French director Claire Denis celebrated her 72nd birthday earlier this year. But she shows no signs of slowing down or settling for easy options with Let the Sunshine In, which draws inspiration from Roland Barthes's A Lover's Discourse: Fragments, as Denis and co-scenarist Christine Angot examine the way middle-aged women are viewed in today's society and how they seek to validate their own existence. Closer in tone to Vendredi Soir (2002) and 35 Shots of Rum (2008) than darker outings like The Intruder (2004), White Material (2009) and Bastards (2013), this is the closest Denis will ever get to making a romcom. But there is nothing generic about Denis's approach to the subject matter or about the standout performance of Juliette Binoche. 

While making love with married banker Xavier Beauvois, artist Juliette Binoche is stung by his tactless reference to her sexual experiences with another man. She cries on the pillow as he dresses, but still makes plans to meet up with him over the weekend. When he fails to honour his promise, she comes to his luxurious home and threatens to end their affair unless he starts showing her a little more courtesy. From the way he treats a bartender when they go for a drink, however, it's clear that Beauvois is too self-absorbed to consider the feelings of others. Indeed, he casually mentions that Binoche's ex-husband, Laurent Grévill, once had a fling with Josiane Balasko, the gallerist with whom she is about to collaborate. Moreover, while fondling Binoche at the bar, he informs her that he has no intention of leaving his wife for her, as she is too extraordinary to live without. 

Frustrated with not knowing where she stands, Binoche returns to her studio and tries to paint. But the gossip about Balasko has unsettled her and she hums and haws her way to raising the issue during their next meeting. She is relieved when Balasko dismisses the rumour with a raucous laugh, but Binoche soon finds another professional relationship edging into disconcerting territory when she discusses a project with actor Nicolas Duvauchelle. He drinks heavily at the theatre bar, while complaining about the nightly grind of his vocation and his determination to leave the wife he feels he has outgrown. 

Disturbed by Duvauchelle's revelation that he can become violent, Binoche suggests they go to supper and they seem to open up over a glass or two of wine. However, the barriers go back up as he drives her home and she declares that it would be better if they stopped seeing each other, as their liaison is going nowhere. Reluctant to commit himself, Duvauchelle debates whether to come in for a nightcap. He then decides it would be a waste to open a bottle of champagne and announces he is going to leave. But, having given Binoche a goodnight hug, he kisses her and she is relieved the prattle has finally stopped and they can go to bed. 

Bidding him farewell with a glazed look of satisfaction in her eyes, Binoche feels like she has finally met someone worthy of her time. Yet, when they next hook up, Duvauchelle asks if they can resume their platonic friendship and her eyes mist over with disappointment that she has allowed herself to sleep with another loser. She is still feeling dismayed when Beauvois shows up with a big bunch of flowers and the hope that she will show her appreciation in the customary manner. But Binoche is tired of his arrogance and, when he accuses her of throwing him out like a character in a cheap bedroom farce, she pushes him into the street and vows never to see him again.

Wandering the streets, she bumps into fellow artist Philippe Katerine in the fishmonger's. He has recently been left a property by his mother and he encourages Binoche to use it whenever she wants. But, while he puts her under no pressure, the offer of a dinner date makes her wonder whether he has an ulterior motive. Such is her readiness to trust men, however, that Binoche answers a call from Duvauchelle and endures his self-pitying diatribe about regretting the fact that they slept together before they had become firm friends. He wishes they could go back to the way things were before and she suggests a `second before' that still acknowledges that they now have a history. But Duvauchelle prevaricates and Binoche loses patience with him and propses that they stop seeing each other. 

While he mooches around on the Métro platform, Binoche tries to strike up a conversation with cabby Walid Afkir and he soothes her with some cool jazz (composed by Stuart Staples for the Julian Siegel Quartet) on Radio France. Her good mood doesn't last long, however, as she gives Beauvois the cold shoulder at a gallery viewing and ignores his calls when he phones her in the middle of the night. She confides in best friend Sandrine Dumas that she only orgasmed with Beauvois while thinking what a heel he is and Dumas suggests she gets back with Grévill, as he had always adored her. Leaning against the washroom door, Binoche admits that she has recently slept with her ex-husband. But she had regretted it, as it reminded her of why they had broken up and how their subsequent civility was preventing them from moving on, Yet she invites him over again, only to ask him to leave when she accuses him of using a move from a porn movie.

Needing to get away, Binoche accepts Katerine's invitation to stay in La Souterraine during the arts festival. However, the chatter spoiling a walk in the countryside provokes her into fulminating against her companions and she barely has a word to say to Balasko and her friends Alex Descas and Bruno Podalydès when she returns to the hotel. Instead, she dances to Etta James's `At Last' with stranger Paul Blain and feels good about being swept off her feet. 

Back in Paris, she asks Grévill to return the keys to her apartment. But he refuses because his 10 year-old daughter occasionally stays with her and he chides Binoche for being such a mediocre mother. Podalydès also takes Binoche to task for dating Blain when they have nothing in common other than their physical relationship. She allows his prejudices to seep into her mind and she confronts Blain about why he has not introduced her to his friends. He is hurt by her elitist notions and urges her to abandon the clique that holds her under its sway. But she knows she can't leave her charmed circle and is relieved when Descas takes her hand as they walk along the Seine and suggests that they can become an item if she still wants him when he returns from taking his children on vacation. 

