Surprisingly few films have been made about the Great War over the last four years. Since Ermanno Olmi produced Greenery Will Bloom Again about the Asiago plateau campaign, Austrian Ernst Gossner has visited the Alpine theatre in The Silent Mountain (both 2014), Dmitri Meskhiev has commemorated the 1st Russian Women's Battalion of Death in Battalion, Paolo Cevoli has recreated the Battle of Caporetto in Private (both 2015) and the César-winning Albert Dupontel has explored the last days before the Armistice in See You Up There (2017). In Britain, James Kent has adapted Vera Brittain's memoir in Testament of Youth (2014) and Saul Dibb has remade RC Sheriff's classic stage study of trench life, Journey's End (2017). New Zealander Peter Jackson has also raided the Imperial War Museum archives for a hand-colourised 3-D documentary that will premiere at the London Film Festival, but Hollywood has yet to contribute anything to the centenary remembrance.

While the majority of features about the 1914-18 conflict have focused on the Western Front, a handful have examined the impact of the `War to End All Wars' on women. Now, Bertrand Tavernier's Life and Nothing But (1989), Jean-Pierre Jeunet's A Very Long Engagement (2004) and François Ozon's Frantz (2016) are joined by Xavier Beauvois's The Guardians, a grindingly authentic adaptation of a 1924 Ernest Pérochon novel that centres on the female members of a Limousin family striving to maintain their farm while the menfolk are in uniform. 

As gas hangs on the air over corpses lying in the 1915 mud, formidable matriarch Hortense Sandrail (Nathalie Baye) and her daughter, Solange (Laura Smet), are ploughing a field at Paridier Farm under the watchful eye of the grey-bearded Henri (Gilbert Bonneau). The following year, Hortense's son, Constant (Nicolas Giraud), comes home on leave and shows his medal at the kitchen table. He calmly reveals that the victory was a backs to the wall affair and the country might have been doomed if they had failed. But he is greeted as a conquering hero at the school where he used to teach, as his replacement (Anne-Cécile Le Quere) has taught the children to recite a poem about the atrocities committed by the Boche. 

Constant urges his mother to modernise while Solange's husband, Clovis (Olivier Rabourdin), is away and he approves her plan to buy a combine harvester and share it with some of her neighbours to secure a government grant. He mentions that warfare is also becoming more mechanised, but says little about his experiences. Indeed, he finds himself consoling Solange when she reveals that she can't have children. But his visit is soon over and he wanders into the morning mist along the road abutting the farm, prompting Hortense to write to her other son, Georges (Cyril Descours), so he knows she is thinking about him. 

Needing help with the harvest, Hortense applies to Edgar (Xavier Maly) and he arranges for 20 year-old orphan Francine Riant (Iris Bry) to move to the farm. She puts a crucifix on the wall over her bed and helps with the chores, while also learning from Henri how to make miget out of stale bread and wine. He takes a shine to her, but Solange and Marguerite (Mathilde Viseux) - who is Clovis's daughter from his first marriage - barely say a word to her, even though she works hard cutting corn for the other workers to bundle up and stack in the field. A slow tracking shot captures the back-breaking nature of the toil before everyone tucks into a simple, but well-appreciated lunch. 

Clovis returns and confides that the war is a monumental folly because they fight over the same patch of ground for days on end. Moreover, the Germans are not monsters, but ordinary blokes like themselves. Hortense worries when she sees him drinking so much, but Henri assures her that this is normal for the front, as the officers make the men booze to give them courage. Keen to do his bit in the fields, Clovis joins the harvesters and tentatively renews his intimacy with Solange. But he soon returns to his regiment, as the locals listen to the roll call of the dead in the parish church. 

Shortly after Solange informs Francine that she wishes to retain her for another year, Georges comes home on leave. He is amused that Clovis keeps sending instructions back from the trenches, as he knows his mother is quite capable of running the farm on her own. Hearing Francine sing, Georges takes her into the forest to chop firewood and promises to show her where he keeps his hidden treasure. He asks her to write to him and she is pleased that someone is thinking about her. Having developed a crush on Georges, she is relieved when Hortense promises to keep her on after the war ends and, as the snow settles, she starts to feel part of the family after being shown how to use the patterned wooden butter moulds. 

As 1917 dawns, Solange receives news that Clovis has been captured and sent to a POW camp at Mannheim. Hortense takes down the atlas to show her whereabouts in Germany her husband is being held and reassures her that he is now safe. However, Constant is still in the firing line and Hortense collapses when Henri tells her that he has been killed. She remains stoic beneath a black veil during the memorial service, but it pains her that she is unable to bury her son because his body cannot be found. Francine does her best to console Hortense, Solange and Marguerite and she smiles coyly when Edgar suggests that she will make someone a good wife, when she is presented with her diploma and the bursary that the state awards her on her 21st birthday. 

In a bid to cheer up Marguerite, Francine buys her a butterfly broach. But Marguerite (who had hoped to marry Georges on his return) has found their letters and realised that he has fallen for Francine and she orders her out of the room. Hortense knows nothing of this tension, however, as she watches Francine operate the new harvester and hopes that they have turned the corner and won't have to sell any more livestock to make ends meet. They also attract new customers when the United States joins the war and Doughboys come from the nearby camp to buy vegetables. Solange is happy to chat with them. But the returning Georges is furious that they are having a glorified camping holiday while Constant is rotting in the mud and he is enduring nightmares in which he single-handedly fights off a German unit, only for the last man he kills to have his face when his gas mask falls off. 

