks cuts by tossing quilt covers and tea towels over the camera to black out the screen. Amusingly, this is followed by another (accompanied by the same Swingle-style a cappella on the soundtrack), in which she tries on various outfits in order to make a good impression on meeting Gould again.

Bursting into Gould's apartment, Andersson trims some flowers in a vase on his coffee table and chatters nervously as he pours her sherry. Impetuously, she suggests they go to bed together and then launches into a breathless speech about her body's flaws and what a disappointing mistress she will make. She urges Gould to warm her up and they hold each other, as they get used to the enormity of the step they are taking. When they wake, some time later, she has to leave to collect Von Sydow from the airport. But she likes the urgency of Gould's kisses and the feeling of being desired.

When she calls him the next morning, however, she is surprised by his insistence that she drops everything to come to his apartment. She is even more taken aback when he seems morose under the influence of sleeping pills and alcohol and tries to wriggle free when he throws himself upon her. But she allows him to make rough love to her, even though she rolls away tearfully after he bawls at her not to look at him as he pounds away at her. Yet she returns to collect apples with Von Sydow in their garden and helps her son with his French homework, while sticking pictures in a photo album. That night, she dozes off while reading in bed and strokes Von Sydow's hand when he tucks her in.

But Andersson has become besotted with Gould and, when he fails to return her calls, she goes to the dig where he is unearthing a skull to plead with him not to freeze her out, as she has no intention of making any demands on him, as long as they remain together. He hugs her and her head sinks into his chest. When they next meet, he shows her a photo album and explains how his German parents had sent him and his sister to New York in the 1930s before being murdered by the Nazis. She is touched by his sadness and makes her excuses to leave a swish luncheon that Von Sydow has thrown for his colleagues. Andersson is hurt, therefore, when Gould slaps her across the face for being tipsy and she is sniffling her way down the staircase when he catches up with her and returns her to his rooms for some tender love-making.

Alone with Von Sydow over the weekend, Andersson plays chess and pretends not to have noticed the small cut on her lip. He invites her to accompany him to a conference in Rome and is surprised when she seems indifferent. In their room, he beckons her to stand before him in front of the mirror. He opens her white robe and she leans against him before submitting to him in bed. Shortly afterwards, she bids Gould farewell outside the church where he has been working. The choir is rehearsing inside and he has to go to London to give a series of lectures. Andersson is scared by their parting and wonders if he will return in six months.

Facing the camera, Andersson and Gould deliver lines from their letters, which veer from bits of inconsequential news to confessions of longing. She is still afraid that he will decide to stay away. But he returns and Andersson drops everything to meet at his apartment and is pleasantly surprised to see he has shaved off his bushy beard.

Peeling vegetables with her daughter, Andersson notices a certain frostiness. But it's only when Von Sydow calls on Gould that she realises her secret is out. Von Sydow produces a poison pen letter (presumably from snooping neighbour Aino Taube) and informs Gould that he has no reason to disbelieve the gossip. Aware that Andersson is in the bedroom, Von Sydow reveals that he prepares to do nothing about the affair and will leave it to Andersson to make her painful decision. Gould sneers that he holds all the cards, as she will never leave her children, and Von Sydow ticks him off for being so aggressive when he is the one in the wrong. He also makes sure that Andersson overhears him discussing the suicide attempt with a gas stove that brought Gould to his surgery. As he leaves, Andersson pleads with Gould not to lose faith in their passion. But, when he appears non-committal, she tells him to do whatever suits him best.

On arriving home, Andersson finds Von Sydow in his study. She bursts into tears and he offers a handkerchief, as they walk through the downstairs rooms together. Neither says anything. A couple of days later, Andersson is out shopping with Nolgård when Gould knocks on the store window to get her attention. Aware that her daughter is old enough to notice what is going on, Andersson urges Gould to behave himself and agrees to meet him at the church the next day. He shows her the Marian statue that has been removed from its niche in the wall and explains how a dormant insect has hatched its eggs and has started to eat away the image from the inside. She sinks into a pew and begs him not to leave her, as she isn't sure she can live without him. He shrugs as she suggests that Von Sydow might be amenable to sharing her. But, as they stand outside by the carving of a serpent in the church wall, Gould apologises to Andersson for putting her through such anguish.

