While promoting her TV series, Top of the Lake: China Girl, director Jane Campion made much of the fact that she researched life in a brothel by posing as a woman seeking to introduce her virgin nephew to women. Taiwanese director Jenny Lu and co-writer Yeh Yi-Wen opted not to resort to such cheap stunts in making their fact-based drama, The Receptionist, although Lu did appear on the BBC News Channel to promote the film and expose a problem that is dismayingly common to many towns and cities across the UK. Lu and Yeh may not avoid clichés and caricatures, but their sincerity is unquestionable and they are admirably served by a fine cast. 

It's 2008 and, when recent literature graduate Tina (Teresa Daley) fails to find a job, she follows a tip from a waitress in London's Chinatown and visits the massage parlour near Heathrow Airport run by Lily (Sophie Gopsill) and her younger lover, Sam (Stephen Pucci). Feeling uneasy at conspiring to degrade other women, Tina turns down the offer. But, when her father fails to send her money and boyfriend Frank (Josh Whitehouse) loses his job, she feels she has no option when the Job Centre clerk suggests another unpaid internship and jokes that cutbacks mean he might be on her side of the desk soon.

Lily welcomes Tina to the premises and introduces her to Mei (Amanda Fan), a bubbly twentysomething from Malaysia, and Sasa (Chen Shiang-chyi), a pragmatic woman from Taiwan, who shows Tina around and warns her never to let the clients see each other. Among her duties is to cook for the girls and Tina asks Mei and Sasa about their backgrounds, while she finds her way around the kitchen. Mei chats cheerfully, but Sasa is very locked down and says little other than advising Tina not to wear fancy clothes to work. Lily thinks she is a lousy cook and orders Sasa to teach her how to spice things up. Lily keeps Tina busy cleaning and even sends her into the garden (where she is puzzled by the number of worms on the patio) and then reneges on her promise of a daily wage and promises to pay her at the end of the week.

Fibbing to Frank that she has landed a magazine job, Tina struggles to cope with a coprophiliac who wants Mei and with a cocky youth who tries to get a cut-price massage and needs Sasa to throw him out. While doing the laundry, Tina flinches on touching a wet spot on a sheet and uses coat hangers to pick up the dried lingerie, as she doesn't want to contaminate herself. She even starts buying sandwiches rather than eat what she has cooked and use the utensils. Mei is amused and offers a coarse reason why Tina is being so squeamish.

Tina refuses to join Sasa when a client with a baby fetish asks if she will watch them and gets a ticking off from Lily when she lets in a couple of Chinese gangsters, Lam (David Yu) and Chan (Tsai Sheng-Chien), who are looking for their cut of the taking. Lily protests to the heavies that they have only just moved and need more time to build up cash supplies. Shortly afterwards, Anna (Shuang Teng) applies for a job because her family is in debt and she need reliable cash, Sasa says she is a country girl with no papers and puts them all at risk. However, Lily orders her to mind her business and sneers that she should try Botox to fight the signs of ageing that are putting off her regulars. But when Anna comes down in old-fashioned nightie and clumsy make-up, Mei takes fascinated photos on her phone and Lily suggests ways she could make more of herself. 

Tina resents Sasa putting sake in her cooking and feels no compunction when she asks if Tina can push a few extra clients her way because she needs money. She says Lily can be cruel and reminds Tina that she should side with the girls not the bosses. But Tina doesn't like being told what to do and refuses to favour her. She discovers that Sasa had come to Britain to find her boyfriend after she got pregnant and that she started working for Lily after he dumped her. Tina also sees the cuts and bruises on Lily's arm. But Mei is more interested in Frank and asks Tina if she will marry him. She laughs that he isn't much of a catch, as he has a student loan to pay off, and Lily coldly opines that women should use their looks to get rich men and not waste their time on love. 

After taping up the windows to prevent odours from leaking outside, Tina is shocked when Mei is left in agony by a sadistic customer. Yet, when she goes to her room to collect the bloodied sheets, Tina steals the money she finds hidden under the mattress. Yet Tina replaces the cash that falls out of Lily's bag while she is cleaning. Sasa regularly phones her grandma and is concerned that her father has disappeared after losing his job in a factory. 

When Lam and Chan call again, the girls duck down to avoid having to open the door. Tina hates being alone with Sam, who is married with a young child, despite being Lily's toyboy. He commends her on her figure and suggests she could get much better money by selling herself. When Lily wants a cuddle, she sends Tina to do some gardening and she is hurt when one of the neighbours (Lorraine Stanley) sneers back at her greeting. A little while later, Lily goes out and Sam barges into Sasa's room and uses the £70 he has just borrowed from Lily to pay Sasa to give him a kiss on the cheek. However, he also orders her to get down on all fours and uses his belt as a leash while telling her to bark. When she refuses, he urinates on her. Eavesdropping at the door, Tina calls out that Lily is back and Sam flees, leaving Sasa to plead with Tina to say nothing to Lily about what she has witnessed.

One day, while Lily is out with Sam, Tina asks Anna to hold the fort because she has an interview at a bookshop. The owner promises to get back to her and, on her return, Tina makes an effort to get to know Anna. She confides that she was excited about coming to London, but has worked non-stop since getting there and hasn't even seen the West End yet. She asks if they can take a boat trip and Tina nods hesitantly. Anna says her nephew needs money to attend the local kindergarten because her brother is a poor mine. while her friend requires funds to open a restaurant before she can offer Anna a job. When Lily returns, she is angry with Tina for going out without permission and Sasa covers for her by insisting that she went for food. Later in the day, the landlady (Nicola Wright) calls round to inspect the washing machine and Tina has to keep a client occupied upstairs while Lily explains that she gets so many visitors because she has such a large family.

Having been supportive, in spite of Tina's anti-social hours, Frank becomes grumpy when she starts ignoring his texts and keeps greeting his amorous approaches with sullen silences. So, having found suspicious supplies in her bag, he follows her to the brothel and throws a tantrum when Tina returns to the flat. When Lily is next out, Tina asks the girls about the lies they have told to cover up their work. Sasa (who is reading Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being) reveals that she has told her loved ones that she is the boss of a travel agency, while Mei giggles that she pretends to be a successful model. When Sasa has to talk to her son on the phone because he is misbehaving, the others dance around and Mei tries to put a garter on Tina's head. But Lily is furious with them for making a noise and reminds them that they need to be discreet.

Out of the blue, the bookshop owner comes to the house and tries to persuade Tina to sleep with him in return for a job. But she pushes him away and she is shaken that such a seemingly respectable man could be such a lowlife. Sasa discovers some money is missing from her handbag and Tina is horrified when Anna gets fired after she hides the cash in her purse. She gets another shock that evening when Frank accuses her of being a whore and orders her to leave. She pleads that she has been enduring this hideous job for them both and assures him that he can still trust her. But Frank begins stuffing her clothes into a suitcase before unceremoniously pushing her out of the door 

With nowhere else to go, Tina slinks back to the brothel and Lily allows her stay in Anna's room. She appears to have been reprieved and hands Tina some tissues, as she cries into the night. The following day, Lily cooks a banquet and Mei is overjoyed at being able to indulge herself with so much good food. Lily declares that she likes money because she spent so much time in poverty. However, the party breaks up when Anna leaves the table feeling unwell and she still looks peaky when she helps Tina hang out the washing. 

That night, as Lily is paying the girls, the gangsters burst in and one of the men rapes Anna. Sasa hides Tina in her room (with a client) and Mei flees into the garden. Lam demands cash from Lily and Tina climbs out of the window to ring the doorbell and shout `police'. The thugs flee, with Sam as their getaway driver. Tina sinks to her knees when she sees the mess before putting the distraught Anna to bed. She reveals that she has had enough and plans to return home and hands Tina a cheap bracelet as a gift. 

The next day, while Tina watches Sasa and Mei with a client, Anna wanders off alone. She takes a path beside the railway line and is next seen limping along with a shoe missing, after presumably being attacked. In a daze, she heads to Heathrow and stands on the terminal concourse, only to be forcibly removed by jobsworthy security guards. At the end of her tether, Anna jumps to her death from a flyover. When she hears the news, Tina runs into the woods, while Sasa packs Anna's case and puts a flower on top. 