Francine reminds Georges that the Americans are young boys far from home and he calms down. He invites her to see his treasure in the woods and they ride in his horse buggy to the lichen-covered dolmen that he finds so enchanting. The camera follows their hands, as they brush against the soft surface and Francine allows George to seduce her. She smiles at the thought of their intimacy when she returns to her room. But Marguerite calls Georges a hypocrite when he collects her from the railway station, as she had always thought that they would be sweethearts. 

Henri sells the Doughboys some of his hooch and they come to help with the threshing. Hortense is concerned that Solange is far too interested in the handsome John (Yann Bean) and spots her getting dressed after a tryst by the wood pile. Suzanne (Laurence Havard) warns Hortense that the neighbours are getting jealous of the business she does with the camp and hints that they believe the Americans patronise them because Solange is so free with her favours. 

Hortense also notices the looks exchanged by Georges and Francine, as they work in the courtyard, and feel sorry for Marguerite. On the night before he leaves, Georges makes love with Francine in her bed, but omits to mention of her by name when he makes his farewells after supper. Thus, when he sees Francine resisting John's unwelcome advances as his mother is driving him to the station, Georges asks her to fire Francine and she tuts that she has the loose morals of her late mother. 

Yet she finds it hard to sack Francine, as she is well aware that she has worked hard and done nothing to have her integrity questioned. She is wounded when Francine calls her heartless and feels a pang of remorse when Solange reprimands her for sacrificing Francine and for believing that she had slept with John, when she had merely fooled around before remembering her duty to Clovis. 

Refusing her severance pay, Francine goes to work for La Monette (Marie-Julie Maille), a charbonnier who needs help with a new batch of charcoal and with caring for her young daughter, Jeanne (Madeleine Beauvois). She quickly realises that Francine is pregnant, but is happy for her to stay, as Jeanne enjoys being read bedtime stories. As winter sets in, Georges writes to Hortense to describe the conditions in the trenches and admit that he is resigned to dying before peace can be declared. 

Unable to understand why Georges returns her letters unopened, Francine accepts La Monette's reassurance that fatherhood will soften his heart. But, when La Monette is widowed at the start of 1918, Francine becomes concerned that Georges will never know that he has a child. Edgar suggests that she writes to Hortense in the hope that she will pass the news to Georges. However, she throws the missive on the fire and suppresses a bitter sob at the way things have turned out. 

Shortly after Solange takes receipt of a new tractor, Georges returns and Hortense takes Marguerite with her to meet him at the station. He has been wounded in the leg, but he has survived and Hortense hopes that he can settle down with his new bride. However, when she sees Francine leaving the church after her baby has been baptised, Hortense feels faint at the realisation that she might never get to know her grandchild. 

Clovis returns some time in 1919 and hugs Solange when she shows him the tractor and the combine harvester. However, a dispute arises with Georges over who is to farm Constant's land and Marguerite sides with her father. Solange storms out in frustration because they are bickering when Constant's body remains undiscovered in some distant field. But Hortense is just glad to have them home and would rather they were at each other's throats than in mortal danger. As the film ends in 1920, Francine is singing with a small band at a dance in the village. The lyrics speak of the folly of love and commitment and she smiles as the couple waltz around the floor. But has she noticed Georges gazing up at her with a look of longing?

In 2010, Beauvois explored the impact of warfare on an enclosed community in Of Gods and Men, which focused on a monastic order under threat during the 1996 Algerian Civil War. The farm at Le Paridier may be less hermitic, but the lifestyle is equally austere and its continued existence is similarly jeopardised by the vicissitudes of war. Indeed, Beauvois and co-writers Frédérique Moreau and Marie-Julie Maille (who also edited the picture) pay as much attention to the seasonal cycle as they do the fears and feelings of their characters or the story's social, feminist and provincialist subtexts. Consequently, more time is devoted to Hortense toiling than emoting and, even then, she is frequently shown in long shot, as a diminutive figure on a flat expanse. 

Clearly, Beauvois and cinematographer Caroline Champetier studied the paintings of Jean-François Millet and the rustic realist Barbizon School, as well as such films as Georges Rouquier's Farrebique (1946), René Allio's I, Pierre Rivière (1976) and Ermanno Olmi's The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978). But production designer Yann Megard also deserves credit for finding such a wonderfully evocative farm setting, while Anaïs Romand's costumes are as faultless as Michel Legrand's sparingly used flute score, which reinforces the narrative's measured pacing. 

The performances are also impeccable. Reuniting with Beauvois after Le Petit Lieutenant (2004), Nathalie Baye reminds us why she is considered one of French cinema's finest actresses and there is added poignancy to her scenes with Laura Smet, as this is the first time she has appeared with her daughter by rock legend Johnny Hallyday. However, the debuting Iris Bry also makes a deep impression as Francine, with her freckled poise, steady gaze and auburn hair often giving her the look of a young Isabelle Huppert. she also sings beautifully and can count herself highly unlucky to have lost the César for Most Promising Actress to Camélia Jordana in Yvan Attal's Le Brio. 

There is one misstep, however, as the depiction of Georges's nightmare is too slight and stylised to do justice to the horrors of trench warfare with which most viewers will be well acquainted. Besides, Beauvois has already made his point about the senseless brutality of the conflict with the opening shot of the bodies bestrewing the battlefield. But the rest of the action is staged with an integrity and discretion that gives small moments like Francine taking Jeanne for a walk so La Monette can grieve alone the simple ring of truth that echoes throughout this quietly devastating drama.

