Five years have passed since David Robert Mitchell made a splash by following his unremarkable debut, The Myth of the American Sleepover (2010), with his sleeper horror hit, It Follows (2014). Judging by his sophomore outing, Under the Silver Lake, he seems to have spent his time watching old Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch films and seeking ways to litter a scenario with conspiracy theories and nostalgically chic cultural references that say more about himself than a protagonist whose slackerish charisma is rooted in a kind of male-gazing smugness that will inevitably spark debates about whether Mitchell is being postmodernistically ironic or a misogynist shlemiel. 

There's a dog killer on the loose in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles where Sam (Andrew Garfield) is facing eviction from the apartment where he spies on his neighbours from his balcony with a pair of binoculars. When his mother (Deborah Geffner) calls to tell him Oscar-winning silent star Janet Gaynor's Seventh Heaven (1927) is coming on cable, he lies that he's at work. However, he is distracted from the feud between a topless woman (Wendy Vanden Heuvel) and the bikini-wearing Sarah (Riley Keough) by the arrival of his actress friend (Riki Lindhome), who has brought him lunch. They have meaningless sex while discussing his signed Kurt Cobain poster and watching a news item about the disappearance of billionaire Jefferson Sevence (Chris Gann). During their post-coital chatter, The Actress wonders if the topless woman's parrot is saying anything significant before Sam stops her from rootling through some papers on the bedside table covered in figures. 

Having earlier been startled by a dying squirrel falling out of a tree, Sam notices a skunk scuttling in the undergrowth before fussing Sarah's dog, Coca-Cola, to get her attention. She invites him in and they lie on her bed to watch Jean Negulesco's How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) before she asks him to leave when her flatmates return. On the street, Sam spots the tweenagers who have vandalised his car and, having kicked one of them in the stomach, he forces an egg into his mouth from the box he has been carrying to blotch windows. 

Returning to his apartment, he reads the latest edition of Under the Silver Lake, a zine written by Milo (Patrick Fischler) about the urban myths pertaining to the area that was known as Edendale when the first silent studios were built. Among them is a story about a 1917 film reel showing a suicidal actor holds a card claiming that no one will ever be happy in the neighbourhood until all of the dogs are killed. As Sam reads, the inky monochrome drawings come to animated life to show how the actor had blamed his failure to become the next Douglas Fairbanks on Teddy the Wonder Dog. 

Waking from a nightmare in which he sees a man in Sarah's white dress and hat feeding on the entrails of a dead man, Sam discovers her apartment has been cleared out and doesn't believe the building manager's insistence that she simply paid up and moved out in the middle of the night. He confides his suspicions to a friend at the local bar (Topher Grace) before breaking into the apartment and finding a Polaroid of Sarah in a box of her belongings that had somehow been left in a closet. He darts out of the window as Troy (Zosia Mamet) comes to collect the box and follows when she drives off with Mae (Laura-Leigh Claire) and Fannie (Annabelle Dexter-Jones). Noting down a double diamond symbol he had seen on Sarah's bedroom wall, Sam pursues the girls on to a pedalo lake, where they pass the box on to the man dressed as a pirate, who had been in Sarah's apartment on the night she vanished.

As darkness falls, Sam continues to follow Troy and her friends and wanders into a nightclub called Purgatory to watch a girl in a balloon suit (Grace Van Patten) dance to music by Jesus and the Brides of Dracula. He follows Troy into the bathroom and is spat on and kneed in the groin when he asks if she knows Sarah. In pain, he bumps into Allen (Jimmi Simpson), who spots Millicent Sevence (Callie Hernandez) across the room at the precise moment she is informed that her father has been killed in a fireball crash that also claimed the lives of three young women. 

Convinced he's being stalked on his way home, Sam hides in the bushes and is squirted by a skunk. As he tries to clean himself, he deduces that Sarah is one of the women in the car. The Actress comes to see him while he's in the bath and reads a Milo zine article about a female killer known as The Owl's Kiss. She asks Sam about the scribblings beside the bed and he outlines a theory that everything from album covers to quiz shows are filled with subliminal messages that are intended only for the powerful elite that has mollified the global population with television and the Internet. Spooked by his intensity and the reek of the skunk stink, The Actress leaves and Sam dozes off to dream of a blonde swimming in the complex pool who barks like a dog when she looks up at him. 

Having had his car towed for failing to keep up with the payments, Sam goes to see Milo, who shows him the collection of life masks on his wall that includes Abraham Lincoln, Johnny Depp and Grace Kelly. He reveals that the double diamond symbol is from the Hobo's Code and means `keep quiet'. Moreover, he confirms Sam's conspiracy theory and produces an old cereal box printed with a map of the Silver Lake area that he thinks relates to an ongoing plot to hide the truth from ordinary folk. Even Sam is dubious, but such is Milo's intensity that he feels decidedly unnerved. He drops in to see his bar buddy, who is using a drone to spy on a female neighbour. They discuss how computers have replaced bogeymen in the paranoid modern mind and stop watching the spycam when the woman starts sobbing.

Wandering through into an outdoor screening at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Sam sees the film's starlets (Bobbi Salvör Menuez and Sydney Sweeney) leaning on a gravestone marked `Hitchcock' and recognises the pirate when the girls disappear into a stretch limo. Remembering the cookie ticket he had been given at Purgatory to a secret party, Sam ventures into the gallery venue, where one of the Brides of Dracula is performing `To Sir With Love'. Accepting a free single of `Turning Teeth', he buys Balloon Girl a drink and asks if she knows Sarah. She admits to seeing her around and takes Sam to a crypt club, where she insists that Jesus (Luke Baines) wouldn't put hidden messages into his lyrics. They dance to REM's `What's the Frequency, Kenneth?' before Sam succumbs to the drug in the cookie he had eaten to gain admittance to the party. 

Emerging from the washroom after throwing up, Sam sees Troy and chases after her when she leaves the club. However, the effects of the drug overpower him and he crashes out in the cemetery. He wakes next morning to a phone call from his mother about the Janet Gaynor movie and discovers he has spent the night beside her grave. Wandering the streets he sees a poster advertising contact lenses that bears the slogan, `I Can See Clearly Now', and he notes the irony. Spending the afternoon with his bar pal, Sam skims through a book about codebreaking, while they discuss the fact that the Information Era has taken the mystery out of life. 

Returning home to masturbate to his favourite magazine images, Sam finds the number of an escort agency with pictures of the shooting stars he had seen at the cemetery screening. On calling the number, he hires one of the girls (Sweeney) and she reveals that she once saw Sarah at a party thrown by a swanky Hollywood producer at the home of a famous songwriter. This makes him think about the lyrics of `Turning Teeth' (which he had tried playing backwards for any hidden messages) and he detects a code which takes him to the busts of James Dean and Isaac Newton at the Griffin Park Observatory, where he is met by the Homeless King (David Yow), who blindfolds him and leads him to a network of caves, while confiding that the city is really owned by its wild coyotes. Creeping through the tunnels, Sam finds a bomb shelter and makes his way back to the street through a grille in the pavement.

Calling on Milo, Sam sees the police cordoning off his home because he's committed suicide. He breaks in and removes the panel to the secret room containing the CCTV monitors that Milo has rigged up to protect himself. Looking on in astonishment, Sam sees the Owl's Kiss slip into Milo's room and he leaves hurriedly with the cereal box map. Meeting up with Allen, he goes to an exclusive chess club and spots the Balloon Girl and the Swinging Star among those in attendance. He also sees Jesus and follows him to the bathroom, where he pummels him into revealing that his hits were penned by The Songwriter (Jeremy Bobb). Remembering the gated mansion the Swinging Star had mentioned, he asks her to take him to the address and she leaves him gazing up at a San Simeonesque pile on a hill.