When she doesn't hear from him, Andersson goes to Gould's flat and is aghast to find he has cleared out. She presses her hand into the shards of a broken water glass, as she finds a stash of unmailed letters in the desk drawer. Desperate to find out why he has abandoned her, she asks Von Sydow for permission to fly to London. But he warns her that there will be no going back if she leaves, as he has grown bored with being caught up in her cheap melodrama. She shrugs and heads for the airport, where a grumpy immigration official stamps her tourist visa.

Approaching the only address she has with some trepidation, Andersson is greeted by Sheila Reid, who reveals herself to be his sister. She has a severe neurological disorder in her hands and tells Andersson that Gould suffers from the same hereditary condition. Offering her brandy, Reid guesses that Andersson is pregnant and warns her that Gould will never leave her alone, as their bond is so strong. Andersson understands and heads home without bothering to see Gould.

Several months later, a heavily pregnant Andersson is still living at home, but sleeping alone. She gets up in the night to find Von Sydow, but there is no sign of him and she curls up on the kitchen floor with a pillow and a blanket. A few days later, she goes to a hothouse beside a river to meet Gould. He is on a flying visit to inform her that he has been offered a professorship and wants her to move in with him. Gould explains how he had been racked with physical pain since being apart from her. But Andersson insists that her duty lies with her family and he accuses her of lying as he storms away.

Ending without closing credits to suggest that this story is anything but over, The Touch has always been the poor relation of the Bergman canon. Indeed, it shares the ignominy with the romantic thriller This Can't Happen Here (1950) of having never been released on DVD in this country. But, while it would be dwarfed by Cries and Whispers (1971) and Scenes From a Marriage (1973), this is anything but the calamity that Bergman would have us believe.

Admittedly, some of the dialogue sounds a little stilted (although this is the rarely seen Anglo-Swedish version of the film rather than the wholly Anglophone version) and it would have been much more interesting had Bergman opted for either Paul Newman, Robert Redford or Dustin Hoffman as the predatory, yet insecure and sometimes self-loathing archaeologist instead of the often unconvincing Elliott Gould. But Bibi Andersson is simply superb, as the model housewife who is shaken out of her cosy routine by a dangerous liaison she becomes powerless to resist until she is on the brink of losing everything. 

In his last appearance for Bergman, Von Sydow also brings a mature intelligence that makes his meeting with Gould and his final conversation with Andersson all the more potent. Even Sheila Reid (in a cameo that made her the first and only Brit to feature in a Bergman picture) makes an impact, if only because her twisted fingers provide as stark a reminder as Gould's vicious slap of the touches and caresses that had prompted Andersson to surrender to her long suppressed desires. Not all of the symbolism is as subtle, however, with the discovery of the Marian statue that is eaten away from the inside after being released from its protective cocoon being particularly gauche.

Siv Lundgren's editing can also seem a little obvious, as can Jan Johansson's score. But production designers Ann-Christin Lobråten and PA Lundgren capably contrast Andersson's pristine bourgeois home with Gould's bohemian flat, while cinematographer makes typically deft Eastmancolor use of the landscape, architecture and muted colours of Gotland. As for Bergman, he clearly struggles at times to make a film on his own terms while trying to give his American backers the accessibly sexy Swedish romdram they wanted (hence the frequency of Andersson's toplessness). Moreover, his character definition is sometimes hazy, with the result that some of Gould's more childishly erratic behaviour can seem melodramatic. But this is full of striking images and recurring themes and no Bergmanophile can afford to miss it.