Having discovered what kind of business Lily is running, the landlady returns and orders Lily to leave within a week or she will call the police. She explains that she had bought the house as an investment and wanted to raise children there. But she now feels it has been sullied. Tina finds Sasa's box of keepsakes and sees a photo of her with her parents. Shortly afterwards, news comes of a typhoon in Taiwan and Tina hopes that Sasa's family is okay. She asks if she misses home and Sasa replies that she nothing longer feels anything. Tina confesses to stealing money from her bag and Sasa shrugs that she always knew the identity of the thief. Nevertheless, she agrees to go on a Thames trip in memory of Anna. As they pass the London Eye, Tina asks if dreams get smaller as people get older and they look up at a plane flying over Tower Bridge. Sasa gives Tina her copy of Kundera and she sobs over the books in her case when she gets home. 

As Lily and Mei doze on the sofa, Tina stands next to Sasa removing her make-up in the mirror. Just for a moment, they see each other's past and potential future. Tina hugs Sasa and thanks her for looking after her before leaving Sasa to weep over her uncertain future. Tina takes a cab through London and, once aboard a train, she starts writing in a notebook. On the soundtrack, Sasa reads a letter describing how the cops had raided the house shortly after Tina had left and how the bigoted neighbour had told them to go back to their own country. 

Presumably nobody was jailed (at least not for long), as Sasa takes a cab back to her village in Taiwan and writes to tell Tina that she is working to rebuild it after the flooding. She is living with grandma and reminds Tina that worms can't live outside the soil for too long. Sasa is seen in a playground with her son (who is white, like his father), while a preacher delivers a sermon about hell fire. In her letter, Sasa tells Tina that she had a dream of wading through long silver grass and seeing a girl who looked a bit like them both before she disappeared. They wonder where their paths will lead and whether they will ever see one another again.

Closing with a dedication to Anna, this is a film with its head and heart entirely in the right place. It also has a ring of authenticity, thanks to production designer Kane Schekierka's seedy interiors and the committed performances of a solid ensemble that is led with typical finesse by Chen Shiang-chyi, who has worked regularly with leading Taiwanese auteur, Tsai Ming-liang. Amanda Fan fizzes as the immature Mei, while Shuang Teng is touchingly vulnerable as the homesick Anna. Yet, for all the cogency of Lu's exposure of the exploitation of Asian women in the sex industry, her inability to prevent the action from becoming increasingly melodramatic undermines its potency. 

A couple of sequences prove particularly deleterious, with Josh Whitehouse and Teresa Daley struggling with the tin-eared dialogue and unearned emotions during their overwrought break-up scene and Lu failing to keep pathos at bay during Teng's soap operatic drift towards her tragic demise. Lu and Yeh also have surprisingly little to say about the impact of the recession on both the younger generation and migrants arriving in this country hoping to discover it's a land of plenty. Consequently, there's no tangible reason why the action should have been set a decade ago, as most of the conditions still pertain. 

The writers are also bafflingly non-committal when it comes to discussing the morality of the clients, preferring instead to vent their spleen on the Asian gangsters controlling the people trafficking rackets and native thugs like Stephen Pucci, who take advantage of the working girls by intimidating and abusing them. Yet, for all its stylistic conventionality and lack of thematic depth, this makes its main points with an honesty and earnestness that prompt a pause for thought.

It's often forgotten that a good deal of mediocre tosh was produced by the Hollywood studios during the golden age when they entertained the world between the wars. The need to keep churning out pictures to fill double bills from Peoria to Pretoria meant that plotlines were recycled and shuffled with a regularity that inevitably affecting quality. There's less excuse for modern film-makers to peddle such hokum and it comes as something of a surprise to find an admired novelist and playwright like Amanda Sthers producing a limply conventional drawing-room farce like Madame. Coming almost a decade after she directed Carole Bouquet and Pierre Arditi in You'll Miss Me (2009), this comedy of errors aims for a soupçon of the boulevard swagger associated with Georges Feydeau. But, despite the best efforts of a polished cast, it raises only the occasional smile. 

Toni Collette used to be American expat Harvey Keitel's golf instructor. But she is now his trophy wife in a palatial Parisian abode, where the recession is biting so hard that Keitel is having to sell his father's favourite Caravaggio to Northern Irish art collector Michael Smiley. Keitel and Collette have two children of their own (Amélie Grace Zhurkin and James Foley), but he also fathered novelist Tom Hughes with a wealthy wife who didn't didn't her figure to the same punishing regimen as Collette. He arrives just as maid Rossy de Palma is laying out the table for dinner and, because the superstitious Collette refuses to seat 13, she asks hairdresser Alex Vizorek to give De Palma a makeover so that she can pass as a mysterious Spanish stranger.

Also expected to dine are Smiley, magazine editor Sonia Rolland, single mother Ginnie Watson, nine year-old piano prodigy Noah Labistie and his taciturn mentor Eric Zargniotti, London mayor Brendan Patricks and his boyfriend Tim Fellingham, old friends Stanislas Merhar and Violaine Gillibert. and Keitel's French tutor, Joséphine de La Baume. On seeing De Palma, Smiley makes a beeline for her and is amused by her simple piety, as she discusses the picture of the Virgin and Child beside her bed. He switches the place cards so that she sits next to him and he implores her to talk to him to prevent Watson from flirting with him (in the same way that Merhar is with Collette at the other end of the table). 

Ignoring Collette's orders to drink nothing and Keitel's suggestion to say less, De Palma tells an off-colour joke that earns a polite round of applause. But Smiley is smitten and is delighted when De Rossy compares him to Hugh Grant and declares that people like movies with a happy ending. He is also charmed when she walks round the table to help Labistie cut his meat. However, Collette and Keitel are shooting each other looks down the table that intensify when Hughes starts teasing De La Baume about being his father's mistress. But Collette reaches the end of her tether when De Palma stands to applaud when Hughes announces that he is engaged to De La Baume and she whisks her guests into the drawing-room to listen to Labistie play something before his bedtime. 

While Smiley scours the room for De Palma, she is receiving a ticking off in the kitchen from Collette for overplaying her part. She packs her off to bed as the clock strikes midnight and De Palma tiptoes along the servants' corridor with her shoes in her hands. Once everyone has gone, Keitel wakes Hughes (who comments on the irony that the Caravaggio is a Last Supper) and congratulates Collette on pulling off the tricky feat of improvising to save face. He slaps her behind before falling asleep with his book, leaving Collette to lie beside him fondling the necklace that Merhar (who is her secret lover) had given her. 

The next day, Hughes (who had told Smiley that De Palma was related to the Spanish royal family) gives him her phone number and he texts her while the family are driving to a golf lesson. Collette is appalled when Smiley suggests meeting De Palma at the George Cinq and she thinks he means the hotel. In fact, he takes De Palma to see The Invisible Man at the George V Cinema and whispers in the dark that he knows her real identity and is fine with it. Naturally, she thinks he means the fact she is a maid and is beaming with happiness when she Skypes with daughter, Salomé Partouche, who has hopes of becoming an ice skater. 

While De Palma and Smiley make love on black sheets, Collette is so stressed about the state of her own sex life that she calls shrink Jay Benedict, who suggests that she dressed as a French maid to arouse Keitel. The ruse works, but just as he removes his pyjama jacket, he receives a phone call from his bankers warning him that he needs cash urgently and he realises that everything depends upon the experts Smiley has hired confirming that his prize family heirloom is a genuine Caravaggio. With the moment passing, Collette resumes her fling with Merhar and Keitel continues to pick up linguistic tips from De La Baume.

Likewise, De Palma remains deeply in love with Smiley, even though fellow maids Sue Can and Ariane Séguillon warn her she's heading for a fall, especially as she keeps borrowing Collette's outfits for her assignations. But, having been touched by Zhurkin's wand while she's dressed as a fairy and having worn a princess costume to Foley's birthday party, De Palma feels she's in an enchanted wonderland. She's unaware, however, that Collette and Keitel have been spying on her and scarfing down burgers in their car, while she is dining at a fashionable outdoor restaurant with Smiley. Moreover, she has no idea that Hughes is using her romance as the inspiration for his second novel, after basing his first on Keitel's affair with Collette. 

But the bubble looks set to burst when Smiley takes De Palma away for the weekend and they roll up at the very chateau where her employers are staying with Merhar and Gillibert. However, De Palma manages to magic Zhurkin and Foley away with a Portuguese nanny so that she can join the others by the pool. They are discussing how different nationalities approach love and De Palma admits to being an old-fashioned Spanish girl. When Collette lets slip a snide remark about her morality, De Palma blurts out that she is the family maid. But Collette needs to save face and reassures Smiley that they are old friends before dropping the bombshell that they will have to continue their relationship on a long distance basis, as they are heading back to New York in order to cut down on their expenses. 

