Mrs Harris Goes to Paris (PG)


Cinemas are filled with superpowered, super beings performing extraordinary superhuman acts, but they have got nothing on Mrs Ada Harris (Manville.)

In 1957, this cheery Battersea-based cleaning lady travels to Paris and the high temple of haute couture Christian Dior to buy one of their posh frocks. Her superpower is being so kind and good-natured she instantly charms (almost) every Parisian she meets. She even gets them to speak English and eat Toad-in-the-Hole – let's see Captain America do that.

Following her turn opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Fred, this establishes Manville as cinema’s premier clothes horse. Fabian’s film, based on a novel by Paul Gallico, is conceived as a fairy tale for grown-ups. So quite why the sight of a £500 Dior dress at one of her upmarket clients houses causes Harris to become so enraptured with the notion of buying one for herself is never really explored.

The production design looms large and most of the film takes place on glossy sets reminiscent of the Paddington movies, but less gritty. The plot is shameless contrivance piled upon contrivance in a way that persuades the viewer to just go along with it. It's a very odd movie but genuinely funny and engaging.

Even so, there should be some clear viewpoint. The streets of Paris during her visits are lined with rubbish because the binmen are on strike, and the film reveals itself to be on the side of the workers. Mrs Harris is a cheery, salt-of-the-earth type, resentful of her subservient position. At one point, she assumes the position of shop steward fighting for jobs.

Yet her fantasy is to possess a small slice of ruling class privilege with the film telling us the Dior dress is a thing of such purity and beauty that it transcends its economic significance.

I know it’s just a bit of fantasy escapism, but I don't see why the French would fall so completely for Harris and her idiomatic English with its: "That’s all fine and dandy” and “Gordon Bennett.” Still, who knows what the French will like: maybe it’s another Jerry Lewis thing? If nothing else, the film is worth it for the moment when Mrs ‘Arris tell Madame ‘Uppert that they are “two peas in a pod” and she has to stand there and take it, while forcing some form of smile.

Directed by Anthony Fabian. Starring Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert, Lambert Wilson, Alba Baptista, Lucas Bravo and Jason Issacs. Running time: 115 mins.

Flux Gourmet (15)


The latest delicacy from Peter (Berberian Sound Studio, In Fabric) Strickland, Britain's current designated arthouse auteur, is a rich sensual indulgence served cold.

A sonic catering collective - performance artists who make music from food - have been awarded a prestigious month-long residency at a secluded country institute. But the uncompromising, confrontational attitude of their leader Elle (Mohamed) antagonises everyone around her. Meanwhile, Stones (Papadimitriou), the writer employed to document “their investigation into an array of inter-culinary disciplines,” is being tormented by an unruly stomach that leaves him a martyr to flatulence and indigestion.

Although Strickland’s vision follows some patterns set by previous designated British arthouse oddities (most noticeably the arch and distant approach of Peter Greenaway) it has its own distinctive tone. Fusing the excesses of the foodie and performance art world would seem to be a satirical move but, despite being primarily humorous and presenting its characters as ridiculous, it has affection for them. I fully accept that most people will find this to be an unpalatable indulgence, but I enjoyed the skill with which it managed to have its cake and display it as a found objet d'art.

Directed by Peter Strickland. Starring Fatma Mohamed, Asa Butterfield, Makis Papadimitriou, Gwendoline Christie, Ariane Labad, Leo Bill and Richard Bremmer. In cinemas and streaming on Curzon Home Cinema. Running time: 111 mins.

The Cordillera of Dreams (12A)


The Cordillera is the section of the Andes that makes up 80 percent of Chile. Their dreams, according to this, are of the Chile that might have been if it hadn't been for the 1973 military coup and subsequent dictatorship of Thatcher's friend Pinochet.

Exiled filmmaker Guzman's usual approach is to contrast the casual majestic certainties of nature with the frantic brutish muddle of human affairs. Nostalgia for the Light explored the Atacama desert, with its observatories looking into the sky for remnants of the big bang and remains of a concentration camp. This begins with a stunning aerial shot going through the clouds to reveal the sprawl of Chilean capital Santiago before moving on to footage of protesters being water cannoned and brutalised by soldiers and policemen over the last five decades.

It’s a flawed work. It relies on a very narrow range of opinions – only cameraman Pablo Salas and author Jorge Baradit speak at length; the linking of the mountain range and the country's woes is tenuous at best; Guzmán's narration is a bit precious at times. Spectacular scenery and impassioned dissection of political oppression is an unusual combination, but the film compels.

Directed by Patricio Guzmán. Featuring Pablo Salas, Jorge Baradit, Vicente Gajardo, Francisco Gazitúa. In cinemas October 7. Running time: 85 mins.

Go to for a review of the Criterion Collection release of Oscar-winning 70s Vietnam documentary Hearts and Minds.