Venturing inside, Sam finds The Songwriter waiting for him in a room full of stuffed animals and such musical instruments as Paul McCartney's Hofner violin bass and Kurt Cobain's Fender Mustang guitar. He asks if he wrote the Jesus song and he claims to have been behind every major hit single for the last 60 years. Sitting at the piano, he dashes off some familiar riffs, including Nirvana's `Smells Like Teen Spirit', and cacklingly informs Sam that he has been the voice of rebellion that generations have followed and he delights in watching his face fall when he realises that the soundtrack to his life has been devised by a Tin Pan Alley hack smuggling hidden messages into his lyrics at the behest of the rich and powerful. Suddenly, the old man produces a gun and starts shooting at Sam, who rushes forward and caves in his skull with Cobain's guitar. Taking the gun, Sam beats a hasty retreat. 

That night, he watches Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1954) on TV and gazes across his tenement courtyard as a storm blows up. Waking with a start at the sound of broken glass, Sam turns to confront the Owl's Kiss, who escapes through his bedroom. As he searches for her, there's a knock on the door and Sam has to negotiate with a cop who has come to evict him in order to buy another day to find his rent. Peering down from his balcony, he sees a coyote rummaging through the bins and, recalling the Homeless King's remark, he follows the animal through the woods and arrives at a house party, where he runs into the ex-girlfriend from the contact lens billboard (Summer Bishil). 

He also sees Millicent, who is looking at a picture that was painted by Janet Gaynor. She is intrigued when he mentions Sarah and goes for a walk with him. They stroll by the reservoir and Sam loses his temper with a beggar asking for money and reveals that he thinks the homeless are like poltergeists who hover on the fringes of society. Millicent suggests the go for a swim and climb the wire fence with the Hollywood sign glinting in the moonlight. She gives him a bracelet that she found among her father's things and he recognises it as Sarah's. However, a sniper fires at them and Sam has to rush home naked after Millicent is killed. 

Realising that the bracelet is inscribed with chess moves, Sam scours the Internet for clues about NPM and finds a game reference in Nintendo Power Magazine that leads him to the Spacestones cereal box and the cellophane map given away as a free gift. He lays this over the NPM grid and finds two locations near the reservoir that are blocked out on aerial photographs. Heading into the hills and ignoring a Hobo Code danger signal, Sam discovers a shack and finds Troy and her friends taking tea in white robes with their `husband' (Don McManus). When pressed, he reveals that he is a member of the same elite as Sevence and has chosen to live in an underground bunker in the lap of luxury with his brides while waiting to ascend to a better world. 

Sam listens incredulously before realising that Sarah may still be alive in Sevence's retreat and asks if there is any way to communicate with her. They make telephone contact and he has a video chat with Sarah, who promises (albeit tearfully) that she is content with her decision. She urges Sam to take care, as Mae describes a dream she had in which she passed to the next world surrounded by her happiest memories. The Last Man and his wives lie down to sleep and Sam passes out from the drugged tea and is taken away by the Homeless King. He accepts Sam's improvised explanation for having dog biscuits in his pocket and lets him leave. 

Getting home, Sam watches Frank Borzage's Seventh Heaven (1927) on the video his mother had sent him, while munching on Sarah's favourite crackers. He hears the parrot talking from the neighbouring balcony and pays a call on its owner, who readily seizes the opportunity to sleep with him. Wandering on to the balcony, Sam sees the building manager and the sheriff enter his room to evict him and he smiles at having dodged them (and everything else that has been raining on him). 

Delighting as much at leaving gaps in his narrative as filling them in, writer-director Mitchell leads the audience in a merry dance in this capricious shaggy dog story, which is so pleased with its own insider insight and imagistic ingenuity that it leaves itself open to accusations of being more self-indulgent than self-reflexive. There's no question that this journey into inconsequentiality has its amusing moments, with the pick being the simulated glass shot to show the mansion on the hill. But they are outnumbered by instances of gratuitous nudity and shameless chauvinism. Mitchell might argue that he is merely reflecting a debased milieu of privilege and machismo, but Mike Gioulakis's camera lingers over long on the exposed flesh of female characters who seem to exist solely to bring pleasure to entitled males. 

The casting of Andrew Garfield takes off some of the curse, although Mitchell also exploits the actor's tendency to resemble Anthony Perkins to make him seem so furtive and idiosyncratic. But, with his Spidey Sense faltering, Sam remains a resistible enigma. We never discover the nature of the `work' to which Allen often refers, but he must have had some source of income, as his rent problems appear reasonably recent. Maybe he is/was an actor or a writer, as he is friends with benefits with The Actress and his ex is a poster girl. Yet Mitchell seems keen to prevent us from getting too close to his protagonist, as the more questions we ask, the more likely we are to realise the role that smoke and mirrors are playing in the entire enterprise. 

In many ways, this is a lament for a bygone Hollywood, with its innocent silent ingenues, glamorous widescreen divas and the kind of private eyes fashioned by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. But it's also a reminder that Los Angeles has always been a crazy, mixed-up town with its share of scandals and tragedies involving both people with more money than sense and those who have been driven to desperation by envying them. It's hardly a profound message and the musings on hidden codes and conspiracy theories are scarcely more revelatory. 

Yet, with its Semiotics 101 vibe, this Trumpist parable could easily become a cult item, even among those who can only recognise the obvious allusions to Rear Window (1954) and Mulholland Drive (2001) and the scores of Bernard Herrmann and Angelo Badalamenti pastiched by Richard Vreeland (aka Disasterpeace) and miss the subtler nods towards directors like Vincente Minnelli, Orson Welles, Nicholas Ray, Robert Aldrich, Roman Polanski, Robert Altman, Richard Kelly and Paul Thomas Anderson. Mitchell knows a good idea/image when he sees one and has the stylistic élan to make his millennial Illuminati seem disconcertingly credible. But the solution to his meticulously pieced together puzzle is somewhat underwhelming and smacks of the superficiality he is seeking to expose. Seek out a copy of Thom Andersen's Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003) instead.

Simon Amstell turns 40 later this year, so it feels a bit odd to consider him a rising talent. Familiar to many as the host of TV shows like Popworld (2000-06) and Never Mind the Buzzcocks (2006-09). Amstell has also forged a reputation as a stand-up comedian. But it's his film-making that is currently getting people excited. Having written and starred in the BBC sitcom, Grandma's House (2010-12), Amstell took acting roles in Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe's debut feature, Black Pond (2011), and artist Charlotte Colbert's short, The Silent Man (2016), before flexing his directorial muscles with Something More (2016), a droll study of individualism accompanied by a track by Shock Machine that was made for Channel 4's Random Acts slot, and Nuns, an entry in the offbeat Waiting Room series produced by actress Jessie Cave for her Pindippy web page. Now, following his acclaimed anti-meat mockumentary, Carnage (2017), Amstell has made his feature bow with Benjamin. 

Seven years have passed since thirtysomething Northern Irishman Benjamin Oliver (Colin Morgan) released his first film and he is having problems with the follow-up, No Self. His producer, Tessa (Anna Chancellor), thinks he's over-thinking things because he has based the screenplay on the break-up of his last relationship and taken the leading role. But his neuroses come to the fore during a photo session with publicist Billie (Jessica Raine), which culminates in bored incredulity when he reveals he's a teetotal vegan. However, he takes up Billie's invitation to attend the launch of a chair she's hosting for her designer friend, Martha (Jessie Cave), and he tentatively ventures into the venue with his best mate, Stephen (Joel Fry), a comedian currently writing a show about depression. 

Following some embarrassing small talk with actor pal Harry (Jack Rowans), Benjamin becomes instantly smitten with Noah (Phénix Brossard), the singer of the indie band providing the cabaret. He accepts an invitation to join the group for dinner and, when Stephen makes himself scarce, the burbling Benjamin invites Noah to a screening of his film and feels suitably emboldened to give him a hug before catching the bus. 

When Noah calls before he gets home, however, Benjamin suggests hooking up and they make out on the sofa in the beam of the projector showing a comic S&M scene from the movie, which reveals how tentative Benjamin is when it comes to intimacy. While Billie turfs Stephen out after regretting their one-night stand, Benjamin and Noah decide to spend the day together. They get high in the woods on magic mushrooms and are still tripping when they go to buy water at a corner shop. 

