Around the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War, a number of film-makers began using events on the Western Front to comment on the conflicts of their own times. Taking their cues from Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957) and Mario Monicelli's La Grande guerra (1959), the likes of Joseph Losey's King & Country (1964), Philippe De Broca's King of Hearts (1966) and Richard Attenborough's Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) highlighted the folly of warfare at a time when thousands were perishing in the senseless slaughter of Vietnam. Yet, it took a while for De Broca's allegorical satire to find its audience, after some largely lukewarm reviews had put paid to its box-office prospects. But the ongoing mayhem in South-East Asia, coupled with the renewed popularity of novels like Joseph Heller's Catch-22 (1961) and Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962) gave this pacifist provocation a cult cachet and it will be fascinating to see how it's received as we prepare to mark the centenary of the Armistice. 

As the Kaiser's army retreats across France, Colonel Helmut von Krac (Daniel Boulanger) orders Lieutenant Hamburger (Marc Dudicourt to destroy the quaint town of Marville. Von Krac's barber (Paul Faivre) overhears him arrange for a hidden stash of bombs to be detonated at midnight by the bell-striking knight in the church clock tower and he just manages to send a Morse message to some advancing Scottish forces before being gunned down. Anxious to avoid the destruction of a crucial bridge, Colonel Alexander MacBibenbrook (Adolfo Celi) volunteers Charles Plumpick (Alan Bates) to conduct a recce and defuse the ordnance. However, his speciality is tending messenger pigeons and he soon finds himself hiding in the local lunatic asylum to avoid the last German patrol. 

Welcomed by the Duke of Clubs (Jean-Claude Brialy) and General Geranium (Pierre Brasseur), Plumpick calls himself the King of Hearts to avoid capture and the inmates follow him into the town when he forgets to lock the main gate. Monseigneur Marguerite (Julien Guiomar) heads straight for the church, where he decks himself out as a bishop, while Madame Eva (Micheline Presle) finds some make-up and lingerie and sets herself up as the new owner of the bordello. Monsieur Marcel (Michel Serrault) dons a wig and a cravatte in settling into the barber's shop, while Geranium takes over the visiting circus and releases a bear from its cage before challenging a chimpanzee to a game of chess. 

Coming round after being knocked out by a falling telegraph pole, Plumpick changes out of his kilt and is astonished to see the inmates cavorting around the town in fin-de-siècle garb. When Marcel and Geranium prove to have no idea about blockhouses, knights or bombs, Plumpick sends messages to MacBibenbrook. But one of the pigeons is shot down and Von Krac sends Hamburger to investigate, just as MacBibenbrook sends Mac Fish (Jacques Balutin) and two equally gormless Tommies (Georges Guéret and Eric Vasberg) to do the same thing. 

Seeking sanctuary in the brothel, Plumpick hopes to find someone with the sense to realise they are all in danger. But Madame Eva advises him to live in the moment and introduces him to Poppy (Geneviève Bujold), who admits to not knowing how to make love. Before Plumpick can learn more, he is swept away on a fire engine by the Duke and Geranium, who prepare him for his coronation under the gaze of the Duchess (Françoise Christophe), and her three children, Brunehaut (Madeleine Clervanne), Alberic (Palau) and Gontrand (Louis Joyot), who are all senior citizens in baby clothes and sailor suits. 

As Plumpick processes around the square in a carriage being pulled by a white camel, Hamburger's unit arrives in a couple of armoured cars, only to be decked with streamers and party hats. They are bemused by the scene unfolding before them, as Madame Eva and her girls sing hymns in the church, while Marcel conducts the organist and Monseigneur Marguerite searches for a crown. The Duke asks Plumpick why he is nervous and reminds him that state ceremonial and religious ritual are mere theatre to be enjoyed, but not taken too seriously. 

Overhearing Hamburger mention the blockhouse, Plumpick leaves his coronation to see where they are going. With Mac Fish looking on from a gateway, Plumpick sees the concrete structure in front of the church, which had been garlanded by the revellers. He charges back to his throne in time to be acclaimed `the King of Hearts'. However, Hamburger suspicious and he is prying close to Plumpick when he is called away because Geranium and Marcel have stolen the armoured cars and are running amuck. Unable to stop them, the Germans beat a hasty retreat and the baffled British follow soon afterwards, as the chimp passes on a bicycle and an elephant strides past with a white handkerchief in its trunk.

Finding the unconscious Plumpick in the square, the inmates carry him to the town hall on the frame of a grand piano. The Duchess and Madame Eva try to revive him with kisses, with the Duke agreeing to be cuckolded if it will bring the king to his senses. Eva remembers Poppy and hastens to the brothel to see if she will marry the monarch. She readily agrees and tightrope walks to her fiancé on a telegraph wire. On waking to the church bell chiming six, Plumpick charges to the blockhouse and tries to shatter the concrete with a pickaxe. Despairing of being able to carry out his orders, he is so touched by the trust of his subjects that he decides to devote himself to their safety rather than completing his mission. 

Yet, when he attempts to lead them out of Marville aboard a white horse, the inmates refuse to follow, as they have heard there are rabid beasts beyond the town walls. Seeing them standing on the ramparts, Plumpick takes pity on them and returns to their midst to much rejoicing. As he and Poppy retire to the town hall, the Duke and Duchess stroll in the park and Geranium joins Madame Eva in a big brass bed to plan the creation of an army of generals and whores. 