When they have a moment alone, Collette warns De Palma that she has made a fool of herself and that she will fall flat on her face because she lacks the class to cut it in her social circle. That night, however, as Collette swims naked in the pool, she is hurt when Merhar ignores her and struts away into the darkness. Moreover, he fails to keep their next rendezvous at the Colonnes de Buren in the grounds of the Palais Royal, although Keitel and De La Baume continue their French lessons and finally kiss on the banks of the Seine. 

One afternoon, Collette bumps into Smiley in the street and tries to set him up with Watson. However, he insists that he is happy with De Palma and Collette feels compelled to tell him the truth. As she walks away, she is nearly run over by a speeding scooter and Keitel has to bandage her ankle. Up in her room, De Palma is becoming concerned because Smiley has stopped returning her calls. Cann and Séguillon urge her not to appear desperate and she keeps wearing the earrings that Smiley gave her, even when she's baking in the kitchen. But, when he comes to visit Collette and she calls De Palma to serve them tea, he cuts her dead and she removes the earrings as she wanders back to her quarters. She packs a bag and leaves, getting a half-hearted hug from Hughes, as she helps him collect the pages that have blown off the table in the breeze. Smiley comes out to the terrace to ask Hughes if he has found a way to finish his novel and reminds him that a woman he had once admired favoured happy endings. As she walks across a bridge, De Palma takes a deep breath and strides out into her new beginning. 

Several French film-makers have produced pictures in a Woody Allen vein, none more successfully than Emmanuel Mouret. But the harder Amanda Sthers tries to emulate that smooth blend of highbrow chit-chat and effortless wit, the further she strays from her goal. She and cinematographer Régis Blondeau make decent use of their Parisian locations, while Herald Najer's production design cannily reveals how the other half lives. Yet Sthers always seems to be straining for the chic wit and biting social satire that she hopes will underpin her modern-day fairytale. The dinner party is particularly excruciating, as Collette and Mehrer whisper conspiratorially about their affair with nobody apparently overhearing them, while Hughes behaves brattishly with the embarrassed De La Baume. But such convolution pales beside the De Palma's preposterous antics, as a couple of sips of wine transform her from a long-standing servant who knows her place into a bon motting coquette.

Sthers is bailed out to some degree by knowing performances by Collette, Keitel and Smiley, whose seemingly sincere suitor turns out to be the biggest snob of them all. But De Palma (who remains best known for her collaborations with Pedro Almodóvar) struggles to entice as a Spanish Cinderella, no matter how plaintively Matthieu Gonet's score tries to remind us at every opportunity. Clutching her sac de voyage like a latterday Mary Poppins, De Palma exits with her head held high. But, otherwise, the denouement is as muddled as the one in Hughes's unfinished manuscript. 

By curious coincidence, Rossy de Palma played a Colombian women being subjected to a humiliating search by Parisian airport officials in La Mule (2000), the debut short of French film-maker Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire. Drugs also play a key role in his latest feature, A Prayer Before Dawn, an adaptation by British screenwriters Jonathan Hirschbein and Nick Saltrese of Liverpudlian boxer and reformed addict Billy Moore's gut-punching 2014 memoir, A Prayer Before Dawn: A Nightmare in Thailand. Containing echoes of Alan Parker's Midnight Express (1978) and Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives (2013), yet retaining its own uncompromising character throughout, this represents a return to form for Sauvaire after the made-for-television rite of passage Punk (2012) failed to build on the immense impression made by his study of Liberian child soldiers, Johnny Mad Dog (2008).

First seen being prepared for a bare-knuckle boxing bout by a young boy (Paradorn Areepak) who precedes him into the ring, Billy Moore (Joe Cole) is lurching from one smack fix to the next. At the end of his fight, he has to be held back from punching one of the Thai officials and spends the rest of his night in a daze selling drugs in a Bangkok nightclub. The following morning, however, he is arrested by armed police and taken to Bang Kwang Central Prison, where he is subjected to searches and medical checks without understanding a word that is being said to him. His head is shaved before he is deposited in a large cell with dozens of mocking and heavily tattoeed Thais, from whom he is plucked by sympathetic ladyboy named Tiffany.

After a night sleeping like sardines, the prisoners are marched into the yard. But Billy gets into a shoving match with one of his cellmates and is frog-marched to a secondary compound, where he is bundled into a tiny solitary cage. On his release, he is taken to a smaller cell, where he is interrogated by an inmate with a smattering of English, who quizzes him about being gay before forcing him to do press-ups to prove he's a boxer. There's much laughter when Billy admits he was jailed for dealing `yaba', but this seems to gain him a degree of acceptance, as he is given a puff on a joint before being sent to sit on his mat on the floor.

During the night, Billy gets up to take a leak and is held at knifepoint by a callow cellmate, who is promptly set upon and raped by two of the senior prisoners. Terrified, Billy crouches in the corner with a blade against his forehead until he is told to return to his place. The following morning, his assailant is found hanged against the wall and Billy is confronted by Saiyok (Sakda Niamhom), a menacing bruiser whose cold stare serves as a reminder to say nothing about what he knows. 

However, Billy doesn't remain in the cell for long, as he is placed in a security block after biting a guard in frustration on being told that he has to pay for painkillers. He's in a bad way and is shown kindness by Fame (Pornchanok Mabklang), a ladyboy with bobbed hair who works in the prison shop. She gives Billy some cigarettes on tick, which he gives to Saiyok in gratitude for him letting him share a spliff in the showers. But he is soon exposed again when the guards wake the inmates in the middle of the night in reprisal for a prisoner being killed. As they stand in the darkened courtyard, they are searched for contraband and Billy argues that he has been framed when a packet of yaba is found in his shirt. Saiyok shoots him a glance along the line, as the man standing between them is led away and Billy is allowed to return to his cell. 

Officer Preecha (Vithaya Pansringarm) sells drugs to the prisoners and he persuades Billy to beat up the Muslims who oppose his trade in return for some heroin. He pummels two kitchen workers and Preecha has to remind him not to let himself get carried away when dishing out punishments. But word soon spreads that Billy has a supply of yaba and he becomes so dispirited at forever being targeted that he tries to slash his wrists with a razor blade. 

He is found in time and the wounds tightly bound and Billy turns a corner after he receives a visit from his boxing prodigy, who tells him that he won his latest fight and wishes he could so something to help him. Realising that he can only help himself, Billy applies to join the Muay Thai boxing team after his manacles are removed, although it takes another carton of cigarettes donated by Fame to persuade the coach (Somlock Kamsing) to give him a trial. He begins spending his time in the gym and steers clear of the cell, even though boss Keng (Panya Yimmumphai) gives his fellow inmates a lecture on treating each other with more respect and settling their difference with dialogue rather than violence. 

Keng intervenes when a cellmate tries to cheat Billy out of the cigarettes he wins while betting on a fight between two fish in a jam jar. He takes his haul to the shop to repay Fame for trusting him and she allows him to come behind the counter. She reveals that she killed her father because he didn't approve of her lifestyle and Billy reveals that his father and brothers have no idea he is behind bars. They hug and their intimacy contrasts with the grappling between Billy and M (Chaloemporn Sawatsuk) during a training session. The coach has detected promise in the Scouser and gives him a chance to show what he can do. But M proves a doughty opponent and their brutal bout goes to the fourth round before Billy knocks him out. 

The warden is suitably impressed and arranges for Billy to be transferred to a cell with the boxing squad and informs him that he is the first foreigner to represent the prison in a tournament. He also hands him two letters from his father, which he reads in the middle of the night. As time passes, Billy gets to know his teammates, including M, who explains that he was sentenced to five years to protect his girlfriend, but killed three men in prison and now uses boxing as an escape from his pain. Another reveals himself to be a hitman. But they all line up for a blessing when a Buddhist monk comes to the prison and they support Billy when he gets a tattoo of a rampaging tiger on his back. 

As he makes progress in training, Billy becomes Fame's lover. However, when he sees her with another man, he becomes so jealous that he is confined to solitary after losing his temper with an opponent in the ring. He continues to exercise in his cell and is welcomed back to the fold after he apologises. Indeed, he gets to see Fame and two ladyboy backing singers perform a special song for the boxers in their cell and he realises from her smile that she has special feelings for him. 

