The irrepressible Agnès Varda turned 90 on 30 May and she shows no signs of slowing down. In addition to premiering newly commissioned work at the Liverpool Biennial, Varda will also be appearing at the National Film Theatre in July, as part of the BFI's two-month tribute to the grande dame of the nouvelle vague. The centrepiece of this selection of Varda's fictional features, documentaries and cine-essays is Vagabond (1985), which puts a feminist spin on the flashbacking structure that Orson Welles employed in Citizen Kane (1941). Inspired by the experiences of Setina Arhab (who cameos in this unflinching example of what Varda calls `cinécriture'), this attempt `to film what freedom and dirt meant' won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and earned the César for Best Actress for Sandrine Bonnaire. Three decades on, it has lost none of its socio-political potency or its cinematic 

When the frozen body of a young woman is found in a Languedoc ditch by a Moroccan farm worker, the police fail to find any means of identification, So, (in voiceover) Agnès Varda explains that she compelled to learn something about Sandrine Bonnaire and the circumstances that led to her tragically early demise. Feeling she came from the sea, Varda takes us to the dunes where a couple of lads on a motorbike spy on her as she dresses after a swim. She hitches a lift with a lorry driver, only to climb down from the cab when she realises he doesn't believe in free rides. He chats with a builder in a café, who recalls finding Bonnaire sleeping rough in a house he was about to demolish. 

A girl who lets Bonnaire use a water pump in the yard envies her freedom. But her mother reminds her that she has a cushy life, while Bonnaire has to pitch her tent in a graveyard. Moving on next day, she has to hide behind a stone wall to avoid a passing police car and smashes a chunk of stale bread into a piece of farm machinery before accepting the offer of a free sandwich from a man in a nearby café. Garagist Pierre Imbert remembers giving Bonnaire a job washing cars and had noticed her flirting with his son Richard Imbert. He claims that he didn't trust her enough to let her pump petrol, but she had moved on soon after Richard pays her a visit in her tent.

Bonnaire hooks up with Patrick Lepcynski, a dope-smoking drifter who jokes that he's a wandering Jew. They squat in a chateau, where they are spotted by Yolande Moreau, whose elderly uncle, Gabriel Mariani, keeps an eye on the chateau. Moreau envies Bonnaire and Lepcynski their intimacy and wishes boyfriend Joël Fosse (who was one of the bikers who saw Bonnaire at the beach) would pay her more attention. But he is seemingly only interested in Moreau so he can case the chateau, which he burgles with a couple of pals in the middle of the night. Lepcynski is knocked out when he investigates the noise that Bonnaire hears over the radio and he admits to camera (as he shunts out of town in an empty train wagon) that he had been disappointed to come round and find that Bonnaire had scarpered. 

Mariani tells the police that he doesn't think Bonnaire was involved with the robbery, so she is able to wander on again. She accepts a meal at a convent and decides that camping in the snow is no fun. So, she accepts the hospitality of goat herder Sylvain Berger and his wife, Sabine. Having spent time on the road himself, Berger understands Bonnaire's desire to be free. But he warns her that many of his friends turned to drink and drugs to combat the loneliness they experienced and, when Bonnaire reveals that she hated being a secretary and wishes she could settle down on a small plot of land and grow potatoes, Berger invites her to stand in a caravan in the farmyard. However, when she starts stealing cheese and refuses to do any chores, he asks her to leave. 

Having sold some cheese to streetwalker Michèle Doumeche and left her backpack in an abandoned outhouse, Bonnaire gets a lift from university arborist Macha Méril, who recalls their encounter while bathing on the phone to a friend. Despite Bonnaire's odour and offhand manner, Méril had bought her lunch and a beer. Moreover, she had taken her on her rounds of the plane trees she is monitoring in the hope of finding a cure for the blight that GIs had brought to Europe during the Second World War. Méril is attending a conference at a hotel and brings some buffet to the car. Unable to invite her inside, she lets Bonnaire spend the night in the vehicle. She asks why she is a vagabond and Bonnaire jokes that champagne on the road is better than being trapped in the mundane. 

The next day, Méril introduces Bonnaire to agronomist Stéphane Freiss. He tells wife Laurence Cortadellas that she had reminded him of her. But Cortadellas snaps at him to forget strangers when they are living in cramped conditions and she is not living the life he promised her. Having made a few francs donating blood and working at a wooden pallet warehouse, Bonnaire warms herself by a fire at a construction site. One of the builders confesses to the camera that he should have spoken to her and Méril also wishes she had done more than simply drop Bonnaire off near some woods with a little money and a couple of bags of shopping. 