Nearby, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi tearfully parts company with Gérard Depardieu in a car parked in a suburban street. He is a fortune teller and Binoche consults him about her romance with Descas, who works in a museum. She also shows him some photos of Duvauchelle and Depardieu suggests that she is more likely to patch things up with her actor than she is to settle down with Descas. However, he also recommends that she keeps herself open to new possibilities, as she might soon be enthralled by a man with unusual gifts who may turn out to be her soulmate.

This closing encounter is made all the more amusing by the fact that Depardieu and Binoche fell out very publicly in September 2010 when he claimed she was `an absolute nothing'. Interesting, editor Guy Lecorne ensures that they don't share the same frame (as was the case with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in Michael Mann's Heat, 1995). But the slyly seductive manner in which Depardieu plays on Binoche's insecurities and susceptibilities will leave many puzzled by what Denis and Angot want this droll, but desultory anti-romcom to say about women of a certain age and how they seem to need male approval in order to feel complete. 

For a successful artist, Binoche barely seems to have time to pick up a brush as she pinballs between the undeserving men sapping her creative energy. She also appears to be an even more part-time mother, while she falls way short of being a Bechdel poster girl by confining her conversation with her female friends to her male entourage. Yet, such is Binoche's screen presence and her effortless ability to inhabit her characters, that she makes this resistible romantic dilettante seem utterly fascinating. 

She's ably supported by the loathsome Beauvois, the self-obsessed Duvauchelle, the whining Podalydès and the accommodating Grévill, who remains something of an enigma as the doting father whose failings as a spouse are left tantalisingly tacit. Agnès Godard's camera also rallies to Binoche's cause, as it focuses with discreet intimacy on her shifting expressions during exchanges that often force her to run the gamut of emotions in a single close-up. But, while she muses on identity and desire, Denis opts against delving too deeply into Binoche's mindset or milieu and, consequently, while Bright Sunshine In (as it's called in the on-screen subtitle) compels throughout in its depiction of how people behave at various stages of a relationship, it can't be ranked among the remarkable auteur's best works.

No doubt aspiring to emulate Denis, Léonor Serraille won the Caméra d'or for Best First Film with Jeune Femme. Exploring the millennial mindset, this makes for a fascinating contrast with the Fémis graduate's only previous picture, the 42-minute short, Body (2016), which centred on Nathalie Richard's lonely nurse, as she experiences a mid-life crisis after her estranged sister reneges on a promise to spend the day together at a Breton beach. Largely employing close-ups and measured pacing, this mournful study of an unfulfilled life couldn't be more different in stylistic terms from the breakneck account of a thirtysomething free spirit learning some harsh lessons in an unforgiving and largely uncaring Paris. 

Furious at being dumped after 10 years by photographer boyfriend Grégoire Monsaingeon, Laetitia Dosch headbutts his apartment door and finds herself being examined in hospital by doctor Jean-Christophe Folly. However, each routine question sparks a tirade, as Dosch accuses Monsaingeon of ingratitude because she had been the subject of the picture that had made his name. She begrudgingly reveals that she has little contact with her estranged parents, but flies off the handle again when Folly asks if she has ever had any incapacitating illnesses. Losing control, she smashes a wall fixture and is placed in a side room so that Folly can monitor her progress. On waking, however, Dosch pulls the drip out of her arm and steals a red coat draped over the next bed and makes her escape.

Following an intercom argument with Monsaingeon, Dosch takes his fluffy white cat, Muchacha, and wraps her hair around a toilet roll holder to attend a fancy dress party as Amy Winehouse. Drinking heavily, Dosch chats abrasively and evasively with some of the other guests before taking over the dance floor and insulting pregnant hostess Marie Rémond when she complains about her bringing a cat into her apartment. Talking herself out of a bed for the night, Dosch accepts an offer from champagne salesman Jean-René Lemoine to crash on his couch. However, he proves a little frisky and Dosch hits the streets again, with Muchacha in a cardboard box. 

Pushing past the workman repairing Monsaingeon's door, Dosch flips through the pictures on his camera and is unimpressed by the images of new model Bélinda Saligot. Stealing the cat carrier, she checks into a hotel, where she watches Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life (1959), while taking a bath. However, desk clerk Philippe Vincent complains about Muchacha's meowing and, rather than move on, Dosch takes the creature to the nearby cemetery and deposits it in an open crypt. When a storm blows up in the night, however, she feels a pang of remorse and promises vet Agathe Desche that she will pay for the cat's treatment as soon as she can. But she only makes loose change from pawning a few knick-knacks.

Wandering around a mall in Montmartre, Dosch asks knicker bar clerk Lou Valentini if she has any jobs before getting into a heated discussion with security guard Souleymane Seye Ndiaye about Paris being an unfriendly city and all men being alike. Sitting in a square to people watch, Dosch spots mother Nathalie Richard and follows her to a nearby cinema. She is far from pleased to see her troubled daughter, however, and tells her to stay away from her. 