Training intensifies, as the competition draws closer. But Billy is not immune from attacks in the yard and one man with AIDS threatens to inject him with his blood if he fails to hand over a substantial sum of money. He insists that he will get cash if he wins and has to plead with the doctor in order to stay on the team after he is warned that his bouts of vomiting are down to internal traumas caused by his drug and alcohol abuse. Saying nothing to the coach, he drives through the lush verdant countryside to the prison hosting the contest and steps into the ring against a confident and popular challenger. A kick to the ribs slows Billy down and he suffers a sly blow after the bell at the end of the first round. But, with his vision blurring, he somehow finds a knockout blow, only to spew blood and collapse on the canvas. 

Billy is rushed to hospital and wakes to find himself manacled. When he is escorted to the lavatory, he emerges from the washroom to see that his guard has disappeared and he takes the chance to hitch up his chains and make a dash for the street. He has not got far before he sees the futility of his flight and he returns to his room and, on being taken back to prison, he receives a visiting from his father (Billy Moore). A closing caption reveals that he spent three more years in the Bangkok Hilton before being transferred to a British prison, from which he was released under an amnesty from the Thai king in October 2010. 

Notwithstanding a titanic performance from Joe Cole and some touching support from Pornchanok Mabklang, this gutsy prison picture works because of the bold decisions taken by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire. By refusing to translate the bulk of the Thai dialogue, he leaves the audience as much in the dark as Billy Moore about what is being said about him and the dangers that he faces morning, noon and night. Moreover, by contrasting Moore's pale torso with the lavishly decorated bodies of his cellmates, Sauvaire isolates him within the cramped confines of a cell in which he takes his life into his own hands each time he rolls on to his side to sleep. But Sauvaire is also prepared to bring the camera in closer to focus on Moore's eyes, which frequently betray his determined efforts to hide his feelings and fear.

Cinematographer David Ungaro also excels during the fight sequences, as he keeps his handheld camera moving to capture David Ismalone's bruising Muay Thai choreography. Marc Boucrot's punchy editing and Séverin Favriau's bone-crunching sound design enhance the viscerality of the boxing action, which is counterpointed by a Nicolas Becker score that switches adeptly between rhythmic pounding and unsettlingly low-key passages that reflect Moore's shifting emotions. Lek Chaiyan Chunsuttiwat's production design is also outstanding, as are the efforts of a largely non-professional supporting cast. Moreover, Cole acquits himself admirably in a challenging role as a self-sabotaging addict with a consciously shrouded backstory that should boost him several rungs up the star ladder. 

It's often forgotten that there was no sign of Thomas the Tank Engine in the Reverend Wilbert Awdry's first book about the trains steaming across the Island of Sodor. Edward, Gordon and Henry were the stars of The Three Railway Engines (1945), but they had become used to playing a supporting role by the time Awdry produced his 26th and final volume, Tramway Engines, in 1972. His son Christopher took over the reins in 1983. But, by the time the series ended with its 42nd title in 2011, two generations of children had come to associate Thomas with the animated engine that had first been brought to British televisions screens by Britt Allcroft in 1984. 

Over a dozen feature-length specials have since been churned out to sit alongside the sole cinematic outing, Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000). The latest is released in time for the summer holidays and David Stoten's Thomas & Friends Big World! Big Adventures! The Movie takes the blue tank engine away from his familiar surroundings on a trans-global odyssey that will delight the phenomenon's newest recruits and leave grown-ups reared on either the charming Edmund Ward books or Ringo Starr's narration shaking their heads in nostalgic disbelief. 

Having tricked Gordon (Keith Wickham) into pulling some wagons of rotting fish to Vickerstown, Thomas (John Hasler) takes coaches Annie and Clarabel on a trip along on his branch line. En route, he meets Ace (Peter Andre), a bright yellow sports car who is on Sodor in order to catch the boat that will take him to the start of a series of rallies across five different continents. Despite nearly crashing into Toby while speeding alongside Henry on a bridge, Ace goads Thomas into challenging him to a race and the tank engine becomes so distracted that he leave behind the passengers that Bertie Bus has deposited at the station. 

When Ace tells Thomas that he could become the first train to travel around the world, he sneaks out of his shed and persuades Carly Crane to load him on to a ship at the dockyard. Back in the sidings, Sir Topham Hatt (Wickham) asks Emily (Teresa Gallagher), Percy (Nigel Pilkington) and James (Rob Rackstraw) if they know where Thomas has gone. They sing a song about his possible destinations and Sir Topham becomes increasingly worried that his really useful engine might have vanished.

Arriving in Dakar in Senegal, Thomas (with a driver and a fireman, who seem to just go with the flow), is taken aback when Ace hooks up with rival cars Toni and Angelique and informs him he's off across the Sahara Desert to Dar-Es-Salaam in order to catch a boat to Rio de Janeiro. He's even more disappointed when Ace reveals that there aren't any rails where he's going and vehemently denies that he had invited Thomas on the rally in the first place. However, some friendly trucks offer to show Thomas the way if he is willing to pull them and he responds to the challenge with vigour when a railway worker doubts whether he has the strength to make the journey. 

With Sir Topham on a ship bound for Africa, Thomas finds himself picking up lots of additional trucks and people start laughing at him for thinking that he can haul them by himself. Fortunately, he gets some help from Nia (Yvonne Grundy), a colourful engine who teases him about being much smaller than the engines who usually do his job. Despite Thomas's protests that he can manage by himself, Nia pushes him up a steep hill and coaxes the coaches into singing a song to make the journey go faster. They pass zebras, giraffes and leaping gazelles and Thomas boasts that he knows exactly what to do with animals on the line, as he toots his whistle on Sodor to scare them off. However, he has never seen a bull elephant before and is grateful when the trucks sing a lullaby to make it fall asleep at the side of the track under a red sunset sky. 

The trains reach Tanzania and Nia teaches Thomas that Africa is a continent rather than one big country. She introduces him to Kweku and Thomas is rude about the formality of the way they greet one another. When Nia chides him about his poor manners, Thomas insists on going on alone and is peeved when Nia is craned on to the same boat and suggests that Ace can't be a good friend if he didn't wait for him. As night falls, however, a tarpaulin blows off Ace, who wakes to tell Thomas that he left him to his own devices because the best way to figure things out is to think for yourself. He also implies that Thomas doesn't need Nia telling him what to do, as he is a free spirit who should be having fun not following the rules. 

They dock at Rio (rather an odd voyage, but still) and a worker in the marshalling yard agrees to give Thomas supplies of coal and water if he pulls some coffee coaches through the Amazon rainforest to San Francisco. He hopes to make the journey with Ace. But he zooms off again and Thomas becomes grumpy when he is coupled up to Nia and she starts singing a song about friendship, as they roll alongside a carnival procession. 

Out in the wilds, Nia warns Thomas about taking on water, but he is more concerned with catching up with Ace. Thousands of miles away, Sir Topham is also running low on fluids while crossing the Sahara by camel and his guide teases him about the way he rides. Back in Brazil, Thomas finds Ace upside down on his roof after a crash in the forest and the cocky yellow car admits to being scared of the wild animals. Nia is amused when a monkey jumps down and starts spinning Ace's wheels and she can barely suppress a smile when she tells Thomas that Ace hopes they will pull him upright because he doesn't want to be left alone.

Ace is loaded on to the truck behind Thomas and starts to complain about the lack of speed when Thomas grinds to a halt. Ruefully, he wishes he had taken Nia's advice about the water. But she pipes up that leaves are very useful and advises Thomas's driver and fireman and the Brazilian riding with them to make leaf funnels to catch the rain when it pours down. Both Thomas and Nia enjoy their drink, but Ace moans about his paintwork getting wet. Such is the downpour, however, that the ground becomes soft and the engines feel the rails sinking beneath them and it takes a huge effort to cross a bridge that has almost been swept away by the rising river. 

When Nia asks Ace why he is always so stroppy, he launches into a song about being free and easy and we cutaway to him zipping and zooming without a care in the world. On the other side of the country, Sir Topham (who is now wearing a carnival hat instead of the turban and the pillbox hat he had picked up in Africa) is also feeling better, as he spots a poster of an aeroplane in Rio and decides to fly the next leg of his journey. 