After Freiss saves her from an electric shock in her bathroom, Méril confides that she had seen Bonnaire while her life was flashing before her eyes and she asks him to help her find Bonnaire and try to help her. However, Bonnaire is attacked that night by a man who had been spying on her in the woods, close to where the Bergers were grazing their goats. As they chat, he muses that Bonnaire had blown in like the wind, with no plans, goals or wants. They had gone out of their way to help her, but she had refused to lift a finger and he concludes that, by being so useless, she helps perpetuate a system she claims to reject. Summing up, he suggests that Bonnaire isn't wandering as much as withering. 

Nevertheless, she keeps trudging on and is offered some work and a bed for the night by Tunisian field worker Yahiaoui Assouna. As they have a daughter of the same age (who works in an underpants factory), foreman Aimée Chisci and his wife Marguerite agree to let Bonnaire stay. She enjoys helping Assouna trim the vines and compliments him on his cooking. But, when his Moroccan co-workers return, they insist on Bonnaire leaving and she angrily accuses Assouna of being a coward for making her promises and then letting her down. Yet, when she hooks up with another female hitcher, Bonnaire ditches her when a motorist only has room for one passenger and she doesn't even look back as they drive away. 

Meanwhile, Moreau and Fosse pick up Bonnaire after they've been out for a drink. Moreau acts as carer to Marthe Jarnias, an old lady whose nephew seemingly can't wait for her to die so he can inherit her property. When Bonnaire offers to help her out, she starts knocking back brandy with Jarnais and they get along like a house on fire. However, Jarnias's nephew turns out to be Freiss, who is paying one of his dutiful visits with the resentful Cortadellas when she accuses Moreau of being in cahoots with Fosse over the chateau robbery. She gives her a week's notice and Moreau takes out her frustration on Bonnaire, who is sent packing without so much as a by your leave. 

While Bonnaire latches on to Christian Chessa and his fellow dropouts at the railway station, Freiss deposits Moreau on the platform to catch a train to her new post. She admonishes him for putting his aunt in a home and warns him that his wife is a nasty piece of work. But he turns out to be no better, as he spots Bonnaire lurching around the concourse while under the influence and calls a colleague to confide that he has no intention of telling Méril that he's seen her. He describes her as disgusting and slips away before she recognises him. 

Unbeknown to Bonnaire. Chessa is acquainted with Lepcynski, who comes to the house to recover an unpaid debt. A scuffle breaks out, during which a lamp is knocked over and Bonnaire is forced to grab the belongings closest at hand before fleeing into the street. Eager to avoid being around when the fire brigade and police turn up, she hitches a lift and heads out into the country, where she spends a freezing night in a polytunnel greenhouse. Back at the station, Chessa chats on the phone about the money he might have made by coercing Bonnaire into making porn films. By contrast, Assouna looks sadly into the lens, as he smells the red scarft that he had loaned to Bonnaire during her stay at the vineyard. 

Having lost her boots, Bonnaire traipses into the nearest village to buy some bread. She is set upon by some men dressed as trees as part of a traditional wine ritual. But Bonnaire is terrified and hides in a phone box after having her hair and clothing smeared with grape juice. Stumbling back into the fields, she trips over an irrigation pipe and lands in the ditch where she will die. Lying on her back, she looks up with a mournful flash of resignation in her eyes, as she recovers from her fall. 

Taking her structural cues as much from nouveaux romancier Nathalie Sarraute as Orson Welles, Varda sets out to assemble the `pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that is inevitably incomplete'. As a consequence, this is an exercise in elusiveness that relies heavily on the elliptical nature of the scenario and the editing strategies that Varda devised with Patricia Mazuy. At the stylist core of the action are 14 tracking shots, which conspire to make Bonnaire a peripheral figure in her own story, as she flits in and out of shots that sometimes seem blithely unaware of her existence. 

The majority of those responding to the off-screen interrogation similarly struggle to describe or analyse her, as, rather than getting to know her, they have projected their own prejudices and preconceptions on to their impression of her. Consequently, Bonnaire remains an enigma, whose defiant determination to remain dirty and free occasionally makes her difficult to empathise with, But Varda is less concerned with her anti-heroine than she is with the morality of those who fail her, including Méril's Good Samaritan, who vows to track her down and redeem her, but is never seen again, even though Bonnaire hardly drifts far off the beaten track.

Having electrified French cinema with her César-winning display in Maurice Pialat's À Nos Amours (1983), the 17 year-old Bonnaire is simply superb as the free spirit who keeps her secrets close to her chest while living (according to the film's French title, Sans toit ni loi) `without roof or rules'. Her performance owes much to cinematographer Patrick Blossier's adroit framing, as he stresses her marginalisation and vulnerability, while also suggesting that she's no angel. Joanna Bruzdowicz's score and the other musical choices reinforce this fact, as Varda challenges the audience to reach their own verdict on the characters and the society that has spawned them. 