Mooching around the Métro, Dosch sees a poster for Monsaingeon's latest exhibition and tries to keep a lid on her motions. As she travels aimlessly to kill time, she notices Léonie Simaga looking at her from across the carriage and decides not to disabuse her when her heterochromic eyes (one green and one hazel) cause Simaga to mistake Dosch for an old classmate from Venissieux. They go for a drink and Simaga expresses her relief that Dosch has broken up with her unsuitable boyfriend. She's a lesbian and teasingly forgives Dosch for not being that way inclined, although she makes Simaga laugh when she leaves for work by standing in the window and removing her top. 

Simaga promises to help Dosch find a job, but she takes matters into her own hands by replying to dancer Erika Sainte's advertisement for a babysitter and she is delighted that the job comes with an attic room. Fibbing that she is an honest student needing to pay some bills, Dosch exploits Sainte's failure to secure references and moves in with Muchacha. But finds it hard to connect with prissy six year-old Lila-Rose Gilberti, who looks down her nose at her eccentric attempts to make her laugh. 

Despite admitting that she's not very intelligent, Dosch also lands a job in the mall and discovers that workmate Emma Benestan is working part-time to fund her thesis. She bumps into Ndiaye again and Benestan reassures her that he's a nice guy, even though he has compared Dosch to a wild monkey. Feeling more settled, Dosch calls Monsaingeon and he is non-committally friendly in asking for his cat back. However, Sainte is furious when she discovers the cat and feels betrayed when Dosch takes Gilberti to the mall and feeds her candy floss and lets Ndiaye carry her around on his shoulders. The little girl enjoys herself and clings to Dosch when Sainte admonishes her and accuses her of living a fantasy life that could endanger her daughter. 

Shortly after persuading Ndiaye to look after Muchacha, Dosch runs into Rémond and is embarrassed to be seen in her work clothes. She feels faint and learns from doctor Audrey Bonnet that she's pregnant. Concocting a story about missing a pill after returning from a trip to Mexico, Dosch skirts Bonnet's questions about her circumstances in claiming that they could be good friends if they had met in another way. Keeping the news from Monsaingeon, Dosch takes Gilberti swimming and his hurt to discover that Sainte has advertised for her replacement. 

She cuts her forehead again in butting a mirror in a public washroom. But she feels better when she meets up with Simaga in a nightclub and they come back to her room. However, Simaga finds a letter bearing Dosch's real name and accuses her of being a con artist who wheedles money out of people by pretending to be old friends. They slap each other's faces, as Dosch insists that she has only striven to be the person Simaga wanted her to be and they seem to spend the night together. 

After work, Dosch takes the train to the suburbs and uses a key hidden by the door to let herself into the family home. Richard tries to throw her out, but Dosch clings to the bannister and is allowed to stay for supper. She cries at the end of the meal and Richard touches her gently on the shoulder. The following day, Monsaigngeon tracks her down to the mall after a tip-off from Rémond and he demands to know what she has been ignoring his calls. He also asks for his cat back and is blindsided when Dosch reveals she's pregnant. Having ascertained that it's his, he leaves because Ndiaye is staring at them. But they dine together and Monsaigngeon urges Dosch to quit her job and move in with him. 

Despite feeling nostalgic for things she hasn't done yet, she defends her decisions and insists she is happy at the mall. On her way home, she calls on Ndiaye to collect Muchacha and she's amused to see her curled up on the bed with his sleeping daughter. Even though she's just eaten, she accepts his offer of food and she coerces him into drinking wine. They tumble into bed together, but Ndiaye falls asleep as Dosch struggles to remove his trousers. When she wakes next morning, she pulls back the curtains to let the sunlight fall on his skin. 

Sprucing up, Dosch attends a private viewing of Monsaingeon's show. But, having returned Muchacha, she informs him that she is not keeping the baby and has to fight him off when he tries to force himself upon her. She tidies the bed before discharging herself from the clinic and cleans Sainte's attic room before breathing on the window and staring out across the city at the start of her next phase of pinballing uncertainty. 

French cinema is perhaps the best in the world for supporting female film-makers and Léonor Serraille seizes her opportunity to shine with both hands. She owes much to Émilie Noblet's fluid photography, Valérie Valéro's thoughtfully revealing interiors and Clémence Carre's zesty editing, which captures both the spirit of Paris and the furious effervescence of Laetitia Dosch's astonishing performance. Julie Roue's alternately jaunty and poignant score is also notable. But it's the boldness of Serraille's storytelling that's most impressive, as she takes ownership of the more implausible contrivances that keep Dosch spinning like a top between empathetic strangers and emotionally exhausted loved ones. 

Echoes abound of such recent rites of passage as Sean Baker's Starlet and Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha (both 2012), although the presence of the scene-stealing Muchacha also brings to mind Blake Edwards's Breakfast at Tiffany's (1963) and Joel and Ethan Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis (2013). But Dosch's fearless display also recalls the performances of Corinne Marchand and Sandrine Bonnaire in a couple of similarly themed Agnès Varda classics, Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962) and Vagabond (1985). As British audiences were denied the chance to see Dosch in Justine Triet's La Bataille de Solférino (2013), they might remember her from fleeting glimpses in Maïwenn's Moi Roi and Catherine Corsini's Summertime (2015). By making such a brittle and gauchely resistible character so resourceful and affectingly fascinating, however, she has now emerged as the Gallic Greta Gerwig.