On the night of the No Self premiere at the London Film Festival, Benjamin is fraught with nerves and frets to Tessa about the scenes involving a Buddhist monk (Kriss Dosanjh). He makes a mumbling introductory speech and is left alone in the auditorium at the end of the film, as nobody wants to wait for the Q&A. Noah, Harry and Stephen try to boost his morale, but the latter gets into an argument with Billie (who doesn't want boyfriend Harry to know they slept together) before Noah drops the bombshell that he doesn't feel ready for a full-time relationship. To make matters worse, Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo slate the film on their Five Live show. 

He drops by the studio to see Tessa, but she is too busy with another project and hasn't the time to waste on a flop. But Harry is keen to collaborate on a script, even though the first brainstorming session goes badly because the actor is a vacuous narcissist. As he is also an artist, Harry insists on sketching Benjamin topless and then strips off so he can be drawn nude. This proves to be part of an experiment, however, as Harry is keen to sleep with another man to see what it's like. But the experience clearly leaves him cold and Benjamin seeks out Noah in the hope they can get back together on a less intense basis. 

They ease into a comfort zone after a silent bath together. But, while things are perking up for Benjamin, Stephen has a nightmare at a comedy club and announces that he is quitting after eight fruitless years. Noah does much better when he performs in the graduation concert at the Guildhall School of Music. Benjamin gazes at him adoringly, while sitting next to his parents, Claude (James Lailey) and Adrienne (Michèle Belgrand). But supper goes badly wrong when Benjamin bumps into his ex, Paul (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), and he launches into a character assassination because he is angry at being depicted in the film without his permission. 

When Noah tries to coax Benjamin into talking about the situation, he clams up and is left sitting along under a streetlit tree. Back home, he seeks solace in the wisdom of a monk on YouTube (Arnab Chanda), but is too sad to take it in. In a bid to cheer him up, Billie and Harry take him to see `Womb' by interpretative dancer Anna (Ellie Kendrick). But, such are Benjamin's limited social skills, that he's unable to hide his bemusement at her pretentious piece (which culminates in her kicking a hole through a giant roll of paper) and she storms off in high dudgeon. He goes home to take mushrooms and has such a bad trip that he is spooked by his own cat and becomes obsessed with the state of his hairline. 

Convinced that Stephen has done himself a mischief, Benjamin breaks a window at  his apartment. But he wasn't answering his phone because he was in the shower and laughs at his friend for getting so carried away. He jokes that Benjamin is a real boy, as he sheds a few tears and goes sprinting off to the club where Noah's band are playing. He arrives in time to hear a song about accepting love and asks Noah to move in with him. However, he informs Benjamin that he is leaving London and he thinks the romance is over. But Noah wants him to come to Paris with him and he agrees to go - as what does he have to lose. 

Owing more to Woody Allen and the more bohemian purveyors of Mumblecore than the confident snarkiness of Carnage, this gentle, self-reflexive romcom is destined to find favour with Amstell's existing fanbase when it hits cinemas and goes on VOD release on 15 March. Yet, despite its confessional geniality, this sophomore outing suggests that Amstell's strength lies in his writing rather than his visual sense. David Pimm's photography, Hannah Purdy Foggin's production design and Robin Peters's editing are all fine, but they fail to coalesce into anything distinctive, as Amstell concentrates on the tone and pacing of scenes that often revolve around a set-piece, a gag or a key plot point. This would be fine if the secondary characters were fleshier, but, as one might expect of a piece of pseudo-autobiographical cinema, the emphasis is so firmly on the protagonist that no one else is allowed to pull narrative or emotional focus.

As the gauche auteur too wrapped up in himself to have any outside interests, Colin Morgan manages to be both entirely winning and eminently resistible, as he treads on the toes of others while wading through his own insecurities. When not indulging in self-sabotage, he banters pleasingly enough with Phénix Brossard, as the two-dimensional dreamboat. But the romantic spark burns too dimly to suggest the grand passion Amstell is hankering after. Indeed, anyone familiar with the kind of LGBTQ+ dramedy that goes direct to disc after playing in festivals like BFI Flare will recognise the story arc and the tonal shifts. 

The hipster satire is well observed and Amstell clearly has an eye and an ear for the absurdities of the milieux in which he moves. But there's something self-satisfied about the cameos by Ellie Kendrick and Mark Kermode, while talented performers like Anna Chancellor, Jessica Raine and Jack Rowan have to work overtime to make anything of their industry caricatures. At one point, Morgan asks Chancellor if she has a project that can keep him busy without having mine his own pain and one rather suspects that Amstell could do with something similar next time if he is to evolve into a film-maker rather than simply use cinema as another means of projecting his artfully tailored image of himself.

Back in 1997, Jonathan Glazer made a commercial for Nike that pitched Premiership stars Eric Cantona, Ian Wright, David Seaman and Robbie Fowler into various Sunday league games on Hackney Marshes to the tune of Blur's `Parklife'. The concept clearly stuck in the mind of director Simon Barker, as he has dusted it down and mashed it up with plotlines that might have been discarded from Eastenders to make 90 Minutes. As with his debut, Night Bus (2014), Barker weaves together a selection of plot strands to present a wry picture of London life. But, while that solid start rather slipped through the cracks, his sophomore effort is bound to receive more publicity, as it has been executive produced by Rio Ferdinand, who is taking his second screen credit after teaming with Ashley Cole on Alex De Rakoff's formulaic crime saga, Dead Man Running (2009).

Sunday morning and Jack (Robert Ristic) has reluctantly turned up at Hackney Marshes to watch his estranged father, Dave (Leon Sua), play football for Lea Valley Rangers. The team is managed by Nick (Anton Saunders), who has spent the night in the mini-bus because wife Helen (Debra Baker) has kicked him out. Having picked up half a dozen of the squad, Nick detours to collect his brother, Lenny (Tony Walker), who is hiding in his flat from a bailiff. He is supposed to be organising the end-of-season trip to Magaluf, but Nick warns his players that they will be going nowhere if they lose what is tantamout to a title decider against Forest Road Athletic.

A much younger team, Forest Road are managed by short-fused Scot Ronnie (Simon Weir) and his assistant, Jonno (Vauxhall Jermaine). One of their star players, Mark (Marlon G. Day) is an estate agent who has incurred the wrath of his wife, Sam (Melanie Gayle), by having a match on the same morning they are supposed to be seeing a new house. She snaps at sister Tiana (Shystie), who is rapping in the backseat of the car and gets told to chill out. Lenny gives the same advice to Nick when he loses his temper with Dave, who is unhappy at being made to play on the wing when he wants to play up front and impress his son. 

Following the foul-mouthed team talks in the blustery sunshine, with Ronnie and Jonno getting particularly wound up, the game kicks off. The camera picks up action from neighbouring pitches, as Tiana complains to Sam that she's more supportive about Mark's football than she is about her music. As he has no interest in sport, Jack misses the start to get chips from the car park snackbar and is protected from her snarky mates by Naima (Peyvand Sadeghian), whose brothers, Fahd (Waleed Akhtar) and Vahid (Waj Ali), have come to watch younger sibling Jamal (Nima Taleghani) play for Forest Road, amidst rumours that he's being watched by scouts Jim (Brian Croucher) and Frank (Grant Davis). 

A diminutive chatterbox, Naima takes a shine to Jack and follows him over to Pitch 9 in the hope of flirting and nicking a chip. While she teases  him about the music he's listening to, Helen arrives for her shift at the snackbar and tells boss Jeannie (Jeanie Gold) about the problems she's having with Nick and their teenage daughter, Kara (Jessica Collins), who is spending cash like it's going out of style and hanging out with friends she keeps hidden from her parents. Jeannie tells Helen she's best off on her own, just as Nick confides in Lenny that he's been kicked out. As he's after a loan to back a hot tip at Newmarket, Lenny curses when Nick goes apoplectic after Mark is hacked down on the edge of the penalty area.

While Mark picks himself up, Sam notices that he is being cheered on by Eva (Diana Dimitrovici), and we cut away to see Mark tumbling into bed with her while showing her around an apartment. Sam suspects that her husband has been playing away, but Tiana tells her to chill out, as Jamal puts Forest Road one up with a curling free kick that tubby goalkeeper Jimbo (John Fricker) gets nowhere near. While his opposite number celebrates, Nick doubles up with pain from heartburn and misses seeing ex-pros Rio Ferdinand and Jody Morris strolling between the pitches joking about the fact that the majority of the players will have turned up after a heavy night out and will spark up cigarettes at half-time. 