Plumpick dozes off in front of the fire and wakes at three minutes to midnight. He frets about being unable to defuse the bombs, but Poppy urges him to enjoy the time that's left to him and to watch the knight strike the hour. Remembering the barber's message, Plumpick races across the square and climbs the clock tower in time for the knight's mace to strike his own head rather than the bell. The town is saved and, as Von Klack puts Hamburger before a firing squad for bungling, MacBibenbrook orders the advance. 

He marches through the gate to see the townsfolk dancing and is persuaded to bivouac for the night by the Duchess, who fancies kissing a different moustache. The regimental band plays for the kilted troops to dance a Highland jig and MacBibenbrook orders Mac Fish to use some gunpowder to create a fireworks display to please the ladies. However, Von Krac sees the sparks and concludes that the bombs must have gone off after all and he commands his soldiers to return to the town. 

They arrives just as MacBibenbrook is treating the inmates to a farewell parade and they manage to march right past the Germans without Von Krac noticing. But, when Poppy tosses a bouquet between the two armies, they turn and face each other. Ordered to line up, they proceed to gun each other down until the only soldier left alive is Plumpick. Geranium is unimpressed by the ham actors overdoing their death scene and, with more troops being spotted on the horizon, they decide it's time to return to the sanity of the asylum and Plumpick watches them pick their way through the corpses littering the square. 

As the French army occupies the town, Plumpick and his pigeon are awarded medals for their gallantry. But the prospect of returning to the frontline doesn't appeal and he jumps off an army lorry and presents himself to the nuns at the gates of the asylum in the nude. He is greeted with glee by Geranium, who promises to teach him a card game with no rules, while the Duke reassures him that he is safe indoors and reminds him that the best adventures are those that take place while looking out of a window. 

Having witnessed the ugly reality of war while serving as an army newsreel cameraman in Algeria, De Broca was keen to make a pacifist statement on the screen. Reuniting with Daniel Boulanger (with whom he had shared an Oscar nomination - with Jean-Paul Rappeneau and Ariane Mnouchkine - for the screenplay of That Man From Rio, 1964), De Broca based his picture on the story of a group of inmates who had escaped from their bombed-out asylum during the Great War and been gunned down by the Germans while dressed in the uniforms borrowed from some dead Doughboys). In hindsight, the decision to tack on a happier ending seems like something of a misjudgement, as the idea that war is an act of madness would have been more potently couched if Plumpick and his new friends had perished in a hail of bullets.   

Many contemporary critics objected to the heavy-handed nature of De Broca and Boulanger's satire, while several subsequent commentators have lamented the whimsical depiction of mental illness. There's no denying that the humour is a little broad in places, while the inmates conform to popular stereotype rather than psychiatric reality. Yet it's interesting to note the roles they assume and it would be instructive to learn something about their lives before they were committed. Moreover, the 32 year-old De Broca (who also cameos as a young Adolf Hitler) never sets out to patronise or trivialise. Consequently, it's easy to see why this would have become a countercultural favourite in the United States, with the Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts holding it over for five years. 

Fifty-two years on, it looks a bit dated in places, with some of the more pantomimic performances seeming slightly self-conscious. But the northern town of Senlis still looks marvellous, thanks to Pierre Lhomme's fluent photography and François de Lamothe's deft production design. Jacques Fonteray's costumes and Françoise Javet's editing are also precise, although some have complained in the past about the pace occasionally being sluggish. However, the standout contribution comes from composer Georges Delerue, whose score slips between the playful and the plaintive to exquisite effect.

As the casts of hit shows like Friends and The Big Bang Theory can testify, it's never easy making the transition from the small to the big screen. Having come to the fore in Lena Dunham's cult sitcom, Girls, Zosia Mamet takes her latest stab at a cinematic breakthrough in The Boy Downstairs, the debut feature of writer-director Sophie Brooks, who had the idea for this genial, if formulaic picture while recovering in bed after being knocked over by a car. As the queen of Bechdel comedy, Dunham's influence is readily evident. One can also detect an undercurrent of mumblecore. But there are also echoes of more traditional romcoms, ranging from old-style screwball through to Woody Allen and Nora Ephron.

Having spent three years in London after breaking up with boyfriend Matthew Shear, Zosia Mamet returns to New York to embark upon a career as a writer. She works in a bridal store to make ends meet and is grateful when best friend Diana Irvine puts her in touch with estate agent Sarah Ramos to help her find a new apartment. However, Ramos turns out to be a bit snooty and Mamet is relieved to find a room in the Fort Greene brownstone owned by onetime actress Deirdre O'Connell. On the day she moves in, however, Mamet discovers that not only does Shear live immediately below her, but that he is also dating Ramos. 

Thinking back to their first date on the boating lake in Central Park and how they met up again at a gallery installation and sat chatting in a neon-lit room, Mamet is dismayed by how standoffish Shear seems when he bumps into her as she is unloading her stuff. Irvine and O'Connell suggest that he is probably dealing with long-suppressed feelings and Mamet thinks back to how perfect things were between them and how Shear always made her feel good by knowing the right thing to say. Seeing him with Ramos during a blackout, however, leaves her feeling low and a meeting with agent Liz Larsen about the first draft of her novel sets her back a little further, as she has clearly modelled the hero on Shear.