Staying in France, a single mother has to come to terms with major changes in her life in I Got Life!, (aka Aurore and Fifty Springtimes), Blandine Lenoir's follow-up to the much-admired Zouzou (2014). Exploring how modern Frenchwomen approach middle age, this would fit neatly into a triple bill with Mia Hansen-Løve's Things to Come and Anne-Gaëlle Daval's De Plus Belle. But, while Lenoir and co-scribe Jean-Luc Gaget offer some thoughtful insights into the ageing process, they over-rely on comic set-pieces that don't always flow organically from the narrative. 

La Rochelle waitress Agnès Jaoui has hit 50 and slammed straight into the menopause. She can just about put up with the hot flushes, but she is shaken by doctor Marc Citti's verdict that women's bodies start going downhill after 30. Husband Philippe Rebbot clearly agrees, as he has left her for another woman, and Jaoui is dreading the prospect of younger daughter Lou Roy-Lecollinet going to university. However, when Sarah Suco announces she is pregnant, Jaoui is even less enamoured of the prospect of becoming a grandmother and clings to best friend Pascale Arbillot for morale support when she loses her job because new café owner Nicolas Chupin considers her too old-fashioned for his modernisation plans and, as a parting shot, she accuses him of molesting her when his girlfriend calls in. 

Hope comes in the form of Thibault de Montalembert, who bumps into Jaoui when Arbillot is showing his niece around a flat. They were teenage sweethearts and she arranges for Suco to have her sonogram in his hospital, as part of her competition with rival grandma, Nanou Garcia. However, when they go to dinner at a Bel Canto restaurant with opera-singing waiters, they have to keep on breaking off their nostalgic reminiscences and resort to either sign language or deep, meaningful eye contact. But, even though she has another hot flush at the table, Jaoui recognises that De Monalembert still fancies her and she buys a Walkman to listen to the cassettes that he had recorded for her when he was doing his national service. 

She had broken up with him while he was away and started dating his best pal, Rebbot. He has no hard feelings about Jaoui hooking up with her old flame, as the mother of his two young daughters is keen for them to get married and he asks Jaoui about a divorce. However, she is frustrated because he kept no paperwork relating to her working as his secretary-cum-bookkeeper and, thus, she is finding it difficult to compile a CV that will get her noticed. When she attends an interview seminar, she is appalled to find it is being run by Samir Guesmi, who had so annoyed Arbillot by dating a woman half his age that she had posed as his spurned spouse at a café in order to humiliate him. He exacts his revenge on Jaoui during a mock interview, although he is impressed by her ability to gauge the number of letters in any word and asks for Arbillot's phone number so he can return the wedding ring she had thrown at him. 

Meanwhile, Jaoui becomes concerned that Roy-Lecollinet is going to throw away her education by going to Barcelona with her musician boyfriend, Théo Cholbi. She is also becoming increasingly perplexed by the staff at the Pôle Emploi offices, as Laura Calamy goes into a fuming rage when Jaoui tells her that Rebbot didn't issue her with payslips and Florence Muller has an even more severe hot flush than Jaoui and sends papers fluttering when she turns on a powerful desk fan. So, when De Montalembert informs her shortly after Roy-Lecollinet leaves home that he can't keep seeing her because it's bringing back too many painful memories, Jaoui sinks on to her bed and sobs.

She gets a job as a cleaner and workmate Houda Mahroug reveals that she had a high-powered job in her home country and jokingly reminds Jaoui that white, middle-aged, heterosexual women have much nicer problems than women of colour, those with disabilities and lesbians. Taking this to heart, having dozed off on the bus imagining herself singing `Habanera' from Carmen, Jaoui rouses herself with a blast of Nina Simone's `Ain't Got No, I Got Life', and imagines herself dancing with her daughters when they were little (Billie Droz and Elisa Lifshitz). She also has an unexpected sexual encounter when she joins Arbillot for dinner with friends Sébastien Lalanne, Éric Verdin, Fanny Glissant and Éric Viellard and the latter takes her back to his flat for some drunken fun. 

Jaoui quickly realises that a long-term relationship would be a mistake. But, as Viellard's father is in hospital, she sticks it out and tries to distract herself with a new job cleaning for seventysomething Iro Bardis, who has opened her house to four other ladies of advancing age and slender means. She also takes a chance and attends the school reunion, where she has an awkward chat with De Montalembert and agrees with Rebbot that their old classmates have become old and dull. She returns home to find Suco in the bath, having made up after a tiff with boyfriend Pierre Giafferi. However, she finds it weird talking to her mother about sex, just as Jaoui feels odd chatting to Arbillot about her botox treatment and the fact she has started dating Guesmi.