Their prediction comes true, as whistles sound across the Marshes. Jack has no idea what is going on, as he is getting his ear bent about being aloof and judgemental by Naima. Mark also gets a tongue-lashing from Sam, who knows he has been up to no good with Eva. But the air is turned bluest by Nick and Ronnie, as they berate their players for their first-half performances before getting involved in a shoving match after Jonno tries to intimidate the referee. Stalking away, Nick tries to speak to Helen and apologise for whatever it is he's done wrong. He explains that he can't get a job because of his back problem and insists that there are scouts out there looking for coaches as well as players. But Helen urges him to ditch his pipedreams and live in the real world before telling him she no longer loves him. 

Away from the pitches, Jack tries to talk to Naima about his complicated relationship with his dad. She jokes that she is so surrounded by interfering relatives that it's like being in the Persian mafia. Meanwhile, Kara has shown up with her boyfriend, Zak (Bradley John), and has another row with Helen over money. At the side of the pitch, Lenny tries to tap Nick for money, but he is too busy concentrating on the game to listen. Back at the snackbar, Helen is also distracted by the generator playing up and Kara keeps her talking while Zak sneaks into the van to steal some cash from the till. 

On the pitch, Mark scores Forest Road's second with 15 minutes to go and tempers start to fray. Nick is distraught when Lenny reveals that he's gambled away the team's holiday kitty, but he has more to worry about when Dave is sent off for scything down Jamik and it all kicks off. Sam gets involved when Eva runs on the pitch to check Mark is okay after he gets punched by one of the Lea Valley players. Elsewhere, Helen runs after Kara when she discovers the money is missing and Dave gets into a slanging match with Jack for not watching the game. As Nick and Jonno start shoving each other, the former collapses and Helen and Kara rush up to comfort him as somebody phones for an ambulance. The match is abandoned at 0-2 and Helen promises to give Nick another chance as he's driven away. 

Ending with a drone shot of Hackney Marshes with Docklands on the horizon to emphasise the `Them vs Us' nature of modern British life, this is a bracingly brisk and acerbically acute snapshot of a country in crisis. None of the storylines are particularly original, while the majority of the characters are little more than ciphers. But the admirable cast succeed in fleshing them out and using Barker's curse-strewn dialogue to invest them with personality. The banter between the players is fizzingly authentic, while the byplay between Robert Ristic and the excellent Peyvand Sadeghian is smartly paced. Moreover, Barker's editing maintains the sense of momentum, while also disguising the shortcomings of the footballing action, which is decidedly dodgy considering the teams are supposed to be vying for the title. 

Anyone who has played at a grassroots level will recognise the situations and stereotypes and, if Barker is not personally au fait, he has certainly tapped up Ferdinand and co-producer Grant Best (who recently headed BT Sport) for their insight. The little digs Vauxhall Jermaine has at the referee, as he tells him the game's too big for him, are particularly funny. But, with so many of the characters on the skids or estranged from their loved ones, this has plenty to say about life on the lower rungs of Broken Britain and it does so without soapboxing. 

A couple of weeks ago, we covered Destination: Dewsbury, a debut feature by twentysomething Jack Spring, who quit his university film studies course because he didn't think he could learn anything from theory-led academics. Now we get to see Cleft Lip, the sixth feature by the current Professor of Media Practice at the University of Central Lancashire. 

Born in Ghana, raised in Denmark and resident in Britain since 1984, Erik Knudsen has held film-related professorships at Bournemouth and Salford before settling in Preston and pursuing his directorial ambitions. A former musician, who has produced a number of shorts, documentaries and stage plays, as well as the features Signs of Life (1998), Brannigan's March (2004), Sea of Madness (2006), The Silent Accomplice (2010) and The Raven on the Jetty (2014), Knudsen has rather flown under the mainstream radar. But, while it often betrays its budgetary constraints and the inexperience of its cast, this futuristic saga inspired by Sophocles's telling of the Oedipus story has much to commend it. 

Although nuclear war has broken out in the Sinai Desert, mixed race Mancunian twentysomething Campbell Jones (Reece Douglas) is more concerned about the fact that he just been involved in a hit-and-run collision with a black man. He keeps an appointment with his brother-in-law, Max (Keith French), who has come to the conclusion that the downturn in the family business dates from Campbell's marriage to Max's sister, Jaz (Miranda Benjamin). Nettled by the assertion that the 15-year age gap and Jaz's preoccupation with becoming pregnant might have impacted upon his performance, Campbell scoffs at Max's suggestion that they consult a seer to discern whether the union is cursed. 

Following a tense meeting with an IVF specialist, Jaz discloses that she once gave away an imperfect blastocyst and, now that she is faced with the prospect of never becoming a mother, bitterly regrets feeling too young to have raised her baby. Campbell is dismayed by the news and contacts an online agency to see if he can trace the child. However, he has also agreed to accompany Max to see Tim (David Tyson), who reveals that Jaz is Campbell's mother and he storms out of the office in a rage. When he confronts Jaz, she laughs off the suggestion and seduces her husband. But she slips out of the bed while he sleeps and Campbell is sufficiently suspicious to pay a visit to his mother (Jeannie Harris).

As she's in care with dementia and doesn't recognise him, let along remember having a son, Campbell goes to see his uncle (Roy Shipton), who laments that the truth has finally come out about him being the result of pioneering blastocyst transfer technology. He insists that his mother always loved him and hopes nothing changes between them. But Campbell is crushed and he goes to the empty family home to find any telltale documents. They turn up in a shoebox in the shed, in which he also discovers childhood photos that reveal he had surgery to repair a cleft lip. 

Wandering in a daze, Campbell's mood is not improved when he's asked to move from the parents only seating in a children's playground. He gets buffeted by Christmas shoppers in the town centre while making his way to the adoption agency, who confirm that his natural mother has made a request to meet him. Arriving home to an empty house, Campbell watches an online clip about a Scottish mother explaining the process of selecting a sperm donor and the mention of the word `father' jolts him out of his doze to confront the awful possibility that the man he killed with his car might well have been his biological dad. 

Going for a stroll, Campbell comes to the aid of a girl being slapped around by her boyfriend, only to be told to sling his hook. A homeless couple approach him for some cash and he asks why they don't get a job and start having a decent life. But the beggar insists they do have a nice time together and Campbell shrugs and opens his wallet. The scene fades as he arrives home to see Jaz and he only has time to give her a quick call after he argues with Max over firing veteran sales rep, Nick (Alan Kenny). 

He heads to the restaurant where he has arranged to meet his mother and is horrified to see Jaz removing her coat inside. Their eyes meet and the awful truth dawns, as Campbell turns on his heel and staggers away over the canal bridge. The sound of an ambulance siren rouses him from his stupor and he rushes back to see that Jaz has stepped in front of a vehicle and been killed. Barging through the onlookers, he clumsily tries to cradle her in his arms. 

Sitting beside her bed at the hospital, Campbell breaks the news to Max that Tim had been right all along. He leaves in despair and misses a doctor informing Max that Jaz had been pregnant and that they have managed to save the embryo. However, there's no sign of Campbell at home or at the office and Max drives around the city until he finds him carousing on the streets with some homeless people. They rally round when he tells Max he wants nothing to do with his old life and, even though the news he is going to be a father hits home, he merely asks his uncle to tell the child the truth before sending him packing and passing out under the influence of the cheap vodka he's been knocking back. 

Photographed largely in static close-up by Mark Duggan, this is a sombre drama that explores the theme of parentage and identity with considerable discretion and insight. Knudsen embraces his source's credulity-stretching coincidences and just about manages to persuade the audience that a hipster like Campbell would not only agree to see a clairvoyant, but also accept his dire prophecy. However, the plot does creak in places and some of the more expositional passages are dialogue ring hollow. A number of the supporting performances are also decidedly unpolished. But Reece Douglas capably conveys the shock and sense of betrayal at discovering he has been lied to his entire life by his `adoptive' family and cruelly deceived by the wife he had clearly adored. 