As the National Film Theatre embarks upon a season devoted to Joan Crawford, two of her golden age features have been dusted down for nationwide reissue. Adapted from a play by Clare Boothe Luce, George Cukor's The Women (1939) sees Crawford form part of a 130-strong all-female ensemble, while Michael Curtiz's Mildred Pierce (1945) earned Crawford her long-overdue Oscar for her career-defining performance in a noirish woman's picture based on a hard-boiled James M. Cain novel. 

Scripted by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin, The Women is a satire on the status of women within the American class system and MGM had to tread carefully in ensuring that the ribald and often coded remarks about the significance of sex in snaring and keeping a man didn't breach the Production Code. Such is the subtlety of the characterisation and the brilliance of the ensemble playing, however, that nobody left the cinema in any doubt about what they had been viewing and this absence of this wit and sophistication led to Diane English's 2008 remake being such a colossal disappointment. 

Manhattan resident Mary Haines (Norma Shearer) seemingly has the perfect life, as husband Stephen provides all that she and daughter Little Mary (Virginia Weidler) could want. However, while cousin Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell) is having Jungle Red polish applied to her nails, she learns from Olga the manicurist (Dennie Moore) that Stephen is having an affair with perfume counter clerk, Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford). Sylvia shares the news with Edith (Phyllis Povah) and Nancy (Florence Nash) and the gossip soon spreads. Mary's mother, Mrs Moorehead (Lucile Watson), tells her to ignore the tittle-tattle and say nothing to Stephen. 

Unsettled by Stephen's late nights at the office, Mary goes to Bermuda. But she soon returns to New York to confront Crystal during a fashion show. On discovering her rival is in the changing rooms, Mary orders her to stay away from her husband and daughter. But the brassy Crystal refuses to end the fling and warns Mary that she risks losing her cosy existence if she sues for divorce. Mary storks out. However, Sylvia tells society columnist Dolly DuPuyster (Hedda Hopper) that Mary struck Crystal and she is so humiliated by the episode that she announces that she is leaving for Reno to file for divorce. 

On the train to Nevada, Mary and Peggy meet several other women in the same position. The Countess de Lave (Mary Boland) is about to jettison her fourth spouse, while chorus girl Miriam Aarons (Paulette Goddard) is accompanying her bashful friend, Peggy Day (Joan Fontaine). The new friends check into a ranch run by Lucy (Marjorie Main), who has seen it all before and dishes out advice with homespun humour. However, the Countess soon sets her sights on cowboy Buck Winston, while Miriam lets slip that she has been sleeping with Sylvia's husband and plans to make an honest man of him. 

Sylvia arrives shortly after the dropping of this bombshell and she comes to blows with Miriam. They all rally round, however, when Peggy announces that she is pregnant and they persuade her to call her husband and patch things up for the sake of the baby. Miriam suggests that Mary similarly swallows her pride. But, while she weighs up her options, Stephen calls to inform her that he has just married Crystal.

Some two years pass before the new Mrs Haines becomes bored. While relaxing in a bubble bath, she chats with her new beau, unaware that Little Mary is eavesdropping. Always a shrewd judge, Sylvia deduces that Crystal is seeing Buck, who has become a radio singer since marrying the Countess. However, she keeps her counsel when Mary hosts a supper party to celebrate the couple's second anniversary. The Countess, Peggy and Miriam invite Mary to accompany them to a nightclub to see Buck perform. But she elects to stay home, until Little Mary reveals that Crystal has been canoodling with the crooner and she dons her finery to wreak a little revenge. 

Having checked her facts in the washroom with Sylvia, Mary takes Dolly to one side to give her the gen. She also takes the Countess into her confidence before squaring up to Crystal. Bored with Stephen, she is quite content for the truth to emerge, as Buck is doing very nicely and will be able to keep her in the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed. However, Mary delights in disclosing that Buck lives off the Countess and that he will be broke and unemployed once she's finished with him. Shrugging at her misfortune, Crystal resigns herself to returning to the perfume counter and, as Mary walks serenely towards the waiting Stephen, Crystal delivers the movie's most memorable line: `And by the way, there's a name for you ladies, but it isn't used in high society - outside of a kennel.'

Impeccably designed by Cedric Gibbons, costumed by Adrian and photographed with a glossy sense of Park Avenue realism by Joseph Ruttenberg and Oliver Marsh, this is one of the ritziest pictures produced by MGM during the 1930s. The Technicolor fashion show looks a bit ostentatious today and proves an unnecessary distraction from the soapy situations and racy dialogue. But it provides an intriguing insight into what passed for prestige entertainment and luxurious living at the end of the Depression decade. 

It's a shame that nobody had thought of `making of' documentaries at this juncture, as the backstage feud between Crawford and Shearer would have afforded some unforgettable footage. Having always resented Shearer for having the pick of the juiciest roles while husband Irving G. Thalberg was head of production at MGM, Crawford had no intention of showing the newly widowed Canadian any respect and did her level best to steal focus and distract Shearer while feeding her lines off camera. But Rosalind Russell could be equally prickly and she feigned illness until the front office agreed to give her equal billing with her bickering co-stars.

The tensions fed into the production, however, with all three being on sparkling form. However, there isn't a poor performance on show, with Butterfly McQueen and Virginia Grey twinkling alongside Crawford on the perfume counter and Hedda Hopper reminding audiences of the acting talent she had displayed in silents like George Loane Tucker's Virtuous Wives (1918) before she entered into a gossip column rivalry with Louella Parsons. Yet how could anyone fail to shine with such polished repartee? This could hardly be called a feminist tract, as proved by lines like, `Don't confide in your girlfriends. If you do, they'll see to it in the name of friendship that you lose your husband and your home.' But, even though Cukor's direction often betrays the touch of a gay man, this unflinching saga captures the way in which women like Luce, Loos and Murfin viewed the chasm between the elite and the everyday that continues to exist eight decades later.