While cleaning at the communal house, Jaoui sees militant feminist Françoise Héritier describe how men and women approach life after 50 in very different ways and the notion that she will drift towards death without courage causes her to break down and sob while scrubbing the floor. Bardis tries to console her with details of a passionate affair with a man that ended with his death three years earlier and Jaoui rises an eyebrow in impressed surprise. She is also pleased when Roy-Lecollinet comes home after being treated as a trophy by her boyfriend. But she still has the problem of Viellard (who has invited her to Venice) and De Montalembert, who has continued to blow hot and cold. So, chance intervenes on her behalf, as the latter's house burns down on the day she is about to leave for Italy and she is just about to sleep with De Montalembert when Suco goes into labour and the film ends with a close-up of Roy-Lecollinet smiling at the way everything has worked out for the best. 

Full of running gags about lecherous males and faulty automatic doors, this is a breezy slice of arthouse lite. As always, Agnès Jaoui is splendid, as she tries to put her best foot forward even though she has no idea where she is heading. But the suggestion that feeling desired again is the solution to her problems seems a trivial contrivance and one that flies in the face of the recurring references to the theories of Françoise Héritier. 

The asides on the shortcomings of the Pôle Emploi agency dedicated to helping the unemployed find job satisfaction are somewhat sharper, but Lenoir always seems more intent on making the audience smile than in making grand existential statements or in putting the world to rights. Thus, even though many of the secondary characters are sketchily drawn and the resolution feels cornily trite, this is never anything less than engaging, sincere and optimistic.

Despite the title, there's more than a hint of Scandinavian noir about Tarik Saleh's The Nile Hilton Incident. Purportedly inspired by the 2009 Dubai murder of Lebanese pop star Suzanne Tamim by a hitman who had been hired by a leading Egyptian Shura Council member, the action retains the brooding sense of menace that made Tommy (2010) so effective. But the Stockholm-born Saleh is far from the average film-maker, as he was primarily known as a graffiti artist before he teamed with Eric Gandini on the hard-hitting documentary, Gitmo: The New Rules of War (2005), and made a striking fictional bow with the dystopian animation Metropia (2009). Now, he has added some bleak humour and a sharp edge of political critique to his armoury. 

On 15 January 2011, Cairo cop Fares Fares curses the awful reception on his television set before heading off to an Internet café, where rookie partner Mohamed Yousry shows him how to use social media. Cruising round the city centre, Fares collects protection money from a variety of shop and stall holders, who are all complaining that his uncle, Yasser Ali Maher (who just happens to be the chief of police) has stitched them up with a new deal with the Chinese. As Fares returns home to smoke a joint while watching President Hosni Mubarak celebrating National Police Day, Sudanese cleaner Mari Malek reports for duty at the Nile Hilton in Tahrir Square. While on her rounds, she sees MP and prominent property developer Ahmed Seleem leave a room after a blazing row with an unseen woman. On returning to her trolley after a cigarette break, however, Malek sees the sinister Slimane Dazi slip out of the same room and has to hide in a cupboard to prevent him from seeing her. 

When Fares is called to the hotel the next day, he finds a couple of cops ordering coffee and mango on room service and doing little to examine the corpse. Yousry recognises her as singer Rebecca Simonsson, but Fares has never heard of her. When Maher calls in, he warns his nephew that this is a sensitive case and the hotel desk clerk offers him a bribe from the owner (who just happens to be Selim) to stop him from prying too deeply. However, while he might have stolen some money from the victim's purse (as well a stub from a photography shop), Fares is professional enough to drive into the poor quarter where Malek lives and order district mayor Ger Duany to make her report to the station.

He is called away to tend to his ailing father, Mohamed Sanaaeldin Shafie, who despises Maher and refuses to take money from Fares because he suspects it's tainted. Shrugging in pained frustration, Fares buys a CD to listen to Simonsson's music and collects the photographs, which reveal that she has been sleeping with Selim. Yet before he can show the pictures to anyone, Maher informs him that the case has been closed and that the coroner has decided that Simonsson slit her own throat. 

Unhappy with Selim using his friendship with Mubarak to protect himself, Fares drives out to a luxury housing project on the edge of the city and shows Selim a picture of his erstwhile mistress, only for the bigwig to report him to Maher for harassment. He already has enough on his plate, as students are beginning to hand out protest leaflets in the aftermath of the uprising in Tunisia and he reminds Fares that his job depends upon him doing as he's told. Back home, Fares fires up another joint and gets drunk while gazing at a photograph of his late wife. 

Meanwhile, Malek leaves her job after being accused of stealing from the rooms. She buys a newspaper after recognising a picture of Selim and gets one of the boys who understands Arabic to read her the article. However, before she can act of her own accord, Duany demands a piece of the action and she has no option but to agree. He demands hush money from Selim, who has also been sent a copy of the photos that Fares picked up at Tareq Abdaila's shop. Selim admits to being in love with Simonsson and claims that he is now being blackmailed by Tunisian club owner, Hichem Yacoubi, who has the negative. Selim wants Fares to lean on Yacoubi to retrieve the evidence, but his loyalty is already divided because Simonsson's best friend, Tunisian singer Hania Amar, has been to the precinct to ask him to help him find her. 

Having been promoted to colonel because Maher is pleased with him for getting in with someone as influential as Selim, Fares goes to Club Solitaire to hear Amar sing. She tells some admiring customers that Fares is a toilet manufacturer and gets him drunk before taking him back to her apartment. They make passionate love, but Amar proves evasive the next morning when Fares asks if she knows Yacoubi, who is now the prime suspect for Simonsson's murder (even though Fares knows this is nonsense). She refuses to get involved because she doesn't want to have her wings clipped and she laughs when he asks if he can see her again. 