Composing a couple of songs and serving as his own editor, Knudsen keeps a steady hand on the directorial tiller. Yet, while he makes atmospheric use of the Manchester backstreets abutting the canal, he sometimes struggles with the pacing of scenes and the delineation of timescales, as well as the integration of flashbacks, subplots and the surfeit of wander and ponder sequences that test Douglas's ability to reveal inner turmoil through his eyes. Nevertheless, with the Cronenbergian undercurrent inflecting the conception for profit theme, this intrigues enough to make one curious about Knudsen's earlier output.

When it comes to animation, few European countries have a prouder tradition than Czechoslovakia. Starting in the 1920s with the likes of Bretislav Pojar and Stanislav Látal, Czech animation flourished under the Communist regime, with Jirí Trnka becoming known as the Iron Curtain Walt Disney for such puppet gems as The Emperor's Nightingale (1949) and A Midsummer Night's Dream (1959). He caught the mood of the Czech New Wave with his final film, The Hand (1965), and Jan Švankmajer assumed his mantle with a series of surreally audacious features and shorts that included Alice (1988) and The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia (1990). 

While the likes of Vlácek Kolejácek, Zdenek Miler, Jirí Brdeckar, Jirí Barta and Lubomír Beneš were based in Prague, Karel Zeman and Hermína Týrlová produced films of wondrous ingenuity and imagination at the studio in Zlín. The loss of state subsidies resulted in a slipping of animation standard in the Czech Republic and Martin Kotík and Inna Evlannikova singularly fail to recapture former glories with Harvie and the Magic Museum, which revives the characters of Hurvínek and Spejbl, who were created 99 years ago by master puppeteer Josef Skupa. However, this computer-generated collaboration between Russian animator Evlannikova (whose feature credits include  Space Dogs, 2010 and Space Dogs: Adventure to the Moon, 2014) and Czech live-action specialist Kotik (who was responsible for Max Marvel Show, 1999 and All the Best, 2006) still has moments that will amuse young and old alike.

Not content with delighting audiences with his lifelike marionettes, Bastor the magician (HD Quinn) sought to create a method of controlling his patrons like puppets. However, in seeking to conduct lightning to energise his device, something went horribly wrong. Four hundred years later, his home has been turned into the puppet museum run by Josef Spejbl (Mike Pollock), who is having problems dealing with his young son, Harvie (Wilson Davis), who keeps staying up all night to play computer games. Having accidentally broken the boy's PC, Spejbl complains to neighbour Katarina (Grace Gonglewski) about the difficulty of being a single parent. However, she knows all about raising an only child, as she cares for her granddaughter, Monica (Sarah Natochenny). 

Late for school on the day of the class outing, Harvie and his pet dog, Jerry, find themselves outside the museum as the Mayor (Scott Greer) orders two doltish workmen to take a wrecking ball to the building, as it has outlived its purpose. However, Harvie throws a stone that gums up the engine and the crane lurches so badly that the ball falls off and lands with such a thud that it creates a huge hole that swallows Harvie, Jerry and Monica, who has also missed the field trip in sympathy with her friend. 

Stumbling through the rubble, they find themselves in a basement full of old puppets and Harvie takes Bastor's disc device off the wall because it resembles his game console. As he turns it on, a spiral staircase emerges from the floor and the trio high tail it upwards into the main hall in the museum, where energy from the disc animates Bastor's favourite puppets, Brainy (Marc Thompson), Grumpy (Brian Anthony Wilson) and Dimwit  (Billy Bob Thompson). They explain that the museum used to be a theatre and sing a song to tell Harvie and Monica about Bastor's doomed bid for power. Brainy also reveals that Harvie is now the puppet master because he has the disc. But he warns him never to press the button on the back and reveals that he has to prove himself worthy of his new responsibility and urges him to stay and help them rather than abandon the puppets to their fate.

Harvie fiddles with the disc controls and brings to life a turquoise dragon that comes swooping down from under the glass dome. Realising that the device works in the same way as his console, he makes the dragon dance and hitches a ride on its back with Monica and Jerry. However, he also animates a rocking horse knight that comes charging after them. They fly through the stage curtain and emerge in a magical neverland with the knight in hot pursuit. After lots of ducking and diving, Harvie manages to get the dragon to breathe a fireball that brings their foe crashing down. The puppets are suitably impressed and Brainy tells Harvie that he will bring the other exhibits back to life and enter the Puppetry Hall of Fame if he can return the disc to its proper place in the wooden tracery beneath the dome. 

Having come to save his pride and joy from demolition, Spejbl hears the voices inside the museum. However, he doesn't believe Harvie when he informs him about the puppets and it's only when he takes off on the dragon's back that Spejbl realises something very odd is going on. Landing on the wooden beams, Harvie places the disc in its spot and the entire museum uproots from the ground like a spaceship and sets course for a giant storm cloud that can provide it with power. As Brainy foretold, a lightning strike brings the other puppets to life. But Spejbl is concerned about the consequences of his son's actions and takes the disc out of its mounting, with the result that the museum descends back to Earth after everybody becomes weightless. 

No sooner have they landed, however, than the main hall transforms into the Hall of Fame and Harvie's portrait appears among the puppet masters. But, as everyone sings a celebration song, the floor is replaced by a downward spiral that slides humans, canines and puppets into a chamber filled with figures that even Brainy knows nothing about. Harvie is excited that they have entered another level of the game, but Monica is spooked and pleads with her friend to leave well alone. However, he insists on pressing the forbidden button, as he's convinced it will reboot the broken device. 

Instead, of course,  it frees Bastor from his captivity and he flexes his four wooden arms to incapacitate Harvie's puppet pals and turn his father into a doll. He also unleashes his evil henchmen (both Abe Goldfarb) and orders them to seize the disc. With Harvie and Monica trapped in some sort of workshop, Bastor climbs to the tower and, encouraged by his sidekicks, he starts zapping objects and people below to turn them into props or animals. Having found a lift to the roof, Harvie succeeds in snatching the disc and has hold of it long enough to save Spejbl and bring the good puppets back to life. But Bastor resume his spree by turning the Mayor into a pig and Katarina into a gingerbread woman.

Both father and son have learned valuable lessons and know to work together rather than fight all the time. Consequently, Spejbl steers the dragon to catch Harvie when Bastor regains possession of the disc and pushes him off a balcony. They see off some ravenous bats with a fireball, while Grumpy leads an assault on the henchmen. Even Monica tries to punch Bastor when she follows him on to the tower roof. But he grabs her and threatens to drop her unless Harvie hands over the disc. When Spejbl tells his son to trust his heart, Harvie suddenly remembers a mural in the workshop and zooms down on the dragon to fix the disc in Bastor's chest and the evil incarnation collapses in a heap and the kindly 16th-century puppet master is returned to normal long enough to urge Harvie to make good use of his talents and powers. 

With everything back to normal, the Mayor re-opens the museum and the schoolchildren rush in to enjoy the puppet show on the stage. Katarina flirts with Spejbl and offers him a heart-shaped biscuit, while Grumpy, Dimwit and Brainy congratulate themselves on trusting Harvie. He joins Monica and Jerry on the dragon's back and they fly over the purple-haired duo of Mrs Titmouse and Mrs Siskin, who are so wrapped up in their own little world while sitting on a bench outside the museum that they haven't noticed they have been in the middle of an adventure. 

Having broken Czech box-office records for a European animation and reminiscent in many ways of Einstein Lipski, Jørgen Lerdam and Amalie Næsby Fick's The Incredible Story of the Giant Pear, this is certainly a lively romp and should keep fans of Joe Johnston's Jumanji (1995) and Shawn Levy's Night At the Museum (2006) royally entertained. As with so many CGI features, however, the need for speed to hold the attention of younger viewers leaves little time to establish the story or develop the characters. Consequently, the viewer is hurtled along from the moment Harvie first appears on his scooter and there are far too few pauses for the film's worthwhile, if hardly profound messages to sink in. 