A quick mention should be made of the subtitles, which break up the dialogue into phrases across several lines rather than continuous sentences. This occasionally makes them difficult to read, especially during passages of rapid speech, as the eye is used to travelling smoothly along the bottom of the screen to read the text rather than darting up and down. One can but hope that this development is confined to this reissue and isn't a new trend, as subtitles distract viewers from the visuals as it is and anything that over-detains the gaze is to be resisted.

Catalan auteur Isabel Coixet is no stranger to working in English. Indeed, since teaming Andrew McCarthy and Lili Taylor in her debut feature, Things I Never Told You (1995), some of her best-known films have been set in North America - My Life Without Me (2003), Elegy (2008) and Learning to Drive (2014) - or Britain: The Secret Life of Words (2005) and Another Me (2013). She returns to these shores for The Bookshop, an adaptation of a 1978 Penelope Fitzgerald novel, the latest in a recent string of features with literary connotations that is decidedly closer in tone to Mike Newell's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society than Bill Holderman's Book Club.

Narrator Julie Christie introduces us to war widow Florence Green (Emily Mortimer), whose love of books prompts her to open a bookshop in the late 1950s Suffolk coastal town of Hardborough. She assures bank manager Mr Keble (Hunter Tremayne) that she understands the trade and is convinced she can make a go of converting The Old House, an abandoned edifice that she has recently purchased. Fisherman Raven (Michael Fitzgerald) teases her that the only person who reads in these parts is Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy), a recluse who is occasionally spotted walking in the dunes when he is not defacing books that have the temerity to include a photograph of the author on the cover. 

Fitted for a new maroon dress by Jessie Welford (Frances Barber), Florence attends a cocktail party thrown at The Stead by General Gamart (Reg Wilson) and his queen bee wife, Violet (Patricia Clarkson). The general mumblingly laments the demise of poetry before passing Florence on to Milo North (James Lance), a TV personality dressed in a white tuxedo, who scolds Florence for wearing a colour favoured by servants on their day off. He wonders if she has ever thought of remarrying, but Florence insists that she had been perfectly happily married before her husband was killed. Her discomfort is then increased by Violet, who avers through a rictus smile that many in the burgh would prefer to see The Old House being converted into an arts centre.

Surprised when Deben (Nigel O'Neill) asks if she would rather open her business in the fish shop he intends selling, Florence urges lawyer Tom Thornton (Jorge Suquet) to conclude the deal as quickly as possible. The local sea scouts help her put up the shelves and Florence feels close to her late spouse, as she unpacks the first box of books and sees the new sign hanging over the door. Raven comes to give her some encouragement and suggest that she takes on 11 year-old Christine Gipping (Honor Kneafsey) if things get busy in the afternoons. 

One of the scouts, Wally (Harvey Bennett), arrives with a note from Brundish, whose wife drowned in the marshes while out picking blackberries for a pie. He declares (in a stiff speech to camera) that he is pleased to learn that Florence has opened her shop and would be grateful if she could start sending him recommended volumes. She begins with Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Philip Larkin's Collected Poems and Kingsley Amis's That Uncertain Feeling, which she wraps in grey paper for Wally to deliver. He is impressed with the Bradbury and receives a copy of The Martian Chronicles. Meanwhile, Christine arrives to declare a dislike of reading and boys and a willingness to work every day after school for 12 shillings a week. 

Amused by her plain-speaking, Florence comes to enjoy Christine's company and urges her to read Richard Hughes's A High Wind in Jamaica, while also giving her tips on how to fill paraffin heaters and promising to leave her a Chinese lacquered tray in her will. For her part, Christine warns Florence against trusting the brilliantined Milo, who suggests that she stocks Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita to go with the saucy postcards that Christine had persuaded her against throwing away. 

Concerned that the text might be too racy for the locals, Florence sends it to Brundish to elicit his verdict. She is taken aback when he invites her to Holt House for tea and the news spreads like wildfire, as not even Violet Gamart has had this pleasure. Brundish greets Florence at the top of a stone staircase and she helps him lay the table. Speaking hesitantly, he informs her that he is not a widower, as his wife left for London by mutual consent six months into their marriage. He also commends Florence on her courage and hopes that she will be able to withstand the assault that Violet is planning to ruin Florence and claim The Old House for her arts centre. 