Ironically, Larsen's observation that the narrative is a touch erratic could also apply to the movie, as the short scenes flit between the present and Mamet's much-lamented recent past. At a Halloween costume party on a Brooklyn rooftop with the lights of Manhattan as a backdrop, Mamet is rude to Theo Stockman when he tries to talk to her and incredulous to Peter Oliver when he suggests that moving into Shear's building is a bit stalkerish. She proves him right, however, when she returns home to give Shear a parcel that had been delivered upstairs and is reluctant to hand it over to Ramos. But she is not alone in having love pang problems, as Irvine had bumped into her on-off lover, Jeff Ward, at the party and had summoned the self-respect to decline his invitation to go back to his place to `catch up'.

O'Connell lands a part in an off-Broadway play and invites Mamet to opening night. However, while they are exercising together, Ramos comes to complain about the noise and asks Mamet to back away from her boyfriend. Once again, Mamet protests her innocence. But, when she finds herself sitting next to Shear at the play, she persuades him to have dinner in an Italian restaurant with a snooty waiter who won't let her have a slice of lemon in her water. Walking home, Shear breaks the news that he has ended things with Ramos and they kiss. However, Mamet recoils, as she's not sure about her feelings and Shear stalks off when she claims that she's happy with them being friends. 

We've already seen Shear make a poor impression on Mamet's father, Arliss Howard, by blurting out that he fancies joining her in London. Now, a further flashback reveals Mamet meeting his folks, David Wohl and Deborah Offner, and the latter asking her to let Shear down gently about going away. In bed that night, Mamet asks Shear why he raised the subject with Howard when they hadn't discussed it and points out all the problems they would face. So, Shear shrugs and promises not to fret about it. 

While putting up her Christmas tree, O'Connell gets teary about her late husband. She also mentions that Shear is moving out. But Mamet runs into him when she slips and cuts her head putting out her rubbish in the snow. He accompanies her to the hospital, While he holds her hand while she is being treated, Mamet recalls coming home one day and brutally ending the relationship because she can't take the pressure of Shear being so sure that they are made for each other. He had been crushed and she can see that puppyish vulnerability in his eyes when he helps her to bed with her ankle in a cast. So, she lets him leave and a medical student moves into his old room. 

When O'Connell returns from a stay with her sister, Mamet confesses that she's stopped writing because she misses Shear. She tracks him down and is appalled when Ramos opens the door. But Shear rushes after her and Mamet declares her love and her regret for breaking up when she went to London, as she was trying to spare them the pain of falling apart over a long distance. However, Shear feels unable to patch things up because it took him so long to get over the sense of rejection and Mamet is left standing on the pavement and fighting back the tears. 

After sobbing in bed, Mamet tries to write again (on a park bench and in a café, as all serious writers do). She sends her new draft to Larsen by e-mail and is feeling better about herself when she finds Shear sitting on her step. He has come to collect some mail and jokes about needing to flee to Mexico because of all his unpaid parking fines (when he doesn't have a car). Mamet smiles and, when he asks if she would like to help him collect his dry cleaning, she nods. 

Despite the nicely low-key ending, this is a deeply frustrating romcom, as the comedy isn't particularly funny and there is no spark in the romance whatsoever. It doesn't help that Mamet is such a exceptionable character, with a whiny nature and a dismissive attitude to those she considers beneath her. She also harbours a whopping sense of entitlement to be a successful writer without seeming to put much angst or energy into her work. At times, this resistibility is down to the complacency of Mamet's performance. But the fault mainly lies in Brooks's writing and her reliance on that improvvy, Allenesque mode of dialogue that seems so outdated in films about millennials. 

Never for a second does Mamet convince as a budding novelist and it's only late in the piece that we get an intimation of the fact that Shear has aspirations to be a musician. However, the script is so tilted in Mamet's favour that the schlubby Shear scarcely matters as anything other than the self-deprecating object of her confused desires. This would be an intriguing variation on the romcom theme, as the woman is usually the one left nursing a broken heart while the man gets to live on his own terms. But, even though Mamet is the focus, she rarely says or does anything interesting, as her relationships with the maternal O'Connell and the sisterly Irvine merely exist to give her a sounding board for her conflicted feelings. In fact, she seems to have learned nothing from her experience and is no more emotionally mature than she was when she ditched Shear to follow her star. 

Brooks slips easily enough between time frames, but her direction lacks personality or visual invention. The photography and production design are fine, but say little about the characters other than the fact they must all be getting huge handouts from their parents to be able to afford such well-appointed lodgings. Such snipes may seem harsh when this is a perfectly inoffensive and capably made slice of undemanding entertainment. But the feeling keeps gnawing away that everyone concerned is capable of so much better.

Welsh director Ben Pickering has had a tough time since making his first features - Backstreet (1995) and Tragic Irony (1997) - as an enterprising teenager. Brushes with politics and prison came either side of producing his follow-up films, The Smoke (2014) and Welcome to Curiosity, which hits cinemas this week some six months after Pickering was released early from a six-year sentence for mortgage fraud. Crime of a bloodier kind is very much to the fore in this rumination on the old adage about curiosity killing the cat, which was largely completed before Pickering's arrest. But, while these four interwoven stories suggest that he still has much to learn about screen craft, the fact they have emerged at all says much for their maker's tenacity. 