Having taken the courageous decision to leave MGM after 19 years, Crawford found herself kicking her heels at Warner Bros, as they had no idea what to do with her. When Mildred Pierce came up, she was so desperate to land the title role that she pleaded with producer Jerry Wald to convince director Michael Curtiz to cast her over Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck. Such was the Hungarian's antipathy towards Crawford that he would rather have plumped for unsuitable sisters Olivia De Havilland or Joan Fontaine. But he reluctantly accepted Crawford as his star after seeing her screen test. It was a decision neither would have cause to regret. 

When Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford) and Wally Fay (Jack Carson) find the body of Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott) on the floor of the Beragon beach house, she rushes home to check on her 19 year-old daughter, Veda (Ann Blyth). She is being watched by a couple of detectives and, when Mildred's first husband, Bert Pierce (Bruce Bennett), refuses to deny his involvement in his successor's demise, Mildred begins telling her story to Inspector Peterson (Moroni Olsen). 

As we flash back, Mildred reveals that she married Bert when she was 17 and enjoyed being a homemaker while he ran an estate agency with Wally. When times get tough, however, Bert resents the fact that Mildred is able to make her own money by selling baked goods to the neighbours and seeks solace in the arms of Maggie Biederhof (Lee Patrick). As he leaves, Bert warns Mildred not to neglect 10 year-old tomboy Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe) in order to pander to her older sister, Veda, who has ambitions to become a pianist and climb the social ladder. But, from the moment Veda turns her nose up at a dress that Mildred has bought for her, she vows to make enough money to keep Veda in the lap of luxury.

Refusing Wally's unsubtle advances, Mildred takes a job as a waitress at the restaurant where Ida Corwin (Eve Arden) works as the hostess. She takes a shine to Mildred, whose gift for baking boosts business and enables Mildred to engage a new maid, Lottie (Butterfly McQueen). However, when Mildred gets home one night to discover that Veda has given Lottie her waitress uniform, Mildred loses her temper and slaps her daughter across the face when she learns the truth about her mother's occupation. 

Eager to improve her daughter's impression of her, Mildred decides to open her own restaurant and asks Wally to help her find suitable premises. He recommends a house owned by Pasadena playboy Monte Beragon, who cuts Mildred a favourable deal. However, Bert refuses to give Mildred the divorce she craves because he knows that he is entitled to half of her assets under California law and he suspects that she will make a go of her new business. 

As construction work gets under way, Monte becomes a regular visitor to the site. But, on the very night that Mildred allows him to flirt with her, Kay dies of pneumonia and Mildred vows to be a better mother to Veda. Bert agrees to a divorce and Monte smugly declares that the Beragons have always get what they want in life. However, he is primarily interested in Mildred for her bank balance, especially when she starts opening other restaurants. But Veda is determined to have her own source of income and dupes wealthy Ted Forrester (John Compton) into believing she loves him. His mother opposes their hasty marriage and Veda enlists Wally's help to chisel $10,000 out of the family by pretending to be pregnant. When she finds out what her daughter has done, Mildred tears up the cheque and throws Veda out of the house. 

Some time later, Bert invites Mildred to dinner and she is surprised when he takes her to a seedy joint owned by Wally. She is appalled, however, when Veda steps on to the stage in front of an audience of wolf-whistling sailors to sing `The Oceana Roll' and she agrees to marry Monte in order to entice Veda to live in the Beragon mansion. Veda accepts the invitation and flirts with Monte behind her mother's back. More egregiously, Monte opens negotiations that will bankrupt Mildred's empire and she is so furious with him for costing her everything she has worked for that she slips a gun into the pocket of her fur coat. 

On arriving at the beach house, however, Mildred is dismayed to see Veda and Monte kissing. Enjoying her moment of triumph, Veda informs Mildred that Monte plans to divorce her and make her his wife. But, when Mildred flees in distress, Monte tells Veda he has no intention of marrying her and she unloads six bullets in him. Sobbing in fright, Veda begs her mother to help her and Mildred attempts to frame Wally for the crime in revenge for the part he has played in ruining her business. But Peterson knows Wally and Bert are innocent and, when Veda is detained at the airport, he knows that she is the culprit and accuses her in front of Mildred. Convinced that her mother has betrayed her, Veda disowns her and a stunned Mildred wanders out of the police station to find Bert waiting for her. 

How sordidly melodramatic it all sounds in this bare outline. Yet everything about this masterly example of studio craftsmanship works a treat, from Ranald MacDougall flashbacking scenario and Anton Grot's atmospheric interiors to Ernest Haller's chiaroscuro photography, Daniell Weisbart's precision cutting and Max Steiner's seductive score, which even incorporates the theme from Irving Rapper's Now, Voyager (1942), which had starred Bette Davis. Despite his long and sometimes glorious tenure at Warners, Michael Curtiz could seem like a journeyman when saddled with mediocre material. But, as he demonstrated with Casablanca (1942) and this seething saga, he had a shrewd insight into human nature and a knack for coaxing emotional honesty out of performers who were usually content to rely on their trusted screen persona. 