On parting, Brundish encourages Florence to order 250 copies of Lolita and notes his own anticipation for Ray Bradbury's imminent opus, Dandelion Wine. However, the Nabokov window display causes ructions and an exchange of letters between Thornton, Violet and Florence results in the latter surviving an attempt at censure. So, Violet enlists the help of her nephew, Lionel Fitzhugh (James Murphy), a Tory MP who is proposing a bill to allow buildings of public value to be compulsorily purchased and turned over to the community. She also arranges for a school inspector and a social worker to prevent Christine from working for her and Mrs Gipping (Lucy Tillet) comes to apologise for the fact that she will now be doing Saturdays at the new bookshop opening at the fishmonger's.

Florence is taken aback by the news and resists Keble's advice to cut her loses and sell up. She finds solace in a brief conversation on the beach with Milo's girlfriend, Kattie (Charlotte Vega), who works for the BBC and is tired of dancing to smug chauvinist's tune. When she dumps him, Milo asks Florence if he can become her new assistant and Christine catches him putting up the `Closed' sign when he is left in sole charge. Having been given her tray as a leaving present, Christine feels protective of Florence. As does Brundish, who seeks her out on the dunes to offer his help in warding off Violet's bid to acquire The Old House. He kisses Florence's hand and wishes they had met in other circumstances. But, while he strives to remain civil during his audience with Violet, he allows his temper to get the better of him and she protests that she is simply putting the best interests of the residents first rather than trying to ruin Florence.

When Blundish collapses on his way home, General Gamart comes to the bookshop to offer his condolences. He implies that Blundish had been returning home after congratulating Violet on her art centre campaign and Florence orders him to leave and impugns his honour. Shortly afterwards, she is informed by a couple of official bods that Violet has succeeded in her bid to acquire The Old House and that Florence risks losing compensation because builder Peter Gipping (Toby Gibson) has declared it unfit for human habitation because of standing water in the basement. When Florence inquires when he conducted his inspection, she learns that Milo gave him access and that he is planning to sue her because his health has deteriorated since working in the shop. 

Having ensured that Milo understands her contempt, Florence returns home with her neighbours peering at her through their windows. She packs a case and is leaving on Raven's boat when Christine rushes to the quayside. Florence sees she is clutching a copy of A High Wind in Jamaica and looks across the skyline to see smoke rising from the bookshop. In an instant, she surmises that Christine has used the paraffin stove to burn down The Old House to prevent Violet from fulfilling her dream. Moreover, she realises that she has passed on her love of books to the little girl who didn't like to read. A closing shot reveals that the narrator is the adult Christine, who now runs her own bookshop.

There's something beautiful and corny about Julie Christie's parting assertion that it's impossible to feel alone in a bookshop. Given the state of bookselling in the age of Amazon and e-readers, the message has an undeniable poignancy. However, this respectful, but lifeless adaptation scarcely earns the right to stand as a champion for an imperilled trade. It might namecheck provocative texts like Fahrenheit 451 and Lolita, but it has no intention of considering there themes. Consequently, this is less a paean to books and the life-changing ideas they contain than a cautionary tale on the misuse of power by philistinic populists who claim to represent the commonfolk while protecting their own privileges against passively aggressive progressives. 

Such blatant allegorisation would be more excusable if Coixet had been more convincing in her depiction of a 1950s backwater. Shooting in Northern Ireland rather than East Anglia, she pays lip service to the look and timbre of postwar society. Despite the neatness of Llorenç Miquel's production design and Mercè Paloma's costumes, Coixet conveys a quaintly faux Englishness that is exacerbated by the over-deliberate delivery that draws attention to the arch formality of the dialogue. Bill Nighy particularly struggles in this regard, although James Vince, Reg Wilson and the usually reliable Patricia Clarkson are no more comfortable and it's left to Honor Kneafsey, with her knitted cardigan and Violet Elizabeth Bott curls, to match the typically effective Emily Mortimer's relaxed naturalism. 

Amongst many domestic honours, Coixet landed the Goyas for Best Film, Direction and Adapted Screenplay. But she relies on the voiceover rather than Jean-Claude Larrieu's visuals to keep the story ticking along and, despite having Brundish declare that `understanding makes the mind lazy', she often employs Alfonso de Vilallonga's mawkish score to drive home emotional points that the audience might have missed in the acerbic civility of exchanges dictated by the class chasms that are barely explored, in spite of them being central to the feud between Violet and Florence. So, for all its good intentions and technical care, this lament for a bygone Neverland and the notional ideals that sustained it proves that you can't just a book by its cover version.

Manchester has always been the poor relation to its great rival Liverpool when it comes to cinema. Indeed, even the neighbouring Salford can lay claim to having hosted three genuine classics in John Baxter's adaptation of Walter Greenwood's Love on the Dole (1941), David Lean's take on Harold Brighouse's Hobson's Choice (1954) and Tony Richardson's social realist vision of Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey (1961). The latter was keen to showcase her home town and used it as the setting for Lindsay Anderon's The White Bus (1967) and Albert Finney's Charlie Bubbles (1968). But the pickings have been slimmer since the Kitchen Sink heyday of Val Guest's Hell Is a City (1960) and John Schlesinger's interpretation of Stan Barstow's A Kind of Loving (1962).