When a serial killer escapes from Dr Lili Bordán's psychiatric unit, cops O'Ar Pali and Darren Ripley are put in charge of the case. However, the audience isn't told the name or gender of the fugitive who has just slaughtered a fellow patient and is now on the loose somewhere near the Cornish town of Curiosity. While Pali briefs her staff, criminal mastermind Stephen Marcus tells trusted lieutenant Cristian Solimeno about a raid he's planning. Relations between the pair have been strained since Marcus blamed Solimeno for the death of his daughter, Liberty Mills. But he allows him to plan the job with oppo Eke Chukwu, on the proviso that he accepts Richard Blackwood, Monty Burgess and Lara Heller as part of his crew. 

Meanwhile, beer rep Gary Grant is being given a dog's life by his smarmy manager, Duncan Casey. He pours his heart out to hitcher Terry Sweeney, who tries to encourage Grant to be less timid. However, he puts the wind up him when he jumps out of the car to punch a man harassing a woman at the side of the road and embarrasses him when he takes him to a lap-dancing club and brings Eloise Dale back to their motel room for some noisily energetic sex. 

Paperboy Finn Corney is also having boss problems, as newsagent Nigel Billing lectures him about posting items through letterboxes. On returning home to find police swarming all over the road, Corney dashes up to this room to take pictures of the body being taken away from a neighbouring house. However, he notices that gardener Brian Croucher is staring at him, as he stands on the pavement below his window. 

On a lonely road outside town, Amrita Acharia reluctantly accepts a lift from long-distance lorry driver Jon Campling, He seems nice enough, but makes a move on her when he pulls into a lay-by and she has to scramble out of the cab. After nearly being run over in a diner car park by Grant trying to get away from Sweeney, Acharia agrees to have breakfast with Jack Ashton, who has just enticed a married man into the gents and stolen his valuables after headbutting him and threatening to tell his wife what he gets up to. 

The stories involving Corney, Grant and Acharia rather drift in and out, as Pickering keeps his primary focus on Solimeno and his gang. Typically, the robbery doesn't go smoothly because Blackwood, Burgess and Heller get greedy and Chukwu is wounded in the shoulder during a shootout, Solimeno gets him to a farmhouse, where siblings Christopher Rithin and Kacey Clarke are drowning in the debt left by their shady father. Fortunately, Clarke has the veterinary skills to remove the bullet and leaves the patched-up Chukwu with her brother while she takes Solimeno to the nearest payphone so he can report back to Marcus. 

In their absence, Chukwu and Rithin are cornered by Danny Howard, who demands they hand over the cash. However, incidents involving a vodka bottle, a chest freezer and a frozen ham account for Howard and cause Solimeno and Chukwu to hit the road with Rithin and Clarke before Blackwood catches up with them. 

As the tales begin to tangle, Grant finds it impossible to shake Sweeney, Ashton uses his victim's credit cards to treat Acharia to a grand day out, and Corney strives in vain to convince Ripley (who happens to be his uncle) that Croucher is a serial killer because he has read online about his exploits as an East End gang enforcer. Somewhere in the mix, the serial killer remains at large. But blood will be shed in all of the vignettes before Pickering springs his post-credits surprise. 

Anyone paying attention should be able to identify the psychopath, especially as Pickering and screenwriter Darren Ripley drop a huge clue. But, while the dialogue is often tin-eared and the plotlines variously meander, zone out or rely on contrivances to keep them moving forward, Pickering and his spirited cast keep us wondering how everything will pan out. In this regard, this is superior in every way to another film with a chequered history, Paul Knight's A Landscape of Lies (2011).

The odd tangential detail helps meld things together, but Pickering sometimes struggles to achieve a unified sense of place. Bruce Melhuish's cinematography, Hannah Howell's design and Ricky Milling's editing must share some of this responsibility, Yet, given that they only had a crowd-funded budget of £200,000 to play with, they deserve some credit for slotting the pieces into place with such conviction and efficiency, if not always with much depth or style. 

Suburbia has been a popular setting for Australian thrillers since Ray Lawrence's Lantana (2001). The tone has darkened of late, with the likes of David Michôd's Animal Kingdom (2010) and Ben Young's Hounds of Love (2015). But, while Concealed takes its cues from these recent classics, sophomore Shane T. Hall's long-delayed follow-up to his 2001 debut, Neophytes and Neon Lights, lacks the edge and the energy to engross.

Returning to Sydney from South Africa for the first time in six years in order to audition for a plum role, actor Simon Lyndon is aware that he and girlfriend Nadia Townsend are being watched, as they cross the park from the taxi to their home. However, he thinks nothing of it when Townsend fails to find her wallet and is puzzled by the presence of a cuddly elephant in her handbag. He even pays scant regard when she closes the bedroom door during a phone call. But, when he wakes on the sofa next morning to find Townsend missing, he calls her parents and sister Joanne Priest, in the hope of tracking her down. 