The 40 year-old Crawford had spent her career kicking against the system and suffering heartache. But, despite referring to her on set as `Phony Joanie', Curtiz made her pain feel real and she recognised the debt she owed by sending him a custom-made pair of the shoulder pads he had insisted made her look like a runway model rather than a working mom. She should have been equally grateful to the Oscar-nominated Blyth and her selfless male co-stars. But Crawford sensed this was the role that could transform her flagging fortunes and was in no mood to share the credit. Indeed, she even feigned illness on the night of the Oscar ceremony so that the spotlight would fall upon the bedroom where she would receive her statuette from Curtiz and pose with it beside her while she slept. She may not have been the best actress of the studio era, but few could match her when it came to being a star.

Despite influencing a global generation of musicians, Elvis Presley had become something of a dinosaur by the late 1960s. He hadn't played live since a benefit gig in Hawaii in March 1961, while his musical output had been limited since 1964 to increasingly anodyne movie soundtracks. The blame for this marginalisation lay entirely at the door of Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Thus, when he proposed a 1968 Christmas special, Presley was initially unenthusiastic. But NBC producer Jack Finkel, director Steve Binder and his assistant Bones Howe convinced `the King' that the venture could help him reconnect with his fans and the resulting show is playing in cinemas for one night under the title, Elvis: `68 Comeback Special.

Writers Chris Bearde and Allan Blye suggested using Maurice Maeterlinck's The Blue Bird as a loose linking device to allow Presley to chronicle his career through his best-known songs, while scripted segments would give him the chance to discuss the state of the music business and the mood of the nation following the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. Ultimately, however, it was decided to focus on the music, as arranger Billy Strange and musical director Billy Goldenberg re-ignited Presley's enthusiasm for his repertoire. Binder capitalised on this by luring old sparring partners Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana into joining Charlie Hodge and Alan Fortas for an informal jam session that would contrast with the solo slots and the more grandiose production numbers choreographed by Lance LeGault.

Binder and Priscilla Presley revisit the NBC studio to discuss the background to the show in an excruciating introduction that could not have been more stiffly staged if it had been done with puppets. But, mercifully, they shuffle off to leave the stage to Elvis, who curls his top lip in an opening burst of `Trouble' that leads into the recurring theme of `Guitar Man'. Surrounded by a gaggle of adoring fans on a small dais, the 33 year-old reminisces about the past with his cronies, as they sit in a tight square and strum through `That's All Right' and `Baby, What You Want Me to Do'.

Clad in the black leather suit that would help make this gig so iconic, Presley romps through a string of hits that derive from his 50s rock heyday and his big screen era. He grows in confidence, as he passes from `Heartbreak Hotel' to `Hound Dog' and `All Shook Up' before slowing things down with `Can't Help Falling In Love'. He rips into `Jailhouse Rock' before following relaxed renditions of `Don't Be Cruel' and `Blue Suede Shoes' with a mocking take on `Love Me Tender', in which he jokes `you have made my life a wreck'. 

Concluding this section with `Baby, What You Want Me to Do', Presley ponders rock's roots in gospel and slips into a red suit to join a company of backing singers and dancers for a medley composed of `Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child', `Where Could I Go But to the Lord', `Up Above My Head' and `Saved'. The performances are sincere rather than inspired, but Presley handles the change of pace with aplomb. 

Returning to his entourage, Elvis begins to enjoy himself, as he belts out `Lawdy, Miss Clawdy', `Trying to Get to You', `Tiger Man' and `One Night' either side of slower numbers like `Are You Lonesome Tonight?', `When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold' and `Memories', which he performs sitting between two star-struck fans on the edge of the stage. They content themselves with gazing, unlike an earlier woman who had stashed a piece of fluff that Presley had removed from his face in her handbag, along with the handkerchief he had used to mop his brow. 

This ends the concert strand of the show and it loses much of its momentum, as Binder stages a showcase that resembles the `Broadway Melody' dream ballet in Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's Singin' in the Rain (1952). It opens steadily enough with Presley assuming the role of a drifter for `Nothingville' and `Guitar Man'. But, for `Let Yourself Go', he finds himself in the company of some pink-clad dolly birds (as they would have been called at the time), who proceed to flirt with Presley before gyrating in a bizarre passage of accelerated motion that recalls the golden age of silent slapstick. He then resorts to a little chop socky, as he brushes off a hoodlum and his minions while crooning `Big Boss Man' and `It Hurts Me'. 

Shifting to a nightclub setting, Elvis changes into his gold lamé jacket for `Little Egypt' before reprising `Trouble' in three different jackets, as Binder closes the sequence with a cutaway to the live leather version of the song. He then positions a white-suited Presley in front of a giant `Elvis' sign made up of red light blubs for `If I Can Dream', which was written especially for the show by Goldenberg and lyricist Walter Earl Brown to replace the planned state of the nation address and spare Elvis the indignity of having to sing `I'll Be Home for Christmas', as Parker had wished. By all accounts, he never performed the song again, but it seemed a suitable way to sign off at the end of a tumultuous year. 

Blunting rock'n'roll's element of danger to make it suitable for living rooms across America, this was the moment that Vegas Elvis was born. Assuming the role that Nelson Riddle had played in reinventing Frank Sinatra during the recording of In the Wee Small Hours (1955) and Songs for Swingin' Lovers (1956), Goldenberg and Strange cabaretised a clutch of rock anthems by adding strings and horns to the guitars played by Mike Deasy and Tommy Tedesco and the pounding drums of Hal Blaine. Presley clearly had no objection, as he never returned to the raw sound of his early years in becoming the embodiment of a new brand of light entertainment. Over the next decade, costume designer Bill Belew would replace the chic black leather with the bejewelled jumpsuits that would become the declining Presley's trademark. Thus, this feels less like a comeback than a farewell, as Elvis became increasingly irrelevant to kids who regarded his music as something their parents liked.