Feeling more at home in Nia's company, Thomas joins her in greeting the engines they pass along the way, with even Ace chipping in with a `g'day'. But he's in a hurry to get to the salt flats for the next race and wants them to drop him off, even though it's out of their way. He accuses Nia of not knowing how to have fun. But she demonstrates that she does by wheeling backwards off a steep gradient and she apologises when they nearly crash into a female train coming the other way. 

Ace ticks Nia off and suggests that she and Thomas would reach their destination more quickly if they uncoupled and had a race. Nia thinks teamwork is better than competition. But Thomas likes the idea and (with their respective drivers seemingly powerless to intervene) they are unhooked and lined up on parallel tracks in a Monument Valley-like sandstone setting. Nia shows a good turn of speed and Ace tells Thomas to let her go because they're going to play a trick on her and let her zoom off alone while they go to the salt flats. Ace urges Thomas to let his brakes off and really hit top speed. However, he nearly bumps into Winston (Matt Wilkinson), an old moustachio'd engine who is coming the other way, and his trucks roll back and thrust Thomas forward as they go through a tunnel. Unfortunately, they collide with a stationary truck and go flying through the boarded-up end of the tunnel and Thomas and most of the trucks are derailed. 

Stranded on his side, Thomas listens as Winston describes how engines get dusty or rusty after being left in the wilderness and he feels frightened when he sees the shell of a dead engine on the sand. But, after wishing he hadn't left Nia behind and having spent a night under the stars, Thomas learns his lesson and is grateful when Winston returns (having taken the humans away with him the night before) with a band of cowboys and cowgirls, who use ropes to haul everyone back on to their wheels and bid them `happy trails', as they set off once more. 

While Sir Topham sports a ten gallon hat to make inquiries about Thomas at the marshalling yards, the tank engine drops Ace at the salt flats. Rather than show some appreciation, however, Ace blames his tardiness on the slowness of the train carrying him. Finally realising who his true friend is, Thomas heads to San Francisco and, as he passes, Sir Topham thinks he can hear his whistle. But, by the time he reaches the waterfront, Thomas has already been craned on to a ship to China and sings a song about being a bad friend and feeling the need to say `sorry' to Nia. 

Journeying on, Thomas passes the Great Wall and bumps into Yong Bao, whom he once met at a grand train exhibition. One of his friends tells Thomas that Nia has gone to the Rainbow Mountains of Zhangye Danxia and he feels confident that he will find her there. But, while the scenery is initially spectacular, a heavy snow stars to fall and Thomas is skidding by the time he sees Nia on a winding mountain track. He calls his apology and she admits to being cross with him for going with Ace. Thomas is about to agree when he  notices an avalanche rolling down the hillside and he urges Nia to hide in a tunnel. However, she gets swept away by the snowdrift and almost plunges over a ledge. Thomas promises to pull her back, but he isn't strong enough and Nia is left dangling with doom when Yong Bao arrives to rescue them both in the nick of time. 

As they travel through India, Thomas is recognised and a call is placed to Sir Topham's colleague, Peregrine Percival. He is relieved to know that the little blue tank engine is coming home and Thomas and Nia sing together as European landmarks like the Colisseum, the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben flash past in their rush to get back to Sodor. When they are in sight of the island, Nia breaks the news that her shed in Senegal has been demolished. So, Thomas invites her to come and live with his friends. But, while they are lined up to greet him, the trains are surprised that Sir Topham isn't with them and we cut away to see him sailing on a slow boat with Ace, who recognises Thomas from his photo. 

Chugging along at a fair old pace, Thomas's first overseas adventure makes for undemanding entertainment. The animation is up to its usual high standard, while Peter Andre and Yvonne Grundy make affable additions to the vocal cast. John Hasler struggles with some of the high notes during the lacklustre songs, but the lyrics capably reinforce the messages about friendship, not judging by appearances and embracing new cultures and experiences. The final leg of the trip leaves Europe getting short shrift, while the person who made the travel arrangements for the rally needs to buy a map. Nevertheless, this will keep its target audience happy and will long continue to do so after it's released on the various home entertainment formats.

Directed by Richard Jukes and narrated by Sir Martyn Lewis, 100 Years of the RAF provided a serviceable introduction to Britain's use of air power in the century following the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Services to form the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918. Now comes Anthony Palmer and David Fairhead's Spitfire, which profiles the most iconic machines in the service's history and commemorates the heroic `Few' who piloted them. Narrated by Charles Dance, this makes judicious use of The First of the Few (1942), Leslie Howard's biopic of designer RJ Mitchell. But the co-directors also mine the archives to admirable effect to create a well-meaning, if slightly tardy addition to the RAF centenary celebrations.  

The last remaining Spitfire to have flown in the Battle of Britain is kept at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, where Squadron Leader Andy Millikan proclaims it the world's most important aeronautical artefact after the capsule of Apollo 11. Yet, even though the plane was decommissioned in May 1957, Andy Jones of the Solent Sky Museum believes that it has retained its place in the heart of the nation thanks to Leslie Howard's flagwaver. Along with Alan Jones, he looks over Mitchell's Supermarine S6A N248 and explains how a million people gathered near this spot in 1931 to witness Flight Lieutenant John Boothman win the famous Schneider Trophy aerial race. But, as Dr John Aykroyd (a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society) explains, the Nazi expansion of the Luftwaffe prompted Mitchell to switch from sport to security, as he began work on a fighter plane to combat those being developed in the Third Reich. 

However, Mitchell was not the lone genius that Howard suggested. He owed much to Canadian engineer Beverley Shenstone, who had been inspired by the elliptical wing designs of Ludwig Prandtl while working for Junker in Germany. By 5 March 1936, however, the prototype was ready for testing at Eastleigh airfield in Hampshire and Judy Monger (who was four at the time) is the last witness to its maiden flight, as her father worked for Supermarine. Newsreel footage is rather clumsily cross-cut with images of a Spitfire soaring over the White Cliffs of Dover before a gathering of dark clouds presages Dance's revelation that Adolf Hitler re-occupied the Rhineland two days after the successful test. 

Pilots Ken Wilkinson, Tony Pickering and Paul Farnes claim this action convinced many that Winston Churchill was right in fearing that a second world war was inevitable. But preparations suffered a setback when Mitchell died at 42 in June 1937, although Hawker had also perfected the Hurricane and production of both planes was stepped up, as the threat from Europe grew. Responding to the call, but also passionate about flying, Nigel Rose and Geoffrey Wellum (the war's youngest pilot, who, sadly, died this week) joined the RAF around the time the Spitfire went into active service in August 1938. 

War was declared on 3 September 1939 and Farnes and Tom Neil recall a mix of sobriety and excitement at the realisation that they would be going into action. Their emotions are conveyed by footage of three surviving Spitfires taking off to the stirring strains of Chris Roe's achingly patriotic score before Dance describes the capitulation of mainland Europe over a map emphasising Britain's glorious isolation. We hear Churchill declare the commencement of the Battle of Britain on 18 June 1940, as Neil and Pickering concede that history would have been very different if the Nazis had invaded. But Wilkinson suggests no one in the RAF was prepared to contemplate defeat, as they had such wonderful aircraft at their command. 

Although the Luftwaffe had 2400 aircraft and outnumbered the RAF by 4:1, our boys worked as a team and were backed up by the likes of Joan Fanshawe, a member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force who was a plotter with 11 Group. She explains how radar reports enabled controllers to keep pilots informed of Luftwaffe flight patterns and Wilkinson, Neil, Rose, Farnes and Wellum recall the chaos of confronting the enemy and the sense of relief on passing through a phalanx unscathed. Pickering, however, remembers having to bail out and being offered a consoling glass of scotch by his commanding officer. However, the decision to intercut grainy aerial combat footage with fetishised colour shots of Spits with the sun glinting on their wings while they perform meaningless swoops and banks is ruinous, as the contrast trivialises the life-and-death situation that existed in the summer of 1940. 

We see footage taken from Rose and Farnes's wing cameras, as the latter sheepisly admits that he rather enjoyed himself, as he was young and full of derring-do and didn't really think too much that he was sending someone of his own age to their doom. Wellum reminds the audience that this was total war and that there could be no room for sentiment. Indeed, Pickering reveals that pilots shunned close friendships, as there was no knowing who would survive and Neil admits that there was little time for grieving.