Despite cops Jai Koutrae and Jessica Gerger being assigned to the case, Lyndon enlists the help of teacher buddy Paul Tassone and he winds up buying a gun from a lowlife he meets at the chess club they discover through a note on the phone message pad. They also latch on to an address in a seedy part of Sydney and are snooping around when two men execute the frightened woman accompanying them and Lyndon and Tassone are about to leave when they run into Yalin Ozucelik, who had played against Lyndon at the chess club. He accuses Lyndon of killing his girlfriend and demands the return of the elephant that Townsend had been carrying. Under duress, he admits that he had been smuggling contraband and had stuffed the toy into Townsend's bag when he lost his nerve. But, when Lyndon cuts it open, he discovers it's full of conflict diamonds. 

Hiding the stash in the cistern at Priest's place, Lyndon has to fetch the pouch when two masked gunmen burst into the house while Ozucelik and Tassone are playing chess. They agree to a meeting under a bridge, but the thugs come without Townsend and Lyndon refuses to play ball. Ozucelik is furious with them for messing up and they find him hanging in his rundown flat. Tassone wants to involve the police, but Lyndon would rather go it alone. He contacts Townsend's best friend, Genevieve Hegney, who tells him that she was still emotionally frazzled after he coerced her into having an abortion.

Meanwhile, Priest abducts Patricia Holt, the young daughter being raised by parents Denise Roberts and Anthony Phelan because of her past addiction, and pawns the diamonds she has found in her toilet to buy her some treats. Having just escaped from some shouty heavies, Lyndon is livid with her and he steals the gems at gunpoint under cover of darkness. He sets up a deal to swap the stone for Townsend and Tassone (who has also been kidnapped). But he only finds his buddy in the back of a van after Koutrae and Gerger get involved in a shootout with the crooks. Unwilling to get Tassone hurt, Lyndon tells him to stay away. But, as he is divorced and living in his car, Tassone refuses to betray his mate in his hour of need. 

Having tracked down one of the gang, Lyndon and Tassone follow him into a cemetery and confront him at gunpoint. He insists he knows nothing about Townsend's whereabouts and makes a grab for the weapon, only to end up dead. They dump his body and get Tassone's car crushed to hide any incriminating evidence. But Lyndon has had enough and is about to fly back to South Africa when Priest reveals that he's the father of her child. He takes her swimming in the sea after Priest passes out after a fix, but returns home to find Koutrae waiting for him because Townsend's body has washed up on a beach. 

Vowing to kill gang leader Alex Jones, Lyndon goes to the warehouse where he operates. But Tassone is so afraid that he backs out. He tries to apologise to Priest for messing up her life after Holt rejects her for her grandparents and asks if Townsend ever knew they had a kid together. As he packs to leave Sydney, he finds an envelope behind a bedside table marked `to be read after my death' and Lyndon realises that he is the architect of his own tragedy. 

The fact that nobody spotted a white envelope that wasn't exactly well hidden rather sums up this scrappy, melodramatic farrago. Hall packs plenty into the scenario, but allows the details to emerge with a soap operatic subtlety that makes each new revelation more exasperating than the last. It hardly helps that Lyndon is such a stolid hero, whose macho blundering seems rooted in a misguided belief that he's as tough and ingenious as the characters he plays for a living. But Hall's writing and direction do him few favours. 

Much of the support playing is serviceable, with Joanne Priest standing out as the reformed junkie desperate to regain some control over her life. Paul Tassone also does well enough, as the loyal childhood friend who throws himself into Lyndon's crisis to ease the pain of his own. But the characterisation is pretty ropy and there's nothing particularly special about Oliver Lawrance's cinematography, as Hall seems unconcerned with capturing the atmosphere of a neighbourhood criss-crossed with narrow alleyways. Eleanor Infante's editing is crisp enough, but Simon Whiteside's score reinforces the impression that this is an old-fashioned TV-movie that somehow landed a UK release on the back of some indie festival prizes.

Andrew Kötting's `Landworks trilogy' has been a long time in the making. Having played peripheral, but pivotal characters called Lek in This Filthy Earth (2001) and Ivul (2009), French actor Xavier Tchili returns to take the title role in Lek and the Dogs, a free adaptation of the 2010 Hattie Naylor play, Ivan and the Dogs, which was itself inspired by the experiences of Ivan Mishukov, who spent two years of his childhood living with wild dogs on the streets of Moscow. Blending dramatisation with found footage and audio archive material in his inimitable manner, Kötting succeeds in blurring the line between the remembered and the imagined and in challenging viewers to reflect upon life on the margins and their own place in society. 

We first see Lek (Xavier Tchili) naked and walking across a desert landscape on all fours. Over images of the lunar surface and a planet spinning in space, we hear a young Lek (Clay Barnard) taping some recollections of his youth and the older, shaven-headed man repeats some of the same phrases in talking to the camera in the `underland' lair to which he has retreated after abandoning his wife and child. Following a caption reading, `The Path of Reason', hear the roar of Lek's drunken stepfather, as he remembers the furious arguments his parents used to have. A child psychologist (Antonia Beamish) suggests that witnessing such traumatic scenes is likely to have an impact on an impressionable mind and that anything associated with them will trigger anxiety. 