When news comes that Duany and Malek have been murdered, Fares goes after Yacoubi and finds him at Amar's apartment, where he has been taking compromising photographs of her with an older man. He escapes down some back stairs, but Fares follows him to an opium den and has to bribe a fellow cop in order to make an arrest on his patch. Even though he knows that Yacoubi is not the killer, Fares has him banged in the cells for 15 days and he urges Yousry to make sure that colleague Nael Ali doesn't try to harm him on Maher's orders. 

In fact, Malek has survived (as her friend was mistakenly killed by Dazi) and she is laying low in a hostel for refugees. But, while she survives, Yacoubi is murdered in his cell and Fares is furious with Yousry for allowing himself to be blindsided. Maher is unconcerned by this turn of events, as he has learned that he is being investigated by security chief Taher Badr and he advises Fares to wear his uniform when he is interrogated. Badr shows Fares photographs of him in bed with Amar, whose body has been found with a cut throat. Fares is saddened to hear of her death, but dismayed to have been duped by her and he assures Badr that he knows nothing disparaging about either Maher or Selim. 

An attempt is made on Fares's life by a shooter on the back of a motorbike, but he succeeds only in killing Ahmed Abdelhamid Hefny, the hustler who's been trying to get Fares satellite television on the cheap. Meanwhile, as unrest on the streets begins to intensify, Malek is arrested as part of a police sweep. In an effort to avoid being deported, she tells Ali that she is the Hilton witness. But, when Ali goes to report his discovery to an unseen superior, Yousry spirits her out of the cells and calls Fares from his car to meet with them. 

While Malek tells Fares what she saw in the hotel corridor, Ali tortures Yousry. But the tide is beginning to turn in Fares's favour, as, when he confronts Selim on a golf course with the news that he not only has Amar, but also the incriminating negatives and brings him to the station, a single telephone call to Selim's lawyer let him know that Mubarak has cut him adrift to face the consequences of his actions. Rather than gloat, however, the exhausted Fares takes Malek back to his flat for safekeeping and gulps down a mouthful of pills and falls asleep watching cartoons on the television. 

It's now 25 January and Fares wakes to rioting on the streets. Ali is ordered to fire on the crowds from the precinct roof and Fares decides to get Malek out of the city for her own safety. When he stops at a petrol station for cigarettes, however, Dazi attempts to kill her and she shoots him with the gun Fares had given her for protection. He finds Dazi's state security ID card and realises that this situation is more complicated than he had imagined. 

On returning to Cairo, he finds Maher handing Selim over to his lawyers in return for a case full of cash. As they drive, Maher explains that he took a cut of the blackmail money paid to Yacoubi. But, when state security heard that Selim was involved with Simonsson, they demanded a share of the shakedown and decided to bump off the singer before she became a problem. Thus, Selim had genuinely loved her and had been as shocked as anyone by her death. Fares is appalled that his uncle is so ruthless that he ordered Amar's execution. Crowds of demonstrators make it impossible to continue by car and Maher gets out with the bag. Fares pulls his gun to arrest him. But Maher shouts out that he is being persecuted by a cop and disappears into the throng, as Fares gets a severe kicking from the mob. He is only spared by one protester insisting that the rebels are not like their oppressors.

Cleverly exploiting the historical setting to tilt the balance of the police procedural, this is genre film-making at its most adept. Saleh lets the audience draw its own conclusions and then keeps forcing them to rethink the situation in the light of fresh events and shifting circumstances. At the centre of the maelstrom, Fares Fares (who is no stranger to Scandi Crime after his stint in the Danish Department Q series) poignantly blends venality and vulnerability, as he slums it in a crummy flat, schleps around in a battered car and keeps blundering into avenues of inquiry he doesn't really understand. But no one is blameless in this grasping milieu, where even Malek's scared witness cannot resist the temptation to make a few bucks by blackmailing the killer. 

Ironically, Saleh was forced to relocate to Casablanca after the Egyptian authorities withdrew permission to film in Cairo. But he still presents the capital as a Lynchian dystopia, where the murky smog has cast a pall over conventional morality, Saleh implies that the Arab Spring will do little to clean things up. Hence the harsh shiver of Krister Linder's electronic score, which feels as downbeat as Roger Rosenberg's drastically contrasting interiors and Pierre Aim's prowling views of the seething city. The support playing reinforces the aura of complacent corruption, resigned cynicism and stirring anger and one is left wondering why so few thrillers have similarly woven their plots around seismic events.

Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda has built his reputation on intimate studies of family life. But, while he is best known in this country for such Ozu-esque shomin-geki as Nobody Knows (2004), I Wish (2011) and Like Father, Like Son (2013), he has departed from the theme with the likes of the samurai saga, Hana (2006), and the romantic fantasy, Air Doll (2009). Indeed, even before he embarked upon the courtroom thriller, The Third Murder, he had experimented with the detective genre in After the Storm (2016). Yet, while this treatise on the quirky nature of Japanese legal procedures contains echoes of the John Grisham canon, Kore-eda still manages to address his trademark concern with domestic affairs and the often fractious relationships between parents and their children. 