There have been several documentaries about Orson Welles since Leslie Megahey's wonderful two-part Arena profile, The Orson Welles Story (1982) became the gold standard. Among them are Vassili Silovic's Orson Welles: The One-Man Band (1995), Dominik and Jakov Sedlar's Searching for Orson (2006), Chuck Workman's Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (2014), Clara and Julia Kuperberg's This Is Orson Welles, Elisabeth Kapnist's Orson Welles: Shadow & Light (both 2015) and Morgan Neville's They'll Love Me When I'm Dead (2018). Joining the list this week is Mark Cousins's The Eyes of Orson Welles, a globe-trotting odyssey that often feels like a companion piece to the prolific Ulsterman's 2017 tome, The Story of Looking. Made with the assistance of Welles's youngest daughter, Beatrice, this epistolary essay draws on unseen sketches, drawings and paintings to explore and analyse the visual sense of one of American cinema's few visionaries.

Opening with an aerial shot of Manhattan, Cousins begins a letter to Welles, in which he brings him up to speed with the world since his death in 1985. In fact, he limits himself to lamenting that a man who thinks he's Charles Foster Kane has become president and that Welles never got to play with the Internet. He mentions that a waitress he had spoken to about his project thought that Welles was creepy and Cousins agrees with her assessment because he enjoyed playing larger than life bullies like Harry Lime in Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949). But he surmises that Welles would not have enjoyed the fact that the very kind of bloated blowhards that he used to lampoon are now in the ascendancy. 

In the first chapter, `What's in the Box?', Cousins collects a cache of drawings and this launches him on his trek, as he visits Chicago, where Welles studied at the Art Institute. Cousins wonders whether the Windy City's skyscrapers influenced Welles's habit of shooting upwards and from below. Similarly, he speculates whether the design of the galleries and the Thorne Miniature Room inspired the interiors in Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and The Trial (1962). But, always the restless type, Cousins is soon off to Ann Arbor, where the Welles archive is kept at the University of Michigan. He looks at a letter from Vivien Leigh and the jacket Welles wore in Robert Stevenson's Jane Eyre (1943) before asking whether these youthful experiences shaped his looking life. 

Following a clip from the BBC's six-part series, Orson Welles' Sketch Book (1955), Cousins calls on Beatrice, who shows him some of her father's paintings, as well as letters from his juvenile travels and a treasured Christmas card. He realises that Welles drew compulsively and muses on the possibility of understanding his psyche through his art. But he recognises that much of his political personality was inherited from his Unitarian mother, Beatrice, who had been the first woman elected to public office in Kenosha, Wisconsin. She had died when he was nine, but Cousins likes to think that the tree she had planted to ensure every child in the town received a festive gift prompted a lifelong fascination with Christmas trees.

Drifting into `Pawn', Cousins glimpses some of the faces the 16 year-old Welles sketched aboard the RMS Baltic and then captures some of his own, as he lands in the Galway that had taken Welles's breath away. He found something equally noble in the landscape of the Aran Islands that he visited around the time Robert Flaherty was filming Man of Aran (1934). But Welles eventually ventured to Dublin, where he convinced the company at the Gate Theatre that he was a well-known actor and promptly became one. Yet, before he returned to conquer radio through such plays as Archibald MacLeish's The Fall of the City (1937), Welles visited Morocco and the Gypsy quarter of Seville. Cousins coos at his hero's readiness to associate with workers and outsiders, Muslims and Catholics and concludes that he was a natural born enemy of Fascism. 

As if to prove the point, Cousins reflects on Welles's `Voodoo' Macbeth at the now-demolished Lafayette Theatre in Harlem, as well as his seminal productions of The Cradle Will Rock and Julius Caesar, which were immortalised in Tim Robbins's The Cradle Will Rock (1999) and Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles (2008). Welles was still in his early twenties when he devised these landmark productions and their connection with ordinary people continued into Citizen Kane, when the person the press baron forges a bond with working girl, Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore). 

Cousins suggests Welles would have lauded William Castle for depicting Dean Jagger and Kim Hunter in a Harlem bar in When Strangers Marry (1941) and marries Welles's speech in the radio broadcast Hello Americans with the starkly beautiful footage he filmed in South America for the unfinished, It's All True (1942). He also cites the speech he made about teachers having a civic duty to warn students about iniquity, as he notes that Welles was tagged by FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover for denouncing Red-baiting senator, Joseph McCarthy. But Welles was anything but intimidated and, in 1946, used his ABC radio show, Orson Welles Commentaries to call out, Officer X, the policeman from Batesburg, South Carolina who had blinded black war veteran Isaac Woodard with the savagery of the beating he had meted out after a bus driver had taken exception to him. 

Cousins uses a clip from Sketch Book to show Welles revisiting the issue a decade later before detouring to Paris, where he had filmed his adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Trial. But he feels he has said enough about the political Welles and, in `Knight', he turns his attention to his great loves. The first was a love of places like the Sheffield Hotel in Grand Detour, Illinois. His father had owned this place and built a ballroom in which the young Welles would dance in the moonlight. He compared this backwater to Eden and spent his life searching for pre-industrial boltholes. Cousins wonders whether the hotel inspired the boarding house in Citizen Kane, where the young Charles played with Rosebud in the unspoilt snow. There's more snow in The Magnificent Ambersons and Cousins reveals that the place where it was filmed is long gone and now forms part of one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Los Angeles. 