Mike Leigh and Ken Loach moseyed on to Mancunian soil for Naked and Raining Stones (both 1993), with the latter returning for Looking for Eric (2009), which forms a footballing triptych with John Hay's There's Only One Jimmy Grimble (2000) and David Scheinmann's Believe (2003). Local boy Steve Coogan has also returned home for John Duigan's The Parole Officer (2001) and Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People (2002), while Damien O'Donnell's East Is East (1999) and Oz Arshad's Finding Fatimah (2017) have explored how Greater Manchester has become home to its British Asian community. 

Now, Simeon Halligan brings a touch of horror to the twin cities with Habit, an adaptation of a horror novel by Stephen McGeagh. And before anyone asks, `What about Jorge Grau's The Living Dead At the Manchester Morgue?', this cult 1974 zombie romp was predominantly set in the Lake District.

Following a traumatic childhood incident in the woods, Elliot James Langridge and sister Sally Carman have muddled through to their twenties. She is on happy pills, but still tries to keep Langridge on the straight and narrow and loses her temper when he stumbles out of a downtown nightclub into the path of an oncoming car while celebrating the fact that teenage drifter Jessica Barden has come to crash on the floor of the seedy flat he shares with slacker Andrew Ellis. Sitting on the pavement after doing a runner from the taxi, Barden asks Langridge if he felt alive when he saw the car coming towards him and pries into his background, but he doesn't seem to notice.

The next day, Barden drops into the massage parlour run by her uncle, William Ash. She gets a handout and asks Ash to find Langridge a job. But he is more interested in masseuse Roxanne Pallett, who gives him her phone number and tells him to drop in whenever he's passing. Concerned that Carman is ignoring his calls, Langridge makes his excuses with Barden to visit her. But he goes to the club instead and is enjoying a private moment with Pallett when a man covered in blood staggers into the room and Langridge is coshed unconscious by bouncer Nigel Travis. 

Troubled by nightmares of the dying man, Langridge confides in Barden, who teases him about having the hots for Pallett. She also persuades him not to go to the police and coaxes Ash into taking him on as the new doorman. Receptionist Joanne Mitchell is far from impressed, but goes along with Ash's decision and warms to him during his first shift. At closing up time, Langridge finds an open fire escape and wanders into a back alley, where he finds a room with a metal chopping table with a bloodstain on one leg and a large chest freezer. But Ash manoeuvres him away before he can snoop any further. 

The following night, Langridge is perplexed when Ash allows the thuggishly urbane Robert Beck to terrorise Barden. Moreover, when he ventures back down to the storeroom, he is aghast to discover that Barden and her workmates are cannibals who need to feed on human flesh. She reassures him that he has the same instincts and Pallett beckons him to join them in gorging on the remains of the man whose murder he had witnessed. Overcoming his revulsion, Langridge tucks in and learns from Ash that they are a family operating within a network of anthropophagites working in the sex trade. He tries to suggest Carman joins him, but she has reservations about Barden and wants to lead a normal life without being dependent on her medication. 

Nevertheless, she agrees to go clubbing with Barden and Ellis, only for the latter to pester a girl whose boyfriend takes exception to his drunken fumblings. Langridge defends his mate when he's attacked in an alleyway, but Carman is dismayed by his behaviour and sobs as she drives away in a taxi. Barden and Langridge head to Cloud Nine, where Ash sends his doorman on an errand to deliver an envelope to Louis Emerick, the manager of Mias, a burlesque club on the other side of the city. 

He looks at the photographs inside the envelope and confirms with Ash that he wants the subject eliminated. Emerick then takes Langridge to watch the floor show featuring a balloon dancer and a trio with a magic cabinet, who make a corpulent punter disappear. Going backstage, Langridge sees blood oozing out of the cabinet and is invited to join the girls in a blood orgy that distracts him from a text from Carman on his phone. 

When he calls round the next day, Carman has taken a fatal overdose and Langridge thinks back to the day in the woods when they had watched mother Nina Gilhooly slash her throat in the front seat of the family car. Regaining his composure, he goes to Cloud Nine and asks Ash if he can help dispatch Beck. However, he hesitates before plunging in the knife and the mobster is able to call his cohorts before he dies and they descend on the club as the girls are packing up to flee. Only Langridge and Barden survive the reprisal and they are driven to the station by cabby Emmanuel Ighodaro, who has been following Langridge from a distance throughout the film. On the train, they listen to Carman's last voicemail and wonder what the future has in store for them.