In a segment labelled, `Truth Is Asleep', the younger and the older Lek describe how the boy ran away from home and was bullied by older kids who refused to let him sleep in a shop doorway for free. Over images of a woman browsing the empty shelves of a supermarket, Lek admits to missing his mother and following a random woman into a shop in order to feel safe. However, he was forever on the move, with some feral kids chasing him out of an underground alcove heated by warm pipes and forcing him to flee with a pack of hounds. The dogs terrified him, but Lek seemed to recognise that they were offering protection and acceptance, even though he had nothing to give them. 

As a male animal behaviourist (Schneider) ponders why Lek sought refuge underneath a factory, a body psychotherapist (Antonia Beamish) discusses the canine pack instinct and how they learn to get along for the good of the many. Lek quickly picked up on this communality and always shared any food he was given by the workers at the end of their shift or that he found while scavenging in rubbish dumps. 

Sandwiched between the captions `The Trauma of Betrayal' and `Never the Heights of Despair', the naked adult Lek surveys his desert surroundings that contrast with the bleakness of the outskirts, where he was spared an assault by a man under a bridge because he began to bark in fright and, in the process, sent out a cry for help that was heeded by the dogs that had adopted him. In close-up, he recalls going back to the tenement block where he had lived and being taken aback when a strange woman answered the door. He asked after his mother and she informed him that his stepfather had killed her. Lek had spotted the fellow lying on the floor in a drunken stupor and had barged into the apartment and started kicking him. His dog had barked, but Lek kept kicking, as the man who had ruined his life didn't even recognise him. 

In the taped recording presaged by the caption, `The Hope Thereunder', the young Lek reflects on how contented he had been living with the dogs. The animal psychiatrist opines in voiceover how the creatures would have tried to teach the child how to survive and she is almost touched by the way they seem to have operated as a family. But, one day, the hideout was discovered and the older Lek weeps as he remembers how he had been bundled into a van by cruel men, who had cackled as they told him how they had used food to trap his canine companions and slaughtered them. 

Lek was taken to an orphanage and `The Consequences of Pragmatism' opens with footage of four blindfolded children being urged on by a crowd gathered around a boxing ring. The male expert remembers seeing him during this period and, over footage of various animals huddling together, he recalls it being evident that Lek simply wished to be allowed to return to his dogs. Then, a woman came to visit him and became so fond of him that she asked if she could take him home. As we see the caption, `For the Beauty That Is Erina', the older Lek rewinds the tape of his younger self expressing his joy at finding someone who wanted to take care of him. 

Over happy home movies, Lek recalls life with Erina and her sister. They had been kind to him and given him hot food and clean clothing and had allowed him to play with their dog. Erina had asked him to make the tapes and he had done so because she was genuinely wanted to know what he had been through. He also remembers meeting Mina at a birthday party and Erina telling him that he had to start shaving because he was now a man. But, while he enjoyed this interlude, he saw his lost dogs whenever he looked in the eyes of the family pet and part of him wanted to escape his haven and return to his hideaway.

Spreading his wings at the outset of `The Face of a Dog', Lek grew his hair and started singing with a band. He wrote songs about his dogs and Mina was bowled over by his howling style. She told him that he made her happy and he felt she was as beautiful as any of his dogs and rejoiced when she once informed him that he was `so full of dog'. Yet, even though they had a child together, Lek felt the need to enter `The Mind in a Cave'. He took a job mending boats in the sewers and felt safe below the surface. The child psychologist opines that people unused to love begin to experience fear when they feel strong emotions, as they are reminded of their past traumas. Thus, Lek began to seek lonely confinement to help him cope with the exhilaration of passion and she defines madness as the process of hiding away where no one else can follow. 

As the adult Lek emerges from a pipe on some waste ground and uses a piece of cardboard to protect his head from the sun, author Alan Moore (billed as a `wizard and eternalist') ponders `The Nature of Eternity' and considers how traditional morality, religion and causal science would be affected if time existed as a solid block. The footage appears to be reversing, as Moore explores his fatalistic theories, and we see Lek walking backwards across the desert as the child psychiatrist explains how people can revert to their childhood view of themselves, as that's when they felt most comfortable and didn't have to deal with the harsh realities of the world around them. 

Over footage of a house being demolished, a baby being suckled and bathed and various forms of procession and parade, Lek confides in `The Ancient Customs' that he became concerned about the way in which the city was changing. He kept trying to persuade Mina that they would be safer underground, but she refused to abandon her infant. 

In `The Natural History of Destruction', we return to previously seen footage of a newborn puppy wriggling on a floorboard beside a seemingly stillborn sibling. We cut to the adult Lek inspecting discarded shoes on a rubbish dump, as Mina (Catherine Tchili) describes what he was wearing when he was last spotted and how she had been informed that he had `a disrupted mind'. Shown in close-up in his burrow, Lek confesses to missing Mina and wishes she had trusted him as much as his dogs had done. As he lauds his animals for understanding the nature of fear, Moore (in `The Punishment of Cowardice') laments that some people are too scared to confront the challenges of a changing future and prefer to try and dig their way back to the past. 

Following the caption `Towards the First Ending', we are presented with a towering aerial shot of an abandoned settlement of uniform buildings. A hole is revealed in the dusty road and Lek scrambles to the surface and shuffles away. In voiceover, the adult Lek affirms that much of what he has said is true, but concedes that he isn't always able to tell the difference between what happened and what he imagined. 