On 7 September, the Luftwaffe switched its target from the coastal airfields to London and, eight days later, Hitler launched the aerial assault that he hoped would clear the way for an invasion. But the RAF held firm and, as the camera scours details on the Battle of Britain monument on Victoria Embankment, we hear Churchill thanking the `Few' in his speech of 20 August 1940. 

A cut takes us to newsreel of workers in the Supermarine factories in Southampton and Birmingham who kept churning out the planes Fighter Command needed. Women played a key role on the shop floor, as well as in the design studio. Moreover, the likes of Mary Ellis and Joy Lofthouse served as ferry pilots for the Air Transport Auxiliary. They joke about the glamorous lifestyle and the heads they turned, but they did a vital job taking planes to airfields without radio communication and often had to fly in bad weather. 

With Operation Sea Lion having been abandoned, Hitler turned his attention to North Africa and Neil found himself flying a Hurricane off an aircraft carrier for Malta. He arrived by the skin of his teeth and was grateful when Spitfires were sent to the George Cross Island in 1942. Allan Scott was 18 when he arrived and uses his scrapbook to show how he became the last surviving Spitfire ace from this theatre of the war. He is anything but boastful, however, as he remembers sweating with fear during a dogfight with a Messerschmitt. 

By the time Malta was secured, the Soviet Union and the United States had joined the Allied cause. Moreover, pilots from across the British Empire and from the defeated nations of Europe had signed on to do their bit, including Pole Franciszek Kornicki, But, as Neil and Ken `Paddy' French, recall Spitfire crews had to deal with the new threat of the Focke-Wulf 190 and they were glad when modifications gave them the added strength and speed they needed in time to fly support sorties on D-Day. We see archive footage of the planes with their black-and-white identification stripes, as French recalls how surprisingly uneventful his three trips had been on 6 June. 

When Germany launched the V1 rocket, Supermarine responded with the Mk XIV Spitfire, which had a new wing design and a Rolls Griffon engine to give it the power to compete with this devastating new weapon. Neil and Wellum commend the company for its modifications, but point to the brilliance of the original Mitchell design, which made it so flexible. But the advent of the jet engine meant the end of the line after 22,000 Spitfires had rolled off the assembly lines. Over 50 are still airworthy and more are being restored each year and their appearance at air shows and memorial prompts an aside on the need not to forget. Owner Maxi Gainza will always remember Mary Ellis, as she signed his Spitfire (with her maiden name Wilkins) while delivering it in 1944. Now 99, she gets to see the plane in action again and add a second moniker to make the machine truly unique. 

This touching reunion runs the risk of tilting the documentary towards schmaltz. But, despite the contributions of the former pilots and ATA duo, this has already proved a disappointing tribute to a mighty machine. Much of the problem lies with the overuse of John Dibbs's aerial footage, the emotive strings and Charles Dance's eulogistic narration, which skirts over the technical problems Supermarine experienced and barely touches upon the casualties the RAF incurred. More damningly, however, Palmer and Fairhead (who also edited) struggle to improve upon two BBC films, Spitfire Women (2010) and The Spitfire: Britain's Flying Past (2011).

Thirtysomething Portuguese film-maker Salomé Lamas concludes her monochrome meditation, Extinction, with a dedication `To all the unrecognised and unnoticed territories that lie on the margins of legitimacy: lacking diplomatic recognition or UN membership, inhabiting a world of shifting borders, visionary leaders and forgotten peoples.' Such a sweeping citation leaves one wondering which other non-states she has in mind. But her focus in this uncompromising cine-essay (which is screening at The ICA in London) falls squarely on Transnistria, an area that stretches between the Dniester River and the Ukraine and which formed part of the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic before it was parcelled over to Moldova on the break-up of the USSR. 

Over the impassive face of an unnamed man, we hear an audio exchange between a presumed border official and a 24 year-old man named Kolja (although Nikolai is puzzlingly presented as an alternative in the subtitles). Kolja reveals that he has a Transnistrian and a Russian passport, but not a Moldovan one. A discussion ensues about the benefits of having documents from each of the three regions and how each also has its limitations. 

The screen goes dark blue, with a white caption revealing that following conversation took place on the border between Transnistria and Moldova. Partway through, a quote from Austrian author Thomas Bernhard suggests that `there is nothing but failure'. However, this brief snippet is quickly superseded by the brightly lit close-up of Kolja before a post-credits passage contains what we presume to be Salomé Lamas's voice expressing her suspicion of borders and the problems they cause. 

Having accompanied Kolja on a car journey, we follow him to a memorial, where a bearded man draws on a cigarette while opining that people have so little concept of freedom of thought that they take refuge in the freedom of action, instead. Many think this gives them the right to kill. He blames it all on Joseph Stalin, who was so terrified of losing power that he created a chessboard by moving races around his vast empire so that nobody could try to claim independence without impinging upon the rights of their neighbours or fellow citizens. The stranger reckons there are 36 border disputes because of this divide and rule policy and Kolja skulks away. 

At Cahul, on the border between Moldova and Romania, Kolja's travelling companion advises him to use his Russian passport. He passes through the checkpoint without fuss and dozes in the car, as an echoing voice provides a potted postwar history of Transnistria and the ethnicities that call it home. We see Kolja smoking shirtless in a hotel room with a conspicuous crucifix around his neck, while the soundtrack contains a discussion about how Transnistria is affected by the conflicts in the Crimea and the Donbass. 

Over footage of a dark country road viewed from the front of a slow-moving car, Lamas suggests that, following the decolonisation of the Soviet Union, we are now experiencing the decolonisation of the Russian Federation. Kolja meets a woman in a cloche hat, who says that 100 nations have been replaced with a 100 mafias, which belong to either the Russian, Caucasian or the Asian mafias. She says that the region has been paralysed by misrule, whether it was the conspiratorial theory of history practiced by Stalin or the air of mysteriousness that is currently being peddled by Vladimir Putin. 

We cut to a bus, where the driver contemplates the impact that the gulag system had on the population. But we quickly cut away to Lamas describing the alternatives to the USSR that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn proposed in his 1990 publication, Rebuilding Russia: Reflections and Tentative Proposals. As we ponder the fact he advocated dispensing with the peripheries, Kolja approaches border between Romania and Bulgaria at Calarasi. As voices debate the reasons why Putin annexed the Crimea and why the West only backs the independence claims of certain non-states, Kolja watches television in his hotel room. We see him mooching outside the hotel on a CCTV feed, as if to suggest that everyone is under surveillance in a way that wasn't even possible in the heyday of the KGB. 

The screen goes blue again, as we listen to an interrogation seemingly recorded on the Ukrainian border. The official/guard asks about the film they are making and seems surprised that Lamas is in charge. He is also puzzled why she would want to make a documentary about Transnistria. They get distracted by the brand of cigarettes that someone is smoking and the emphasis then falls on Kolja and what he does for a living and why he seems uncertain when asked about his nationality on submitting a Russian passport. 

A man in a flat cap takes Kolja to the roof of a building to tell him a joke about Russia being like a train running on tracks that keep running out. Lenin simply laid more tracks, while Stalin killed the conductors and got the passengers to lay the new rails. Under Nikita Khruschev, the line already traversed was dug up and laid in front of the engine, while Leonid Brezhnev ordered the compartment blinds to be closed so that no one knew the train had stopped and was merely being rocked to give the impression of progress. The punchline is that, for all his much-vaunted reforms, Mikhail Gorbachev did little more than paint Glasnost-Perestroika on the locomotive. 

As Kolja wanders round a futuristic monument that seems to have been vandalised, Lamas recalls the Holodomor famine that Stalin sanctioned in order to collectivise the country's agriculture. She also tells the story of a former Red guerilla, whose six year-old daughter was murdered for stealing a bulb of garlic and whose children were taken into car when he hanged himself in protest at the state's indifference to their suffering. Fireworks are exploded in the shallow dome of the building and choral music is heard on the soundtrack. 

We cut to a hotel room, where a translator seems to be asking Kolja questions about Transnistria on Lamas's behalf. He refuses to believe that factories making barbed wire by day are churning out weapons by night and insists that he doesn't know why the media have suddenly started covering Transnistria again after years of neglect. Shrugging, Kolja says he has no idea whether statehood will be granted in his lifetime and suggests that Lamas should seek the opinions of people in the know rather than nobodies like himself. When asked if he thinks Transnistria is a Russian puppet, Kolja loses patience and stalks out of the room. 