Slyly setting up a potential sequel, this is a thoroughly competent horror that contains echoes of Jorge Michel Grau's We Are What We Are (2010), which was remade by Jim Mickle in 2013. There are time, however, when it edges closer to Mockney romps like Jonathan Glendening's Strippers vs Werewolves (2013), although it's unlikely that the term Mancney will catch on. Halligan and cinematographer James Swift make atmospheric use of the neon-lit and rain-soaked (if curiously deserted) backstreets of Manchester and Salford, which recall the dark Satanic brick solidity of Whitechapel and Limehouse in many a London-set chiller. But the narrative lacks surprises, despite the effective characterisation. 

It also has one or two unpersuasive aspects, most notably Langridge's gruesome appetite being rooted in his adolescent trauma. Moreover, the subplot involving Emerick's club feels like padding, as he plays no part whatsoever in the attack on Beck and then disowns Barden and Langridge at the first sign of trouble. Indeed, Mias seem to have been included solely to allow Langridge to cavort with some naked, gore-spattered girls and casts an exploitative shadow that seems all the more discomfiting when considered alongside Jenny Lu's forthcoming suburban brothel drama, The Receptionist.

Ignoring Barden's wandering accent, the performances are solid enough, with Langridge channelling his inner John Simm and Ash summoning a little Gallagher brother swagger. Equally impressive are Emmerdale alumni Roxanne Pallett (who has since quit acting to become a radio presenter) and Joanne Mitchell, who is no stranger to this kind of fare, having devised the story and co-produced husband Dominic Brunt's low-budget zombie movie, Before Dawn (2013). She clearly has faith in Halligan, as she also featured in his sophomore outing, White Settlers (2014). But, while he has the eye for detail one might expect of a former production designer, Halligan has to take more care over his storytelling.

With the Tour de France about to start on 7 July, the release of Finlay Pretsell's documentary, Time Trial, couldn't be more timely. Cyling has inspired some fine films down the years, including Louis Malle's Vive Le Tour (1962), Claude Lelouch's ...pour un maillot jaune (1965) and Jørgen Leth's A Sunday in Hell (1976). But the shadow of Lance Armstrong has stretched across the sub-genre of late and this profile of Scottish cyclist David Millar sheds some much-needed new light on a gruelling and sport that makes extraordinary demands on its participants.

The Maltese-born Millar dreamt of competing in the Tour de France and began preparing for its rigours as a 15 year-old, when he learned how to conquer a tricky stretch of road without braking. A montage shows him securing Tour stage wins for the Cofidis team and becoming the first Brit to wear the leader's jersey at all three Grand Tours before he received a two-year ban in 2004 for using performance-enhancing drugs. On his return, however, Millar became the poster boy for the anti-doping campaign and he was extremely vocal in his criticism of the sport for not doing enough to educate young riders. 

By 2014, the 37 year-old was ready to wind down and hoped the Garmin Sharp team led by former rider Charly Wegelius would give him a last hurrah on the Champs Elysées. We see him racing the Tirreno-Adriatico to prove his fitness and a stunning combination of point-of-view shots and close-ups taken from within the peloton provide a fascinating insight into the camaraderie between the competitors and the tactics they employ to manage a stage so that as many of them as possible remain in contention and, thus, share the workload. At one point, Millar collects drinks for his teammates from the broom wagon following the race and dishes them out before realising that he forgot to pick one up for himself. 

While we see in-the-mix footage that TV companies must dream of capturing, Millar confides that he has never enjoyed climbing mountains, as he prefers the freedom of the coast. He also reveals that he used to like being part of breakaways, as the open spaces stretching out in front of him used to give him energy. But, as he started to realise that he was no longer as fast as he used to be, Millar had to content himself with staying with the pack and putting in steady rather than spectacular performances. 

This meant he risked becoming less useful to the team in the major events, although there is no sense that Millar's place is in jeopardy, as he gives Wegelius radio reports from the front of the peloton and jokes around with Dutch colleague Thomas Dekker at lights out, while sharing a hotel bedroom. But Dekker also provides support after Millar has a tough day in the snow-capped mountains and he reveals in voiceover that it can get lonely and demoralising in the middle of nowhere with no end in sight. 

Reluctant to go over the drug ban again, Millar finds himself under pressure to make the team for the Tour de France and is told he needs an improved showing in the Milan-San Remo, an exhausting 298 km race known as `La Classicissima' that is the longest one-day event in the professional cycling calendar. The weather is appalling and Millar complains to a rival early on that he's not in the mood to go chasing the `muppets' who want to up the pace. As the rain pelts down, Millar has to change his waterproof jacket while racing and is only forced to stop when his hands prove so numb that he can't put on a fresh pair of gloves. 