Kotík and Evlannikova's cause is hardly helped by the shrill vocal contributions, which rather expose the fact that translators Kate Bristol and Michael Mennies are hardly Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge of Asterix the Gaul fame. But the graphics are striking (the town is a joy to behold) and some of the scenes in the bowels of the museum are effectively eerie. The script also tries hard to put Monica on an equal footing with Harvie, although it undoes any good work by having Katarina attempt to reach the frock-coated Spejbl's heart through his stomach. So, while this may not be Czech animation's finest hour, it puts Josef Skupa back in the spotlight and reminds kids that there's more to life than gaming.

Although Zara Balfour and Marcus Stephenson have been involved with various aspects of film production for two decades, they had not attempted a feature-length documentary before they set off to the Nepalese Himalayas to make Children of the Snow Land. Screening at the Curzon Oxford on 21 March, this ambitious and deeply moving study of love and sacrifice is also available via the Curzon Home Cinema website. 

At the Snowland Ranag Light of Education Charity Boarding School in Kathmandu, Nima Guring, Tsering Deki Lama and Jeewan Mahatara are among the many children who have been delivered into the care of the Buddhist monks who run the academy by parents from the poorest regions of Nepal who hoped to give their children a better chance of making something of their lives. Seventeen year-old Nima lost his mother two days after his birth and he hasn't seen or heard from his father since he brought him to Snowland when he was six. A year younger, Tsering was left at the school when she was four. However, such was the care lavished upon the children by the monks and their staff that she gradually forgot about home and began to feel she belonged.

As teacher Dolma Lhamu Gurung explains, Snowland was opened by Ranag Rinchen Tulku Rinchen Rinpoche (aka Guru Rinpoche) in 2002 and she was among the first students. He is known as the Buddha of the Dolpo Region and 7 year-old Tashi Puthi Gurung is happy to be in his care, as is 17 year-old Jeewan Mahatara, even though he misses the mother he hasn't seen for 11 years because he can't afford to return home. Initially, he felt his parents didn't love him, but he has since realised that they sent him away to try and help him. However, as Guru Rinpoche relies on charitable donations to run the school, he has to limit the number of students to 150 children from remote regions with no educational facilities.

With graduation approaching, Nima, Tsering and Jeewan are given the opportunity by Himalayan tour guide Kumar Lama to return to their home villages and reunite with their relatives. They are taught how to use GoPro cameras and solar chargers to make video diaries of their three-month stays and they bid farewell to their classmates to embark upon a 14-hour bus ride to Nepalguni. They take a small plane into the interior and record their emotions as they fly over the mountains and see how beautiful and forbidding the terrain they are about to cross really is. 

On landing in Simikot, Tsering has a three-day trek to Muchu ahead of her, while Jeewan has a similar walk from Juphal to Kaigaon. By contrast, Nima has a 15-day expedition ahead of him before he reaches Shimen and he records the fast-flowing Bheri River and the narrow paths that have cost many Dolpolese people their lives. In order to reach his village, Jeewan has to make an overnight stay at his grandmother's house and she feeds him up on spicy home cooking and he is pleased to see her after a decade away. 

He films the higgledy-piggledy houses in the hills and notes that it feels odd to be in a place without electricity and proper sanitation after Kathmandu. Indeed, he calls the place `stone age', as he explores the muddy streets in search of a place to get a phone signal. But he fails to find one and sighs at the prospect of spending three months in a place that's five hours away from the nearest working phone and is so cold that people only bathe once a month. 

While she walks, Tsering thinks back to the early days of her separation from her parents when she had become convinced that they were glad to be shut of her because they never returned her calls. As she crosses a rickety rope bridge across a raging river, she worries that her mother won't be pleased to see her after. However, while Jeewan wonders whether he will recognise his parents, he is more bothered about having to live in squalor when he has become so used to being clean at Snowland and having his friends around him. 

Meanwhile, Nima is four days into his journey with Kumar and classmates Sangpo Lama and Kusang Tsamo Lama. They have to camp out on some nights and are happy to be travelling together with a guide. But, while they still have a way to go, Jeewan and Tsering arrive at their respective destinations. The former is relieved to find his mother keeps the house spick and span, although the latter is slightly disappointed by her mother's muted reception, as she greets her with a traditional tashi delek ceremony. Things live up, however, when they provide momo dumplngs and chang beer for the neightbours to celebrate the wanderer's return and Tsering ends up having a nice time. 

As Nima's party reaches Phoksundo Lake and they paddle in the cold water and marvel at the stunning scenery, they feel the tremors of a 7.9 magnitude earthquake that has struck outside Kathmandu. Captions remind us that 9000 people were killed and 800,000 homes were destroyed and Tsering goes to pray at the local monastery after seeing footage of the devastation on TV. Nima shares her concerns for the Snowland family, but has no idea of the extent of the damage, as he makes a non-stop 30-hour trek through territory vulnerable to quakes in order to reach Shey Gompa monastery. Snow has fallen and a combination of cold, altitude sickness and tiredness hinders progress. Nima recites a poem about the pain of never knowing his mother and he trudges along with a mix of fear and sadness.

Tsering helps her mother prevent weeds from spoiling the crops needed for the subsistence roti bread. As her monk father has high blood pressure, he can't do much manual labour, but she notices that the men tend to sit around while their womenfolk do much of the work in the fields and in the home. Yet, when she tries to make suggestions about hygiene or efficiency, her mother ignores her and Tsering can't work out if she is resisting through pride or ignorance. But her frustration is nothing beside Nima's anguish, when he arrives in Shimen to discover that his sister-in-law has thrown his father out of their humble home because he has become an unruly drunk. 

When Sangpo moves on to his village, Nima feels very isolated, as the villagers have started calling him an outcast because he doesn't speak the local dialect and he keeps making mistakes while trying to help out in the parched fields. But he gets to spend time with his brother and sister and realises that country living is much more harmonious than city dwelling. Jeewan also gets over his social media withdrawal and comes to appreciate the fresh air and the splendour of the mountainscapes. A montage follows showing the boys settling into their new routine, but we don't get to learn the significance of any of the rituals, dances or songs we see. 

Tsering goes to visit the aunt who had taken her to Snowland and learns from her about the problems that had prompted her mother to send her away. Feeling emotional on hearing of her mother's sacrifice, Tsering is eager to return and thank her for putting her first and sparing her the prospect of marrying young and raising a family while slogging in the fields. Nima is also feeling more at home and joins his family and neighbours on a four-day jaunt into the hills to find an insect called Yarsagumba, which carries a bacteria that has valuable medical properties. He enjoys meeting people from other villages, but also learns that his father went without to ensure he and his siblings had enough to eat after their mother died. However, his three subsequent marriages seem to have been unhappy and Nima is disappointed at not being able to hand over the boots he had bought for him. 

Bidding farewell to their families with no idea whether they will ever return, the trio make their way back to Kathmandu and see the earthquake damage for themselves. Snowland had been shaken and it had taken two months of repairs before the children were allowed to return. Dolma describes how the youngest had responded to the emergency and is grateful to have been spared. She is also pleased by the way Nima, Tsering and Jeewan mucked in to help the staff and notes how much they have matured during their sojourns. They also recognise how their experiences have helped reconcile them with their parents and the difficult decisions that they had to make when they were small. 

Captions reveal that Nima is now studying tourism in the hope of becoming a guide in the High Himalayas, while Jeewan hopes to return to Dolpo after completing a fashion course to promote local crafts and costumes. Tsering hopes to become a human rights lawyer to help improve the lives of the Himalayan peoples and one suspects she is the likeliest to succeed in her aims. However, all three demonstrate considerable intrepidity in negotiating the mountain passes and making a go of village life. They also prove themselves to be capable film-makers, as they survey the landscape, capture domestic routines and confide their impressions of their adventures. 

In showing how there are still parts of the planet that have escaped the clutch of globalism, Balfour and Stephenson are also fortunate in having photographer Mark Hakansson, editor Graham Taylor and editor Chris Roe in their team, as each makes an invaluable contribution to a project that found itself caught up in the trauma of the 2015 earthquake. Wisely, the aftermath is confined to the homecoming coda, as the focus falls on the culture clashes that confront Tsering, Jeewan and Nima on going back to their roots. While their reflections are sincere, they aren't always particularly revealing and we only receive a cursory introduction to quotidian reality in the Upper and Lower Dolpo. Moreover, we hear little from those who didn't benefit from a placement at Snowland and were forced to make the most of the traditions and routines that Tsering's mother wouldn't lament if they were to disappear forever. But insight and style matter less in this affecting celebration of love, trust, charity and hope than the humanity and honesty that courses through it.