As `A Nation Watches', we see images of fiery destruction and a Russian voice echoes Moore in positing that we are merely taking part in a predetermined morality play whose lessons we keep forgetting. Still pining for his dogs, Lek puts down the microphone because he has nothing more to say, as Moore declares that humans find it easier to contemplate the end of the planet than they do their own deaths. Consequently, they encode one happenstance on to the other in order to avoid the awfulness of having to face up to their individual mortality. The camera looks down on Lek ambling around a desert graveyard, as lightning flashes around him. This is `An End of Sorts' and his perambulations as a speck in the distance are accompanied by Moore finding hope in the fact that bad things must happen in order for good things to follow. 

The film ends with a surname typo and the Eugene O'Neill quote, `There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now.' One suspects one would need to watch this several times to begin to fathom a fraction of what Kötting and Naylor are trying to say and, even then, much of their meaning would prove elusive. But even those striving valiantly to cling on to the coattails of this determinedly difficult picture will find much to dwell upon after the screening, as they deal with their own sense of insignificance and despondency at the injustice and inhumanity of the world. 

Having focused on people toiling on the soil in This Filthy Earth and someone dwelling above the madding crowd in Ivul, Kötting goes underground in the third part of a triptych that should be released as a boxed set. Nevertheless, the Atacama Desert in Chile provides a stunning backdrop for the older Lek's exile, with Nick Gordon Smith's aerial shots of the empty settlement and the cemetery being particularly atmospheric. As ever with Kötting, the soundscape is crucial and Jem Finer's minimalist electronic score is superbly complemented by Philippe Ciompi's mix of the off-screen voices, audio clips and the excruciating bellows of Lek's brutish stepfather. But even the subtitles (which look as though they have been produced on a wonky typewriter) are designed to make the audience engage with the mesmerising Tchili's odyssey, as he bewails his failure to protect either his mother, his dogs or his wife and child and awaits the moment when his well-honed survival instinct will finally betray him.

There have always been film-makers who are prepared to go to extremes to make their movies. But Ivo Marloh went above and beyond in order to produce All the Wild Horses, an account of the world's longest and toughest horse race, the Mongol Derby. Supposedly following the route of the postal service established by Genghis Khan in 1224, this spectacular eight-day event sees riders change horse every 30 miles in completing the 700-mile course. Marloh participated three times in a bid to capture the courage and camaraderie that characterises the race. No wonder he confided on the website for his production company, 3rd-i, `I love my job. Most of the time at least. It beats most other jobs. Apart from being a cowboy, I'd definitely trade for that.'

Somewhere in Bulgan Province in Northern Mongolia, American commodities trader George Azarias is explaining to compatriot Erik Cooper and Mongol Derby vet Barbara Thelmen how he came to part company with his horse in the middle of the night. Following captions establishing the fact that Mongolia is the world's biggest landlocked country and that it once ruled an enormous empire thanks to Genghis Khan's faith in wild horses, we meet a couple of competitors, Irish jump jockey Donal Fahy and South African horse whisperer Monde Kanyana, and former dressage rider Katy Willings, whose fascination with the race prompted her to quit her job in Britain and become its chief organiser. 

At a briefing session in Ulaanbataar, referee Maggie Pattinson explains the rules of the event and why wolves make it dangerous to ride at night. But the scene shifts to the starting point in Töv Province, where we become acquainted with Fahy's jockey pal Richard Killoran, firefighter Julie Youngblood, adventure sports entrepreneur Ben De Rivaz and his company director dad, Paul, fund manager Simon Pearse, journalist Will Grant, Dutch Alexander Technique teacher Richard van der Velden, interface developer Linda Sandvik and Texan technical administrator Devan Horn, who claims she would rather go home in a body bag than cry off with a broken wrist.

Pattinson and Willings also extol the virtues of the Mongolian nomads who help co-ordinate the race and Unenburen Uyndenbat, the head of the national Horse Racing Association is proud of the skills that some young kids demonstrate in a curtain-raiser to the main event. Having broken his back while racing in Ireland, Fahy is determined to win to restore his self-confidence, but Horn and Kanyana also have their eyes on the prize, as they make their last-minute preparations. 

Some exhilarating point-of-view footage conveys the thrill of the start of the race. But, after just 11km, Paul De Rivaz manages to break a collar bone after a collision with Linda Sandvik, who sprains her ankle. However, in trying to soldier on, she starts experiencing difficulty breathing and x-rays reveal that she had punctured a lung and fractured her pelvis in the fall. She retires having walked into the second change station (or `urtuu'), while the other competitors press on to the next, where Kanyana finds himself posing for pictures with lots of Mongolian herders and their families, as they have never seen a black man before. 

In her keenness to win, Horn strikes out alone for Urtuu 4 and receives time penalties from vet Peter Dommett for working her horse too hard. But she quickly re-establishes her lead over the Irish jockeys and Youngblood, who is riding with horse trainer Charlotte Treleaven, who is the only competitor using maps rather than a GPS device. On reaching Urtuu 7, however, she begins feeling the effects of heatstroke and Dr Deborah Swann has misgivings about her heading out again. But Horn insists and takes her chance of finding shelter on the steppe with a friendly family. She is fortunate in reaching a ger before twilight and phones home to keep her father abreast of her progress. 