Having bludgeoned his boss to death with a wrench and torched his body on some rough ground on the outskirts of Tokyo, Koji Yakusho puzzles attorney Kotaro Yoshida by repeatedly changing his story. Baffled, Yoshida asks junior partner Masaharu Fukuyama to take over the case and they visit Yakusho in prison with their junior associate, Shinnosuke Mitsushima. Yakusho is pleased to see Fukuyama, as his judge father (Isao Hashizume) had spared him the death penalty when he had been convicted 30 years earlier of killing a couple of loan sharks. He tells the lawyers that he had killed his former employer after being sacked for stealing from the safe to pay his gambling debts. But Yoshida points out a fresh contradiction in his testimony, as Yakusho hands over a letter of remorse he has written to his victim's widow. Yuki Saito, and her 14 year-old daughter, Suzu Hirose.

Fukuyama and Mitsushima spot the limping Hirose at the crime scene and are taken aback when her mother rejects Yakusho's apology and their traditional gift as his legal representatives. But Fukuyama has his own daughter difficulties, as he is awoken in the middle of the night because Aju Makita has landed herself in trouble. She thanks him for fibbing on her behalf that he has been too bound up in work to be a good parent and shows him how she has taught herself to cry on cue to get out of sticky situations. 

During their next visit to Yakusho, Yoshida shows him a magazine interview in which he claims to have killed Saito's husband in order to help her claim the insurance money. When asked whether he had been having an affair with Saito, Yakusho declines to give a straight answer. But he informs the lawyers that he has an e-mail message on his phone asking him to commit the crime and Fukuyama is convinced that they can bargain with the prosecution to have the charge reduced to conspiracy to murder and shift some of the blame on to Saito. But Mikako Ichikawa drives a hard bargain and accuses Fukuyama of manipulating the law to benefit his client, even though he has no real empathy with him. 

This prompts Fukuyama to visit Yakusho's lodgings and he learns from his landlady that he buried his pet bird in the garden. When asked about the size of the cage, Yakusho admits that he had five birds and that one had flown away when he tried to kill them. He also reveals that he took pleasure in paying rent because he had lived at the state's expense during his time behind bars. Moreover, he surprises Fukuyama by asking about his daughter and he is more intrigued when Yoshida insists that he said nothing about Makita to the prisoner. This sets him wondering about Yakusho's relationship with Hirose and Fukuyama follows her after school to see where she goes. When she goes to the library, he notices a prospectus for the Hokkaido School of Veterinary Science on her desk.

Back at the office, Fukuyama is pleased to see Hashizume, who has brought his records from the case against Yakusho three decades earlier. He flirts with legal secretary Izumi Matsuoka and urges Mitsushima to make the most of working on such a tricky case. While preparing supper at Fukuyama's flat, Hashizume expresses his regret at not sentencing Yakusho to death, as another person has lost his life because of his decision. But Fukuyama knows his father is against capital punishment and wonders whether he is playing devil's advocate. 

Keen to find out more about Yakusho from his 36 year-old daughter, Fukuyama travels to snow-covered Rumoi in Hokkaido and dreams on the train of having a snowball fight with Yakusho and his young child. However, they fail to find her and one of her friends blames the Tokyo cops for driving her away and demands to know how long children can be expected to pay for the crimes of their parents. However, Fukuyama and Mitsushima do get to meet with the cop who had arrested Yakusho in 1986 and he recalls him changing his testimony all the time before settling on a grudge defence because the loan sharks had bullied him after he had lost his job in the nearby mine and been forced to survive as best he could. 

When Fukuyama and Mitsushima tell Yakusho that they failed to track down his daughter, he gets angry and declares that he has no remorse about killing Hirose's father because some people should never have been born. The religious Mitsushima challenges his assertion, while Fukuyama takes exception to Yakusho's contention that the law has equal disregard for human life in the way it dishes out death sentences. Over supper at the office, Fukuyama and Mitsushima discuss the change in Yakusho's personality during the interview and wonder how reliable he will be in front of a jury. 

Curious to know more about Yakusho's relationship with Hirose, Fukuyama follows her after school and breaks the news that Yakusho's own daughter suffered from a problem with her leg. Hirose had been born with hers, but tells people that she damaged the limb in a fall from the factory roof. Meanwhile, Saito is disturbed by the rumours circulating that she had been Yakusho's lover and she reminds Hirose that she had put money into his bank account because he was helping with a cover up at the food factory and not because they were involved or because she was paying him to murder her husband. As Hirose cooks supper, Saito reminds her to say nothing at the trial about either the way the factory operates or the way her father had treated her. 

That night, Fukuyama chats with Makita on the phone and she asks if he will come to her aid if she gets into trouble in the future. In his cell, Yakusho feasts on the peanut butter that Hirose has sent him. When they meet next day, he is in combative mood and asks Fukuyama whether he believes in the defence strategy they have concocted for him and inquires whether he wants to know the truth. Yet, when Fukuyama prompts him to reveal the real motive for the crime, Yakusho launches into a diatribe about the unfairness of life that leaves him facing a murder rap when his blameless parents and wife died before their time. Once again, Fukuyama is confused by his client and can't decide whether he is taking the blame to protect his victim's family or whether he is trying to avenge fate. 