In 1997, playwright-cum-screenwriter David Hare took a trip through Israel and Palestine and, two years later, channelled his findings into the stage monologue, Via Dolorosa. He did the same thing after journeying along the barrier keeping the Israeli and West Bank populations apart and his 2009 piece, Wall, has now been turned into an animated documentary by Canadian Cam Christiansen. Making extensive use of location and motion-capture footage, Christiansen and his team have created a high-contrast monochrome landscape that complements Hare's eloquently provocative ruminations to show that the quality of life has not improved for those living on either side of what its constructors and champions call the `separation fence' and its detractors and victims describe as the `racial segregation wall'.

Terminology matters in this part of the world, as Hare explains sitting on a bench overlooking a beach. When it was first proposed, 84% of Israelis were in favour of a `fence' whose purpose was the opposite of the Berlin Wall's, as that was built to keep people in. On introducing friends in Tel Aviv to London theatre associate, Steven Hoffman, Hare learns that their opposition to the scheme has been tempered by its efficacy, as terrorist attacks have dropped by over 80%. 

A flashback takes us back to 1 June 2001, nine months into the Second Intifada, when suicide bomber Saeed Hotari motorcycled from the West Bank to kill 21 civilians (including 16 teenagers) and injure 132 more at the Dolphinarium Discotheque in Tel Aviv. The pressure group Fence for Life took up former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's call for a barrier to protect Israeli's from terrorism. However, he also wanted the country to develop a philosophy of separatism and one of Hare's friends laments this failure of history. 

Following a grim catalogue of statistics relating to the building of the `wall' from 2002, Hare explains how Palestinian land and livelihoods were bulldozed as the perameters of the 1949 Green Line were ignored to protect Israeli settlements that had sprung up inside Palestinian territory. As concrete slabs slam into the ground in a grimly graphic sequence, Hare considers how the Israelis have justified the measure and shaken off accusations that they have conducted a land grab to deprive Palestinians of rich farm land and water sources in a bid to `change the facts on the ground'. But the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled the `wall' a breach of international law in 2009 and demanded it was dismantled. 

Professor Sari Nuseibeh claims that the `wall' is a perfect crime, as it generates the violence it had been erected to prevent. While in Jerusalem, Hare takes the opportunity to drive out to Qalandiya to see how the checkpoint system operates. He recalls a meeting with Israeli novelist David Grossman, who clams the country still feels provisional and seems nowhere near as bellicose to its own people as it does to outsiders. Moreover, it has no sense of its own future, as it lacks unity. But these words ring hollow for Hare when his car is held up at the Huwware roadblock and his driver, Afif, reveals that such petty harassment is an everyday occurrence that the Israelis inflict as a `collective punishment' because they can. 

Hare's Tel Aviv hosts suggest that the barrier degrades those on both sides and they worry that the socialist ideal of the founding fathers has been replaced by a hard-nosed pragmatism that the more cosmopolitan younger generation finds intolerable. As he arrives in Ramallah, Hare discovers that West Bankers feel the same way about a resistance movement led by Hamas, whose base is in Gaza. While at a chic party, he is told about a torture technique involving a drawing of a bicycle on a wall. Suspected informants are ordered to fetch the bike or face a beating and Hare wonders whether such a cruel technique isn't rooted in the fact that most things for most Palestinians are an illusion out of their reach. 

Driving to Nablus, Hare becomes aware that the settlements that Israel claim have a religious basis are plantations used as a method of control. He laments that the Holy Land has been defaced and that Jerusalem no longer feels like a spiritual home, as building has turned it into just another residential metropolis and Hare questions whether his decadent Western idea of beauty are an imposition on those who have made the city fit a modern purpose rather than a biblical/medieval ideal. As the camera flits between the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock, he also concedes that it's a city for believers, which he is not. 

Arriving in Nablus, Hare sings the praise of mayor Adly Yaish, a graduate of the University of Liverpool, who ran on the Hamas ticket in 2005 (without being a member) and got 73% of the vote. But he is powerless to stop the lifeblood being squeezed out of a once thriving trading post that was founded by Vespasian in 72 CE. Hare visits the market and a hamam bath before going for Turkish coffee in a café that was once the Maxim's of Little Damascus. But he is appalled to see a poster of Saddam Hussein on the wall because he was against everything Hamas stands for. Yet, he accepts that he stood up against the Americans and that, if walls are erected, people are sometimes going to cover them with inappropriate images. 

As he reflects on what he has seen, Hare reveals that he writes about the Middle East because it answers to something inside him rather than because he understands it. On leaving, they are stopped at the Deir Sharaf Checkpoint and the soldiers are puzzled how they managed to get to Nablus. This focuses his mind on the Israeli refusal to confront its problems rationally and academic Neill Lochery. the author of Why Blame Israel?, asserts that the `fence' is a white elephant because its building prompted the Palestinians to ditch suicide bombings and deploy missile air strikes.

On the journey home, Hare and Hoffman are mistaken for settlers at Huwwara and are allowed to use a priority road and they barrel along while the Palestinian highway is at a standstill. They reach Ramallah, the home of the Palestinian Authority, and lawyer Raja Shehadeh claims it has the good fortune not to be mentioned in the bible because no religious fanatics take any interest in it. He goes to the Al-Kasaba Theatre, a cinema run by actor friend George Ibrahim, who blames the British for leaving in a hurry in 1948 and allowing Israel to do whatever it wanted in establishing its state. He also insists that the `wall' is around the Israelis rather than the Palestinians. 

Returning to Jerusalem, Hare pays another call on Grossman, whose son was killed on the last day of the war with Lebanon and grief still hangs over the house.  He despairs of the conquering spirit that has infused Israeli life since the 1967 war and says that seizing control for a people so used to being victims became dangerously addictive until paranoia set in and the sense of persecution returned. Frustrated by the lack of vision among Israel's politicians, Grossman longs for a time when fear can be forgotten. But Hare leaves him with hope, as a final montage shows the blacks, whites and greys being replaced with swathes of colour, as graffiti on the `wall' comes to life and Hare compares its fate to that of the Berlin Wall. He smiles at the tag reading `Ctrl, Alt, Delete', as if pressing three computer keys could restore a view that has blocked out light and the sea for 15 years. For now, it's just a drawing. But what might the future hold?

Recalling Ari Folman's Waltz With Bashir (2008) and Ali Samadi Ahadi's The Green Wave (2010) in its visual boldness, this is a film that brims with ideas and strives to consider both sides of the argument, in spite of ultimately leaving few in any doubt of where its sympathies lie. As there are no solutions to the dilemmas raised and no points to be scored from naming and shaming those using the situation to bolster their own careers, Hare contents himself with focusing minds on the paradoxes underpinning the ongoing tragedy. He knows the physical and the political terrain well and makes an excellent guide, although he is prone to the odd sweeping and/or emotive statement. Then again, the aim here is more subtly advocatory than strictly documentary. 

With Sara Kestelman, David Schneider, Tracy Ann Oberman voicing the Tel Aviv friends and Raad Rawi guesting as George Ibrahim, the vocal cast is highly effective. As is Daniel Pellerin's sound design and James Mark Stewart's score. Abetted by senior animators Mitch Barany and Price Morgan. Christiansen works a minor miracle with the travelogue visuals. The human elements are markedly less effective, however, with the facial close-ups having a disconcerting mask-like quality, while the gait of the characters is awkwardly stiff. These may be minor quibbles, but they occasionally distract from the text, which rather betrays its age through the lack of any references to the wall Donald Trump is so intent on building along the US border with Mexico.