The other contenders are less reckless and forge bonds that Horn is unable to, as she tries to press home her advantage. At U10, she has a drip administered by Swann after reporting hallucinations and Pattinson admits to being concerned about her state, as well as her habit of over-riding her horses. She receives a second time penalty, as the referee explains that animal welfare is paramount throughout the race. Ironically, during the night, a young horse is attacked by a wolf (after Horn claimed to have seen one on the trail) and it's touching to witness the other mares joining the mother in mourning the loss of her foal. 

Next morning, however, we see the other side of the equine temperament, as horseback adventurer Barry Armitage is thrown by a bucking beast who has no intention of allowing itself to be ridden. Pattinson supervises, as the riders take their pick of the herd and the locals look on with a mix of awe and amusement as the foreigners attempt to strike a rapport with their mounts. Director Marloh finds himself on `The Black Stallion' and has to fight to rein him in. Consequently, as they approach the Tamir River, his struggles cause anxiety among the other horses and Van der Velden breaks four vertebrae in his neck after he is thrown and Swann has her work cut out in keeping him still and stable until they can transfer him to an ambulance. Given he had been joking earlier about smoking because something will inevitably kill him, the Dutchman has clearly had a lucky escape. 

By Day 5, Horn is still out in the lead. But she leaves U15 with a faulty tracker and gets lost. Such is the heat that she has to ride her horse into a lake to cool off and she is becoming so delirious that she can barely speed dial her father to give him her location details. Eventually, the Derby team finds her and Dr Michael Bradfield convinces her that she risks doing herself permanent damage by continuing. While she digests that news, Pattinson is touched by the fact that the Irish boys decide to wait for Treleaven and Youngblood (after the latter incurs a time penalty), even though the delay could cost them their chance of winning. 

While the jockey party crosses the Orkhon River without a problem in the early part of the day, it has swollen by the time Ben De Rivaz arrives and he has to take a chance on his horse being able to swim with him aboard in the darkening dusk. The juxtaposition of long shots and POVs from the saddle capture the potential peril of the situation and there is genuine relief in his voice during an interview on the bank. Will Grant is even more effusive in his praise for the dappled horse that got him across the Orkhon and it's distressing that his positive story is juxtaposed with Youngblood's account of Treleaven's mount trying to soldier on with a broken leg before they decided to stop and call in the vets. A caption reassures us that the injury had nothing to do with the rider and that this is the first equine fatality in the eight-year history of the race. But it's noticeable that Treleaven can't bring herself to speak on camera in the aftermath. 

It's now Day 7 and the leaders have crossed 798.7km to reach U20. The locals are so impressed by Kanyana's horsemanship that they keep giving him the friskiest animals. He's sad that his adventure is coming to an end, but the race is very much still on, with vet Michaela Gradinger joining Armitage and the Irish lads in the leading pack. But Kanyana is more interested in breaking a horse that has never been ridden before than seeking personal glory and he draws a crowd of herdsmen to watch him work. 

Approaching the finishing line, Fahy and Killoran close in on Armitage, who incurs a time penalty when the vet reports his horse for being slightly lame. So, the jockeys take the first two places, while Gradinger comes home third. Pleased to have taken part and become something of a local celebrity, Kanyana is greeted with a cheer when he finishes and is decorated for his horsemanship. Youngblood and Treleaven come joint seventh, with the former gushing that she hopes the latter will be her bridesmaid. But, as we see the other riders finish, a caption notes the passing of Simon Pearse in 2017. 

While watching this compelling actuality, it's hard not to hear the lovely Bob Dylan song. `All the Tired Horses', from the 1970 Self-Portrait album. Yet there's nothing bucolic about this gruelling race, which tests the sporting and psychological mettle of the competitors, as well as their survival instincts. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter who wins, although Fahy's triumph in the face of so much adversity is undeniably inspirational. Moreover, his readiness to wait for Youngblood and Treleaven because they feel part of a team makes him a more deserving victor than the single-minded Horn, whose determination to better her second place in 2013 causes her to drive herself and her mounts too hard. 

There's no denying her bravery, however, and Marloh, in his capacity as editor, does well to keep the focus on the human interest angle rather than the state of the race. Riding himself in three events to garner the footage, he merits a special award to share with cameraman Michael Sanderson and sound recordist Kevin Augello, who pitch the viewer into the heart of the action. But. while this sometimes feels like a promo for the Mongol Derby designed to persuade others to part with the $13,000 entry fee, the crew also takes time to gaze on the unspoilt wilderness and pick up some of the wry asides of the Mongolian herders, as they watch these plucky, but pampered foreigners attempting to tame their wild horses.

It's a shame that Marloh didn't follow up on these remarks or conduct any direct interviews with the nomads in order to gauge their views on the race and how the competitors perceive their lifestyle and culture. He might also have followed the lead of George Hoellering's Hortobágy (1936) or Phillip Baribeau's Unbranded.(2015) in placing more emphasis on the magnificence of the animals, while also exploring the socio-economic role they play in tribal life. Yet, despite it occasionally erring into reality television territory, this frequently enthrals in a way that another study of a notoriously tough horse race, Cosima Spender's Palio (2015), never quite managed.