A static shot of a dictaphone follows, as the taped voices are heard of a man and a woman discussing Russian troop movements and the significance of underground tunnels and an old woman describing how she was arrested for picking herbs too close to the border. Other strands of conversation are audible, but it's impossible to determine their meaning or importance. Over a shot of Kolja sleeping, we hear the translator ask why he signed up for the film and whether Europe lived up to his expectations. But he insists he didn't have any, as he just wanted to travel. 

Cutting back to the blue screen, audio can be heard from the checkpoint at Rezina on the Moldovan border. The crew appears to have been denied entry and the translator mentions that they have been vouched for by a KGB agent and the female official hands the case on to a superior. Smoking beside a burning tyre, Kolja says he hopes his children move abroad to better themselves, even though he is too patriotic to leave. As we see Kolja striding into a forest and appearing at the top of a tall tree, Lamas explains how the Soviet Union ceased to exist when Gorbachev resigned the presidency on 25 December 1991 and power passed to Boris Yeltsin. She declares the region to be a ticking time bomb, like Africa, because the borders run across ethnic lines and are too messy to be easily resolved. 

According to Lamas: `My films don't provide any answers. On the other hand, I feel that they are an attempt to represent. They unveil shoddy realities and situations, and can give someone the tools to be an agent of change and to act upon reality.' Many will be unsure how to respond to this forbidding treatise, which seems to be an exercise in provocation that requires a greater understanding than many casual viewers will possess of post-Soviet politics in general and the sorry case of Transnistria in particular. 

Jorge Piquer Rodriguez's monochrome photography is noirishly imposing, while Lamas stages the encounters that Kolja Kravchenko has with wisdom-spouting strangers in the manner of an Andrei Tarkovsky saga. Some will find this `parafiction' inspiring, others naive and others still pretentiously gnomic. But, arriving in UK cinemas just a week after the World Cup ends, this calculating docu-odyssey suggests that normal service with the Putin Kremlin has been well and truly restored (as if the week's event hadn't already confirmed this).

As Brexit continues to tax the intelligence and integrity of our elected representatives, it's good to know that we are not alone in having had our country divided by a referendum. Showing exclusively at The ICA in London, Kristina Konrad's One or Two Questions uses archive material filmed for a Swiss television channel to examine the impact on the people of Uruguay of a vote to determine the future of a law that granted immunity for crimes and human rights violations committed by the police and military under the 1973-85 dictatorship. 

Closer in tone to such found footage surveys as Göran Olsson's The Black Power Mixtape 1967-75 (2012) than a genuine work of Third Cinema like Patricio Guzman's The Battle of Chile (1975), this provides too little background information to guide those unfamiliar with Uruguayan politics during one of the most combustible periods in its recent history. But the vox pops with people of all ages and classes reveal much about the way in which ordinary citizens engage with the political processes that shape their daily lives. 

Passed by the Uruguayan Parliament on 22 December 1986, the Law on the Expiration of the Punitive Claims of the State sought to remove military resistance to the re-democratisation of the country by granting immunity to those who had executed the orders of their superiors during the civic-military dictatorship. Proposed by President Julio María Sanguinetti and backed by opposition leader Wilson Ferreira Aldunate, it caused uproar among the supporters of the Broad Front, who insisted that Law 15.848 allowed those who committed atrocities to walk away scot-free without providing any answers to those whose loved ones had been disappeared during the `Periodo de facto'. Konrad's film chronicles the struggle to secure a referendum and the debates that dominated the campaign leading up to the ballot on 16 April 1989.

Following a slow pan across the bay to Montevideo, we see some downtown street scenes before heading to the Teja barrio. Placards commemorating the Disappeared cover a fence, while activists collect signatures around the impoverished neighbourhood to call for a vote to overturn Law 15.848. A mother whose daughter has been missing for 11 years gives an impassioned speech about the People refusing to allow torturers and murderers to get away with their crimes and it's noticeable that women are also to the fore when Matilde Rodríguez Larreta informs the press that her movement has amassed 622,077 signatures. We see her lead a march to the law courts on 17 December 1987, where an excitable crowd cheers the security vans delivering the parcelled petitions for submission.

A caption inform us that the State Electoral Authority spent a year checking the signatures before declaring that 19,000 were considered dubious. Yet it only set aside three days for people to prove their identity in December 1988. Frenzied activity followed at the National Commission Pro Referendum, as volunteers help voters update their ID cards and verify their signatures. They also participate in another demonstration, with the trademark rhythmic clapping being accompanied by the defiant chant, `The People United Will Never Be Defeated'. Despite being primarily Hispanic, the crowd represents all ages and its enthusiasm is infectious - right up until what appears to be the sound of gunfire rings out and the screen goes black.

Konrad cuts away to advertisements for coffee and rubber products before a public service announcement reminds voters to cast their ballot in the forthcoming referendum. We join the Swiss TV reporter at an agricultural fair, where many of those interviewed have little idea what the plebiscite is about. Others are confused by what the Green and Yellow groups are standing for. In fact, the Greens are against Law 15.848 and want an inquiry into the activities of the security forces, while the Yellows back the general amnesty and wish to leave things as they are rather than re-open old wounds.

As an advert for the Greens uses humour to plead its cause, we learn that both parties claim to stand for peace. But the majority of those vox popped are more concerned about poverty and jobs. An ex-Marine with a wife and seven children admits that he witnessed dreadful things during his three-year tour of duty. But he is more vexed about the poor health care in Uruguay's second city, Las Piedras, as his eighth child recently died there. 

An older man on a park bench holds a civilised discussion with two younger chaps, as it becomes clear that the schism runs along age and class lines. They consider the relative media campaigns and the scare tactic being used by the Yellows that a Green vote will provoke those seeking to cover up their crimes to carry out a coup. Yellow supporters insist that they are as much against dictatorship as their opponents, but aver that overturning Law 15.848 jeopardises the peace they are all now enjoying.

Ads follow for a Penarol football match, the Innove 89 industrial exhibition and No Frost fridges, in order to show that life goes on. We also see a message from the Yellows that is contrasted with a printed flyer that accuses the Greens of being Communists. Back on the street, as protesters call for justice for the 50,000 who were tortured, one old man dismisses those detained as `Tupamaros' (after the MLN-T urban guerilla group), who started the civil unrest and then cried foul when the security forces did their job to restore order. He thinks the freed prisoners should be made to pay for the expensive defence operation, as they were seeking to undermine the state.

The TV reporter ventures into a street market, where a porter with 11 siblings declares that he will vote Green, but wishes the focus was on improving the lot of the poor. A middle-aged woman says much the same, as she feels that peace should bring prosperity. But she suspects little will change regardless of the referendum result, as all politicians have their snouts in the trough and she condemns the media for buttering them all up and legitimising their claims. Another woman refuses to speak, however, as she feels it's still too dangerous to express an opinion in public. 

Another montage blurs the line between consumer ads and political sloganeering. But there is clearly a more stentorian tone to the Yellow adverts, which demonise the Greens and highlight the dangers they pose rather than explain the merits of the Yellow stance. Such negative campaigning seems to be having little effect on the voters canvassed, however, as many have already made up their minds. 

Following further whistlestop tours of the city and the barrios, the reporter descends on a bus station. An old man claims that the emphasis should be on pensions because they are badly organised and he berates the young for being empty headed. A 44 year-old grandmother reveals that she will be voting Yellow because they promise peace, while the Greens make no mention of it. She is pessimistic that the generals would agree to testify even if they were subpoenaed, but admits that she prefers living in a democracy to a dictatorship. 

We see a memorial service for the assassinated Armando Acosta y Lara, who was Vice-Minister of the Interior to President Jorge Pacheco Areco. The speaker suggests that those murdered by the Marxists who had been seeking to bring down a legitimate government have largely been forgotten since 1985, as the press prefers to eulogise the Disappeared. Professor Alba Soutullo de Canzani gives an impassioned speech about the indoctrination of youth and how people like Professor Acosta y Lara should be remembered with gratitude for trying to educate students without brainwashing them.

Her fiery rhetoric is contrasted with a party political by Matilde Rodríguez Larreta, who is now among the leaders of the Green campaign. But, despite such electioneering, many are uncertain what is at stake in the referendum. Two elderly ladies in a park concede that they don't really understand what's going on. However, a mother and daughter are more forthcoming, even though they worry that nobody is discussing the issues in depth because of intimidation. They go on to describe how some Green leafleteers were set upon by a gang of Yellow bully boys before calling for the atrocities of the dictatorship to be exposed and punished. 