Cross-cutting between POV, head-on and handlebar shots, as well as footage from inside the broom wagon, the growing frustration that Wegelius and his assistant Robbie Hunter feel with Millar becomes gnawingly obvious, as they urge him to stop sitting with the back markers and make an impression on the peloton. However, the need to change his front wheel slows Millar down and, as the roads become slippier in the deteriorating conditions, it's unsurprising that he crashes out in trying to avoid another casualty. The bike-cam reveals how alarming this collision is. But Millar's failure to finish intensifies the pressure on the team selectors to omit him from the Tour line-up.

Sitting in a darkened room, Millar cries as he recalls Wegelius breaking the news that he was not going to ride a 13th Tour de France. It's as if the enormity of the revelation and its ramifications had only just sunk in and he had realised that his cycling career was over and had ended in rejection. As the film closes, Millar is seen dancing in a disco with an energy that recalls Denis Lavant's frantic gyrations at the end of Claire Denis's Beau Travail (1999). But these aren't the only cinephilic touches that Pretsell slips into this engrossing study, with some of the nightmarish flash cuts suggesting the anguish that guilt-tormented cop Stellan Skarsgård endures in Eric Skjoldbjærg's Insomnia (1997). Moreover, as a semi-professional rider himself, Pretsell must also be aware of such exacting actualities as Wiebe Mullens's Tour de France (1953), Pepe Danquart's Hell on Wheels (2004), Jason Berry's Chasing Legends (2010) and James Erskine's Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist (2014).

Clearly, when Millar signed up for this project, he had hoped it would represent a lap of honour to end a chequered career on a high note. But, while he is in no mood to open up about his emotions regarding the EPO ban and his ignominious deselection, he can't hide the dismay and humiliation caused by missing out on the farewell Tour. Thus, while Millar can protest that he has exhausted these subjects in his 2015 autobiography, The Racer, the enduring rawness of his pain gives Prestsell's portrait an excruciating intimacy that is rare in sporting documentaries.

The dynamic visuals are also extraordinary, as Pretsell and cinematographer Martin Radich managed to smuggle a motorbike-mounted camera (among many others) into the heart of action that is edited with a real feel for the thrill and peril of cycling by Kieran Gosney and Dino Jonsäter. CJ Mirra's sound design is also inspired, as he not only catches snippets of conversation on the road, but also the whirring of the gears and the whoosh of the wheels. Moreover, Dan Deacon's score avoids cliché and intrusion in providing a driving accompaniment to the kinetic footage. Millar might have proved an elusive subject, but he reveals more than he intended and, as a result, this sobering treatise on the terrifying viscerality of perspectival speed, the cruelty of sport and the implacability of time ranks among the best documentaries of the year.

Finally, this week, Stephen Nomura Schible's Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda is a classic example of the maker and subject of a documentary being on such different wavelengths that the resulting portrait is both distorted and wasteful. Made over five of the most traumatic years in Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto's life, this should have been a moving and revealing dissertation on how art emerges from existence. But, unlike Joe Stephenson in McKellen: Playing the Part, Schible can't resist stage-managing episodes that seem entirely at odds with Sakamoto's approach to both his music and his beliefs. 

In the pre-title sequence, Sakamoto visits a school in Miyagi to play the corpse of a `drowned' piano that had survived the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. He also dons a hazmat suit to examine the after effects of the disaster at the Fukushima power plant before speaking at a rally in Tokyo opposing the resumption of Japan's nuclear programme and joining a cellist and violinist at Rikuzentakata Daiichi Junior High School to perform the theme from Nagisa Oshima's Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983). 

With his round tortoiseshell glasses ad mop of silver grey hair, Sakamoto confides to the camera that he was badly shaken by the 2014 of Stage 3 throat cancer and he admits that it was difficult to stop working in order to concentrate on his treatment. However, when Alejandro González Iñárritu invited him to compose the score for The Revenant (2015), he was unable to resist and concedes that he drove himself to his limits in order to meet the deadline. A scene from the film shows how worthwhile the effort had been, as Sakamoto explains that he needs to keep his mouth scrupulously clean because his immune system has been weakened and he takes several tablets after finishing a simple supper of meticulously cut fruit. 

This brush with mortality made Sakamoto aware of the need to make every minute count and he hopes to continue making meaningful music. Inspired by the use of Bach's organ chorales in Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (1972), he returned to work on async, the album he had set aside in order to battle his illness. Eager to incorporate the sounds of nature in the mix, Sakamoto ventures into the woods with his phone and records birdsong, his footsteps in the dry leaves and the noises he makes with the objects he finds beside an abandoned dwelling. Back in his studio, he blends them into his soundscape and is pleased with the results. 