Once upon a long ago, Hollywood had a thing about making biopics of the great jazz musicians. Among the best were Alfred E, Green's The Fabulous Dorseys (1947), Anthony Mann's The Glenn Miller Story (1954), Valentine Davies's The Benny Goodman Story (1956), Don Weis's The Gene Krupa Story, and Melville Shavelson's Red Nichols study, The Five Pennies (both 1959). What sticks out a mile, of course, is that all these films were about white musicians. The studios knew they wouldn't get bookings in the Deep South, so there was too great a financial risk involved in profiling African-Americans (or so the `official' story goes).

Although odd outings like Robert Budreau's Born to Be Blue and Don Cheadle's Miles Ahead (both 2015) still come along, what has been called `America's Classical Music' has been more at home in the documentary sphere since the release of Aram Avakim and Bert Stern's epochal concert movie, Jazz on a Summer's Day (1959). Now, Swiss director Sophie Huber adds to the growing list of essential jazzumentaries with Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes, which educates, inspires and enthralls throughout an 85-minute running time that will leave many applauding for more. 

Don Was, the president of Blue Note Records, wanders into a studio and introduces the members of the Blue Note All-Stars: Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinmusire, Marcus Strickland, Derrick Hodge, Lionel Luoeke and Kendrick Scott. The latter equates jazz with freedom and as the band launches into `Bayyinah', veterans Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock join hip hop producer Terrace Martin in claiming that Blue Note set the tone for American jazz because so many of its finest exponents were signed to the label that had been founded by Alfred Lion, Francis Wolff and Max Margolis in 1939. 

Boyhood friends Lion and Wolff are heard explaining how they became hooked on jazz in 1920s Berlin. However, they fled the Nazi persecution of the Jews and sound engineer Rudy van Gelder recalls how they wound up in New York. Knowing nothing about the record business, the pair were fans who trusted musicians like pianist Meade Lux Lewis, who was one of their first artists. Shorter and Hancock note that Lion and Wolff always gave them the space to create and allowed the music to reflect the black experience in the pre-Civil Rights era. 

Signed in 1952, saxophonist Lou Donaldson claims that most white label owners were scoundrels. But he liked Lion and Wolff, as they knew nothing about music, but knew what they liked and knew enough from their experiences under the Third Reich to empathise with the plight of black musicians. Wolff used to take pictures in the studio and Blue Note producer Michael Cuscuna owns his photo collection. He shows us Donaldson in a 1951 session with pianist Thelonius Monk and Donaldson jokes that he signed to the label because Lion hoped he could play like Charlie Parker. 

According to Donaldson, Monk was so innovative that he could be hard to play with until you got used to him and Glasper and Martin declare him to be the creator of hip hop jazz and credit Lion and Wolff for taking a chance on such a radical musician after they had initially recorded Dixieland before switching to Be-Bop. We see footage of Monk playing "`Round Midnight" and Cuscuna commends Lion for sticking with him for five years, even though nobody was buying the records and Donaldson insists nobody would have heard of Monk if Blue Note hadn't taken him on.

They had more commercial success with pianist Bud Powell, who had a hit with `Un Poco Loco' and remained a key player from 1949-58. Lion took a personal interest in him and encouraged him to compose his own music and let him advise on the sidemen he wanted to play with. Another to prosper was tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, whose Blue Train album remains a classic, with its distinctive artwork by Reid Miles and the sound captured by Van Gelder (who worked for Blue Note from 1953-2008). Scott claims this album made him want to be a musician and Hancock says the listener completes a work of musical art because they provide the emotional response that can't be pressed into the vinyl. 

For the first six years he was at Blue Note, Van Gelder recorded sessions at his parents' home in Hackensack, New Jersey. Among the tracks was `I Waited For You' by trumpeter Miles Davis in April 1953 before they built a studio at Eaglewood Cliffs in 1959 and Blue Note recorded over 400 albums there. Now, Don Was (who has worked with The Rolling Stones and The B-52s) is remastering the best for a vinyl reissue with the help of All-Stars sound engineer Keith Lewis. Among them is trumpeter Clifford Brown's Memorial Album (1953) and drummer Art Blakey's Live At Birdland (1954) and Donaldson played on both albums and he mourns that the 25 year-old Brown was killed in a car crash shortly afterwards because he had potential to be a legend. 

With Horace Silver on piano, the latter album broke the rules of Be-Bop and this Hard Bop became known as the Blue Note Sound. We hear Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers playing "Moanin'" in 1958 and Shorter recalls how Blakey forced him on stage and told him to stop hiding behind his saxophone. He and Hancock played together on Speak No Evil (1964) and they concur that they weren't trying to produce hits, but music that would still speak to people in the future. They also collaborated on `Mesqualero' in 1967 and we see the pair team with the All-Stars to record it again. As they listen to the playback, the younger musicians all wax lyrical about the generosity and inspiration the older men continue to provide, as they encourage bandmates to improvise and go with what they are feeling. 

In 1966, Shorter composed `Footprints' for Miles Davis and Hancock remembers him tidying up a mistake he had made during a show and teaching him the lesson of being non-judgemental when playing because new directions come from departing from the path. What impresses the All-Stars, however, is that the likes of Joe Henderson and Jackie McLean reflected the world they lived in and albums like Blakey's Free For All (1964) was a work of social consciousness, as well as art. Recorded between the march on Selma and the passage of the Civil Rights Act, it was an angry and defiant, but also as optimistic as trumpeter Lee Morgan's The Sidewinder (1963). Hodge, Akinmusire and Scott muse on the fact that this was the sound of a people emerging from torment and it continues to inspire them to write music that connects with the audience and makes them think, as well as feel. 

Morgan's comeback album was one of Blue Note's biggest hits in the 1960s, along with Silver's Song For My Father (1965). But the success led to distributor agitation for more hits and they slowed down payments to goad Lion and Wolff into becoming more commercial. Faced with a cashflow crisis, they were forced to sell to Liberty Records and Lion and Miles left the label soon afterwards. Wolff continued to produce records until his death in 1971 and Blue Note went into mothballs after EMI acquired United Artists Records, which has taken over Liberty in 1969. 

With jazz slipping into the margins, hip hop became the new sound of the deprived inner city and people like Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest emerged in the mid-1980s and they sampled Lee Morgan's `Absolutions' for `Oh My God'. Lou Donaldson's `Ode to Billy Joe' is Blue Note's most sampled track and Muhammad says he is one of the architects of hip hop, along with the track's drummer, Idris Muhammad and guitarist Grant Green, as they played with a freedom that enthused the new generation

Blue Note was relaunched in 1985 via EMI's Manhattan Records and Bruce Lundvall remained its president until 2011, while Cuscana became one of the key producers. Among the hits was US3's `Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)' in 1993 and Norah Jones's `Don't Know Why' in 2003, which scooped armfuls of Grammys. Robert Glasper also became an important player by fusing jazz and hip hop on albums like Black Radio (2012), while he and Akinmusire played on Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly (2015), which was co-produced by Terrace Martin, who insists the jazz/hip hop axis is only going to get stronger and that much of this is down to Blue Note Records. As the All-Stars conclude, playing instruments will die out unless they can inspire youth and showing them the link between rap and jazz is the only way to go.

Filled with challenging, but thrilling music, snippets of recording session banter and considered contributions from musicians who care about their art and the impact it can have on the wider community, this is a magnificent introduction to Blue Note that will have you scouring the Internet for some of the tracks it contains and wishing that someone would screen Huber's debut feature, Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (2012). It might have been useful to include some critical and/or cultural analysis from outside the charmed circle, while more might have been made of musicians like Ike Quebec, Milt Jackson, Jimmy Smith, Dexter Gordon and Freddie Hubbard, whose names keep flashing past in the montages of album covers and credits. 

Similarly, it would be interesting to know why there are so few female artists on the roster and what impact EMI's takeover by Universal and the switch to Decca as the chief distributor has had on the Blue Note imprint. Few would have complained if Huber had added an extra half hour to cover these and other matters arising, such as the attitude of millennial urban youth to jazz and whether they share the All-Star view that it's still relevant in the era of Black Lives Matter. The added time would also have allowed her to include more of Wolff's exceptional monochrome photographs, which have an artistry that belies the fact they were often snapped on the hoof, as he danced around the studio to the music he loved, What an exhibition someone could mount of these snaps and Reid Miles's album covers! And how about a soundtrack album, too?