If paradise was often lost in Welles's life, he could always find consolation in love. He married Virginia Nicholson, Rita Hayworth and Paola Mori and we see how his camera adored the latter pair in The Lady From Shanghai (1947) and Mr Arkadin (1955). Yet Beatrice believes that the love of his life was Dolores Del Rio, with whom he became besotted after seeing her swimming in King Vidor's Bird of Paradise (1932). Welles was also obsessed with the characters of Don Quixote and Sir John Falstaff, who embodied the chivalry that he valued so highly at the very moment when society was readying to discard it. In an interview with Bernard Levin, he admits to being a man out of time and there's a reverence to the way he described Merrie England, as he made himself up as Falstaff in a remarkable snippet from The Dean Martin Show. 

Sadly, Welles never completed his version of Don Quixote, with Francisco Reiguera and Akim Tamiroff. But Cousins uses an extract from Chimes at Midnight (1965) to compare his compositional sense to that of Tintoretto. Following an unconvincing aside on Welles's bromances with Joseph Cotten, John Houseman and Jack Carter (the lead in his all-black Macbeth), Cousins examines the part that guilt played in Welles's relationships, as he was not always faithful and often revealed his conflicted emotions in his drawings. We are shown the murder of Desdemona (Suzanne Cloutier) in Othello (1951) and her covered face resembles the facelessness that characterised Welles's later drawings. Cousins explains how Welles had a circular ceiling built to match the one in a Mantegna painting and contrasts the way in which Iago (Micheál MacLiammóir) poisoned the Moor's mind with the way Prince Hal (Keith Baxter) disowns Falstaff at his coronation. Yet, while Welles might have liked to see himself as the wronged knight, Cousins accuses him of often treating people like Hal and breaking their hearts with a hint of cruelty. 

Maybe this is because Welles felt regal and chapter four, `King', seeks to show how he could be guilty of monstrous pomposity in his private life. Having ticked off Welles for walking out of a screening of Luchino Visconti's Le terra trema (1948), Cousins contrasts Piranesi `Prisons' prints with a colourful painting that Welles did to express his frustration at being denied the opportunity to edit Touch of Evil (1957). In many ways, Hank Quinlan and Charles Foster Kane behaved like men who considered themselves above the law and Cousins adds Charles Clay from The Immortal Story (1968) to this rogues' gallery, over a clip of him coercing Paul the sailor (Norman Eshley) into fathering a child with his wife. 

Harry Lime and Cesare Borgia in Henry King's Prince of Foxes (1949) are cut from the same cloth, as was Macbeth, who cast aside the freedom to make his own decisions by allowing himself to be railroaded by the predictions of the witches. His lust for power is adeptly contrasted with the abdicating monarch's relinquishing of responsibility in Andrew McCullough's television version of King Lear (1953) and Kurz's similar drift into insanity in the Mercury Theatre's radio adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1938).

The wheels rather come off in the ensuing segment, `Jester', as Cousins affords Welles a right of reply and Jack Klaff responds with a poor imitation. He feigns surprise that the world kept turning after his death and suggests that the best way to approach life is to view it as a circus, such as the one depicted in such Laurel and Hardy two-reelers as Edgar Kennedy's You're Darn Tootin' (1929), whose pants ripping finale the bogus Welles claims inspired Akim Tamiroff's state of undress in Mr Arkadin. An animated montage shows how Santa became more inebriated over the years in Welles's Christmas cards, as the good cheer began to seep out of his existence. Yet, he claims never to have lost his love of life and art and regrets not being able to take advantage of the new technologies of the 21st century.

In concluding in `Bees Make Honey', Cousins has a eureka moment, as he realises that Welles's films were sketchbooks and that he was more interested in lines and space than the text. He claims this is why those who admire Laurence Olivier's Shakespeare plays dislike those of Welles and quotes Leni Riefenstahl's observation that Welles made abrasive drawings in the Bard's margins. Welles also sought to break with the conventions of studio movie-making and Cousins credits him with anticipating a time when small films could be made cheaply and appreciated by exclusive audiences without the need to pander to the masses in order to ensure profitability. He wonders if the recent recession will spawn a new Welles, as the Wall Street Crash had tempered the original. But he is glad that he has been able to uncover a fresh way of looking at Welles's legacy and thanks him for leaving us such riches to savour.

There's no escaping the fact that Mark Cousins can be an infuriatingly egotistical film-maker, with this essay often being as much about his own perceptiveness as both a looker and a critic as it is about Welles and his art. But Cousins is also fearless in his readiness to approach topics from new angles and express his opinions in his own distinctive style. Thus, while this profile of a master maverick often provokes gasps of exasperation, it's also stuffed with inspired observations that leave one to conclude that Beatrice Welles was fully justified in entrusting his father's previously hidden treasures (in oils, watercolours, pencil, charcoal, crayon, ink and felt pen) to someone with such a keen appreciation of their graphic intrigue and interpretive value. 

Considering the teenage Welles contributed illustrations to the 1934 Everybody's Shakespeare volumes that he edited with teacher Roger Hill, it's somewhat surprising that nobody has taken this route before. But Cousins seizes his opportunity to prompt viewers into taking another look at the design and direction of Welles's films and notice the recurring motifs, the influence of diverse artistic styles and the ceaseless experimentation that left him adrift somewhere between the commercial Hollywood and continental arthouse traditions. 

The picture would be none the worse for the removal of the scratching nib sounds that accompany the animated sketching sequences, while the Klaff interlude is calamitously self-indulgent. But, even though it leaves filmographical gaps and fails to address Welles's habit of abandoning projects like The Other Side of the Wind and The Deep, this is an invaluable addition to the Welles docu-canon that will prompt many to revisit his output and send obsessives scurrying in search of the archival gems that Cousins has unearthed.