Another piece sounds very 1980s and Schible flashes back to show Sakamoto playing `Tong Poo' live with Yellow Magic Orchestra in 1979 and (wearing some Bowiesque eye make-up) discussing his attitudes to technology in a TV slot from 1984. Back in the present, he wishes to conduct an experiment by composing music for a film that doesn't exist and seeks inspiration in Tarkovsky's book of Polaroids, Instant Light. He also revisits Solaris to assess the way in which the sound of water is used and attempts to recreate it during a downpour. But the effect proves elusive, even when putting a bucket on his head. 

Over the scene from Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence in which Sakamoto's soldier is kissed on the cheeks by Bowie's POW, he explains how brash he had been to ask Oshima to let him write the score. But the experience stood him in good stead when producer Jeremy Thomas asked him to compose a short piece on location in China for a scene in Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor (1987). Despite nailing the assignment, Sakamoto was taken aback when Thomas called him to write the score and he looks back with amazement that he produced much of the Oscar-winning material in a week. 

Schible includes footage of Sakamoto conducting the orchestra in Number Two Studio at Abbey Road to cross-cut between the famous staircase up to the control room in which George Martin had overseen The Beatles's recording sessions and Sakamoto descending the stairs to his home studio to play a cymbal with a bow. Seated at his piano, he muses about sounds that could reverberate forever and explains that the idea hails from Paul Bowles's cameo in Bertolucci's The Sheltering Sky (1990), in which he talks about the limited nature of time. He hopes to combine the music with recordings of the speech in different languages and smiles into the camera, as he does while relating an anecdote about Bertolucci using the efficiency of Ennio Morricone to goad Sakamoto into rewriting a passage of music he was about to record with a full orchestra. 

As Bach used to compose chorales to reflect his dismay at the state of the world, Sakamoto began to feel the need to explore his concerns about environmental issues in 1992. Rather pompously, he suggests that artists and musicians are like canaries in a coal mine, as they sense danger before mere mortals. But there's undeniable power in `Oppenheimer's Aria' from LIFE (1999) and Schible lingers on archive footage of a multi-screen performance to contextualise Sakamoto's admission that he admires the way in which Nature has re-tuned the `drowned' piano that humanity had taken such pains to fashion using the industrial know-how that had taken generations to refine. It dismays him that our species has devised the means of its own destruction, but he holds out hope that it won't be used. 

Sakamoto had been in New York on 9/11 and had noticed in the photographs he had taken of the atrocity how birds were flying away from the Twin Towers. After a few days, he heard a busker playing `Yesterday' and realised that no one had played any music in the city since the attack. A need to reflect the distances creating tensions between peoples prompted him to compose `Chasm' (2004) in reaction to the US-led invasion of Iraq. While contemplating humankind's tendency towards violence, Sakamoto felt compelled to trace our evolution from the earliest known settlements around Lake Turkana in Kenya. His experience led to him incorporating sounds recorded in a humble settlement into `Only Love Can Conquer Hate' (2004) and he wishes he could hear the speech and rhythmic patterns of the first humans in order appreciated how various musical styles had developed. 

In 2008, Sakamoto headed to the Arctic Circle and recorded pre-industrial ice melting and declares it to be the purest sound he has ever heard. This found its way into `Glacier' (2009). Six years on, he wanders along the beach beside the contaminated zone in Fukushima and returns to work on his chorale, `Solari' (2017). Back in his studio, Sakamoto plays Bach on his Steinway. But it's too cold to get his fingers moving. But he smiles as he informs Schible that he intends playing every day from now on, as he feels healthy once more. 

This optimistic note ends proceedings on an upswing. But this is a patchy profile that says as much about what Sakamoto doesn't want to discuss as much as it does about his music and his methodology. The absence of any biographical information will frustrate those who haven't slavishly followed Sakamoto's career, but it's the lack of a coherent structure that makes this such a frustrating exercise. Given the precision of Sakamoto's output and the access that Schible appears to have had, this scattershot assemblage feels capricious in the extreme and more than a little pretentious. Indeed, it resembles Lorna Tucker's struggle to master her material in Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist - although the 65 year-old Sakamoto appears to be a much more genial, accommodating and candid subject than the prickly Vivienne Westwood. 

Editor Hisayo Kushida makes a tidy job of interweaving images of Sakamoto working with clips from his live performances and the films he has scored. Yet, there's an artificiality to the intimacy that Schible seeks to create, with the moment in which Sakamoto feigns surprise on the camera crew sneaking up on him while he is playing feeling particularly bogus. Indeed, he forever seems to be performing, even though there's no doubting the sincerity of his political views or his artistic intentions. The problem lies in Schible's lacklustre technique and his shortcomings (and seeming lack of curiosity) as an investigative documentarist.