On the first day of the trial, Yakusho is led into court in cuffs and chains. He is accused of murder, burglary and mutilation and Hirose looks on in some dismay as her mother insists that she had not coerced him into killing her husband in return for a percentage of the insurance money. She also looks uneasy when Saito claims that the message to Yakusho on her phone had been sent by her husband and probably related to a work order rather than a grand conspiracy. Following the recess, Hirose asks to see Fukuyama and Yoshida and she intimates that her father had been sexually abusing her and that Yakusho had come to her defence after her mother had chosen to turn a blind eye. That night, Fukuyama envisages a scene in which Hirose had led her father to the banks of the Tama River so that Yakusho could attack him and he imagines the pair of them watching the body burn after they had taken it in turns to strike him with the wrench. 

Uneasy in his mind, Fukuyama goes to visit Yakusho in the middle of the night. He asks if he murdered Hirose's father because he had been raping her. But he denies killing him at all and claims never to have been to the riverbank in his life. When Fukuyama presses him about the stolen wallet and the 500,000 yen in his account, he claims to have been threatening to expose the fact that the factory was selling cheap flour as a luxury item. He also avers that he burnt his hand lighting a bonfire the day before the crime and that he had sent the money to his daughter to atone for being such a poor father. Fukuyama asks whether Yakusho had viewed Hirose as a surrogate child, but he states that she is something of a fantasist and that she is forever making up stories. 

Yakusho decides to take his chance with the jury because he would rather stay in jail and not have to worry about the petty details of everyday existence. Accepting his choice, Fukuyama confers with Yoshida and Mitsushima about their tactics. As there were no witnesses to the crime, the prosecution only had Yakusho's confession as evidence and he insists he was persuaded to plead guilty in order to avoid the death penalty. Yoshida fears he will change his story again and make them look foolish, while Mitsushima can't understand why they aren't willing to make more of Hirose's allegations against her father. However, he is shocked when Fukuyama declares that some people deserve to die and Yoshida concludes that the judge will find against them because they have failed to make Yakusho face up to the enormity of his offence. But Fukuyama feels he has a duty to his client to take him at his word and use that version of the truth in his defence. 

The next morning, Fukuyama convinces Hirose not to testify that Yakusho was trying to protect her. Although disappointed at not being able to help him, she agrees. But the court is thrown into disarray when Yakusho admits only to stealing the wallet and the legal teams are sent out to discuss the turn of events. The judge is reluctant to call a mistrial and begin again and the prosecution team realise this change of heart makes it easier for them to establish that Yakusho has shown no remorse for his crime. Thus, much to Mitsushima's bemusement, they agree to continue with the current trial and, when he questions Fukuyama and Yoshida for not making a stance, they explain that the judge gave clear signals that he had reached his verdict already and would not be changing it under any circumstances.

Despite being sentenced to death, Yakusho thanks Fukuyama for his efforts and avoids making eye contact with Hirose as he leaves the court. She asks Fukuyama who gives someone the right to judge and sentence another and his shoulders droop when he realises he doesn't have an adequate response when she asserts that everyone involved with the case has told lie after lie. He hopes Yakusho will be more forthcoming when he visits him in prison. At peace because a bird has been perching on the branch outside his window, Yakusho is unwilling to allay any suspicions. Instead, he declares that he wishes he had never been born. Yet, if he had killed Hirose's father to spare her further misery, he would have done something useful for someone he cares about. But, as his face is superimposed on Fukuyama's on the glass panel separating them, he refuses to confirm or deny his motives or his actions. 

This sense of ambiguity will delight as many as it frustrates, as Kore-eda examines the nature of truth and its place in the Japanese legal system. Having become intrigued by the workings of the courts, he spent many months collaborating with lawyers and workshopping scenarios before writing his script that has an insider feel. But, while this bears a passing similarity to Chaitanya Tamhane's Court (2016), it is also rooted firmly in Kore-eda's own canon, as he explores four different sets of father-child relationships, as well as one key mother-daughter connection. In each case, the parent fails to protect their offspring, with Yakusho and Fukuyama feeling guilty for neglecting their troubled teenage daughters and Saito and her dead husband betraying their duty of trust to Hirose. The dynamic between Hashizume and Fukuyama is trickier to fathom, as the son has clearly followed the father's profession. But there's an uneasiness to their scenes together, as though Fukuyama resents Hashizume for the high expectations that the latter evidently feels have not been met. 

Throughout this meticulously made drama, Kore-eda poses provocative questions about the rituals and strategies dictating the dispensing of justice in Japan. But he also teases out a whodunit strand, which is ably played by the admirable cast. As always, Kore-eda adopts a humanist stance in delineating his characters, with the result that the action is largely driven by the Renoirian maxim about everyone having their reasons. Yet there is nothing platitudinous about the proceedings, which play out at a leisurely pace that is reinforced by Kore-eda's use of Takimoto Mikiya's widescreen frame and Ludovico Einaudi's insinuating score. But the Bergmanesque merging of Fukuyama and Yakusho's faces on the partition glass strains to convey the extent to which the two men overlap.