The reporter also speaks to two male pensioners on a bench. They claim they are voting Yellow because things will deteriorate if people start raking over the past. One man admits that the dictatorship did bad things and curtailed certain liberties. But they knew how to keep law and order and he confides that he is all in favour of people being coerced into showing respect for the republic.

After the interviewer meets a polite, elderly gentleman, who admits to voting Yellow even though he suspects he may come to regret it, we see Vice-President Enrique Tarigo on the hustings lamenting the fact that the Tupamaros disrupted the party political system by introducing guerilla tactics into domestic affairs. He opines that a Green vote will plunge the country back into the dark days.

A Yellow ad spot claims the Uruguay has been shaped by 32 amnesties during its history, such as The Florida Assembly (1825), the Peace of April (1872) and the Peace of Aceguá (1904). It claims the 1985 amnesty is just as crucial. But the camera picks up posters proclaiming union support for the Green campaign before the reporter talks to two men in a rundown neighbourhood. The first reveals that he will be voting Green, but the other is more concerned about the decline in the political parties and the way in which foreign banks fund the rich without ensuring that any of the aid trickles down to those who really need it. He believes the referendum to be a sideshow and that root-and-branch reform will be needed to prevent the class chasm becoming unbridgeable.

At a farmers' convention, an ageing Italian settler states he is more worried by cheap imports from Argentina and Brazil than he is about the plebiscite, although he fears it might stir a hornets' nest. Some younger men champion the Green cause, although they can't guarantee that justice will be served. An older farmer says he is too busy to watch television and doesn't really understand the finer distinctions between the two sides. As some of the others tut at his ignorance, he hopes it will all work out well in the end. 

On the last day of campaigning, the reporter meets members of the Catholic-backed Tradition, Family and Property organisation. They denounce the Tupamaros as Communists and claim that the Greens want revenge on those who thwarted their power grab. Dressed in a red robe, the man interviewed sticks rigidly to the script, despite all efforts to coax him into expressing a personal opinion. When she suggests that Jesus wouldn't be happy with the current levels of poverty in Uruguay, he replies that those without should learn to live in gracious acceptance of their lot.

On the eve of the vote, the Blanco and Nacional parties join forces to back the Yellow cause. As the Greens had been showing an appeal by Sara Mendez for the return of the son who had been snatched away from her when he was still a baby, Minister of Education Adela Reta appears on TV to claim that such cases happened more in Argentina than in Uruguay. She also intimates that many of those claiming kidnap have never filed official complaints. Yet she also denies that a Yellow win will prevent the search for stolen children from using the latest advances in blood testing. 

Scouring a flower market, the reporter meets a woman who says the vote has been a waste of money that could have been spent on housing street kids. As a mother herself, she agrees that she would probably feel very differently if one of her own children had been killed. But she reckons a bad democracy is preferable to a good dictatorship and is apprehensive that a Green win will send the country backwards.

An older woman criticises the mothers of the Disappeared for not bringing them up properly and when the reporter asks what she would have done if her own daughter had been involved in the protests, she snorts with derision that she would ever have dared to disobey her. When pressed, however, the woman insists that she would have left her daughter to suffer because she had chosen to throw in her lot with terrorists. In conclusion, she hisses that several of the mothers are lying about their lost children and recommends that they find work in order to do a better job of raising their grandchildren.

When the correspondent stops a youngish man, he reveals that he is voting Yellow because life has grown tougher since democracy returned. He blames a juvenile crimewave on a lack of discipline and declares that big business is backing the Greens because they hope to profit from their success. A passing woman retorts that the Yellows are campaigning so hard because they have guilty secrets to hide and a heated argument begins, with the woman accusing the man of being complacent because he could never back Yellow if he had lost somebody during Periodo de facto. Other bystanders start chipping in and the camera has trouble keeping everyone in shot. Yet, even though they occupy diametrically opposed positions, everyone treats their opponents with a degree of respect and nobody lashes out.

Interestingly, a Yellow broadcast invites Uruguayans to `give peace a chance' a full two months before John Lennon and Yoko Ono recorded their anthem during a Montreal bed in. The message doesn't seem to have reached a group of farmer gathered around a large table, as they struggle to discriminate between the Green and Yellow propaganda on peace. One quietly spoken fellow confides that he was in favour of the dictatorship when it was first imposed, as the countryside had become lawless. But he now feels he had been duped, as the leaders were only interested in city folk and did nothing to improve agricultural conditions and, as a result, he gradually became worse off. Things remain difficult, but he has come to appreciate the benefits of democracy. 

Following a Channel 10 promo boasting of the computer technology and trustworthy journalists at its disposal, we wander around a spot popular with senior citizens taking the air. Some have no idea there is even going to be a vote, while others mix up the colours and the principal candidates associated with each cause. A few agree that peace would be a good thing, but most already think they have it and would much rather have a few more pesos in their pension. Armed with a tannoy, an activist invites people to make speeches and a mixed bag of views are expressed with varying degrees of cogency and eloquence. All the speakers receive polite applause, but many seem confused or entrenched. 

One middle-aged woman rails when the camera pans away when she reveals her Yellow credentials and it snaps back on to her, as she pronounces that the Greens are bent on punishing the security forces and refuse to accept that they did anything to provoke the backlash. She thinks Yellow is being fair to all by drawing a line under the tyranny and starting afresh with everyone equal. But her arguments are countered by an older woman, who no longer wishes to live in a country in which 40 soldiers can rape a young girl and deny any knowledge of her when she reports the assault. She is warmly applauded, but so is everyone who takes the microphone and it's impossible to judge who is Yellow and who is Green because the core issue has been clouded by so many tangentials. 

Advocating the Yellow cause, Julio Iglesias, the Intendente of Montevideo, Deputy Daniel Lamas and Economics Minister Luis Mosca sit on sofas in their stylish suits to make rationale appeals to the viewers. They mention many aspects of government policy, but say nothing about Law 15.848. Former Vice-President Hugo Batalla urges voters not to make their leaders hostages to the past and warns that the younger generation will continue to go abroad for work if worthwhile opportunities are not created at home. 

Despite the rain, polling stations do brisk business, with people queuing in the polite manner that has characterised the entire campaign. The counts are meticulously scrutinised and the TV channels await the results. An elderly woman tells reporters that she is optimistic that Green will win, but she can't be sure how the rural districts will vote. She applauds the people for sharing a spirit of fairness and insists that the Greens have already won by forcing the vote in the first place. 

The reporter breaks the news of a Yellow victory to those waiting in the rain. One man, who had beaten and robbed by the police, vows to fight on because the alternative is too awful to contemplate. His sentiments are echoed by woman who is fearful of a crackdown having seen truckloads of soldiers prowling around the capital. A younger man fumes that he could be killed during the next coup and nobody would be punished. He feels that Uruguay is dying and blames the old for being too scared to resist the lies of the Yellow leadership. Moreover, he suggests that they would have supported Hitler if he had been Uruguayan and mocks them for living in the good old days when the country won World Cup (in 1930 and 1950). Ignoring taunts that he is a parasite, he brands the country a Neverland and declares would rather be Thai. His despair touches some passing Chileans, whose experiences under General Augusto Pinochet prompt them to mourn the Green defeat and fear for the future. 

Closing captions reveal that the Yellows triumphed with 57% of the valid vote. Each 20 May since 1994, tens of thousands have gathered in Montevideo for a silent march to highlight the need for justice and the end of impunity. A second referendum in 2009 failed to overturn the legislation by a narrow majority, although the Green cause was hardly helped by onetime Tupamaros refusing to back the cause because they were now part of the establishment. In 2015, left-leaning president Pepe Mujica commissioned a memorial to be made from the molten weapons of the opposing sides in the conflict. But his decree has yet to be implemented. 

Even though the footage contained in this four-hour film was recorded in Montevideo, Minas, El Sauce, Canelones, Delta del Tigre and Santa Lucia
between 17 December 1987 and 16 April 1989, it's hard to ignore the echoes from the Brexit campaign and the arguments that continue to rage and divide. In each case, vital decisions were made by voters with only a slender grasp of the facts and implications. But what comes across most strikingly in the interviews filmed with a U-matic camera by Kristina Conrad, conducted by Maria Barhoum and Graciela Salsamendi, and edited by René Frolke is the civility of the Uruguayan campaign.