Although Shevaun Mizrahi was raised in Massachusetts by her mother, she paid regular visits to her father in Turkey. When not studying cinematography at New York University, she would often volunteer at an old people's home in Istanbul and became fascinated by their stories, their behaviour and their attitudes to ageing. Some of these encounters are presented in Distant Constellation, a documentary that is showing at The ICA in London and which provides thoughtful insights into life inside a country of fascinating and often disconcerting contradictions. 

As work continues on a building site in downtown Istanbul, the residents of a shelter for the aged go about their daily routines while porter Halit Horoz dozes on the front desk. Osep Minasoglu brings halva and tries to remember the words to `The Marseillaise', while another man reveals that he is struggling to get over bronchitis. Speaking hoarsely in English, Selma recalls how her family was persecuted during the Armenian Genocide of 1915. She describes how her grandfather had produced the best flour in the district until his mill was torched and he was butchered with the other menfolk of the town. Her mother and grandmother had agreed to convert to Islam to protect the children and a tear slowly trickles down Selma's cheek, as she reflects upon their sacrifice. 

Osep sits on his bed drinking from a lemonade bottle. He invites Mizrahi to his upcoming birthday party and produces a magnifying glass to check the date on his phone. Patting his tummy, he declares that he is physically fit and that his faculties are all still in working order. But, in his enthusiasm to chat, Osep has a habit of repeating things. His excitable speech contrasts with that of the English-speaking Roger Dumas, who remembers reading Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. The novel reminds him of the fact that there were once 500,000 call girls in Paris and he muses on how they used to provide tips on the best sex parties. Wrinkling up his nose, Roger tuts in recollecting that the sessions he attended in Izmir were frowned upon by the locals. 

Old friends Izzet Cemal Alpokay and Serkis Ziflioglu ride up and down in a lift while lamenting the fact that their children rarely come to see them. Izzet complains about Serkis having bad breath after smoking and tells him to carry eucalyptus in his pocket. They are interrupted when two women summon the lift and they make room for them to enter and press the buttons for them. As a framed picture proves, Osep was once a professional photographer and he shows Mizrahi his camera. However, while he is keen to take a snap of his visitor, his eyesight is so poor that he is no longer able to see through the lens.

As the construction workers knock off for the night, Gaspar Beyleryan watches a video of himself singing on a stage, while the lift duo debate whether aliens exist and whether the authorities are withholding information to prevent panic. Various shots around the home show people sitting alone in their rooms before the gaunt Muzzeyyen Bagci advises those approaching the end to let themselves go and await the answers to all their questions. The images of the home in darkness and in the dawn light are contrasted with those of the building site, as the labourers return to the sound of the call to prayer. 

Back in Osep's room, he asks Mizrahi to help him fix a flash unit and sits to attention and stares into the camera when it starts to pop. Roger reads an extract from an erotic story he had written about an encounter with a 31 year-old Frenchwoman called Mimi and he shoots Mizrahi a knowing glance as he lays down his notebook. Selma also takes Mizrahi into her confidence when she admits her regret at never having married. She had been so busy working that she simply didn't have the time to meet anyone and she urges Mizrahi to settle down and have a family if the opportunity ever arises. Between 1940-42, she had looked after a little Armenian girl named Dianna and she smiles as she remembers her telling her mother than her nanny loved her more than she did. Selma drops off in the middle of her reminiscence and apologises on waking for her habit of falling asleep in mid-sentence.

A series of shots shows various women sitting in common rooms and watching television or pottering around in their bedrooms. Outside, cranes swoop and swing and the noise occasionally rouses a resident from their reverie. Izzet and Serkis ponder the afterlife, as they glide up and down, while the 75 year-old Roger plays some energetic piano before asking Mizrahi to consider marrying him because he needs somebody in his life and he would be an easy husband, as he would never get jealous if she wanted to go dancing with her friends and would die before she got too tired of him. 

Christmas comes and the lights on a tree twinkle aggressively in the day room. Osep takes a picture of his pal, while Izzet explains how he was knocked over by a lorry and cut his head and bruised an arm. He had joked with the policeman who had informed him that God only gives people three chances and Serkis pats him reassuringly and offers to pray for him. Selma reminds Mizrahi to use a false name when she writes her book about the home, as she is afraid she will be tortured for telling the truth about the Genocide. The wind whips up outside and Muzzeyyen tries to sing a Christmas song, but the words keep catching in his throat. 

As the camera watches the snow swirl across the building site, one is reminded of the mournful speech delivered by Donal McCann as Gabriel Conroy at the end of John Huston's masterly 1987 adaptation of James Joyce's The Dead. Despite its poignancy, this is nowhere near as profound, with the contrasts between the pensioners in their dotage and the builders with their lives ahead of them being somewhat strained. But the sense of camaraderie between a worker advising a younger colleague to get a trade finds echo in the story told by the gaunt man about the rescue of a friend who had got into difficulty while swimming in the sea. 
A caption dedicates the film to the memory of Roger, Osep and Selma (who may well have given away the fact that her real name is Aztrik), but only the latter is identified during the screen. This is a shame, as it would be nice to put a name to the photographer, the gaunt man, the roué and the mischievous elevator duo without having to wait until the final credits. But Mizrahi isn't overly concerned with specifics and, consequently, this beautifully photographed meditation can seem a little haphazard. 

The veterans relate their stories with undeniable charm and a disarming honesty that makes Selma's childhood recollections particularly affecting. But, while Mizrahi might have made her ideas on age, memory and ethnicity a little more forthright, this is a delicately empathetic study that gently reminds us of the fate awaiting us all.