VOYAGES (Emmanuel Finkiel, France) **1/2

An elegy for the European Jewish culture destroyed by the Nazis, VOYAGES consists of three parts  set in Poland, Paris and Israel, respectively. This is Finkiel's first feature, following two shorts, and it initially appears that the structure emerged out of an inability to put together a 110-minute narrative. Despite the film's ambition, its first two thirds feel slight and anecdotal. However, Finkiel's repetition of themes and motifs (especially the  disconnection between parents and children, which is treated in a more metaphorical fashion in the third part) eventually gives the film a cumulative power. If this were a book of short stories, its centerpiece would be the extremely affecting third sequence, which chronicles the arrival of an elderly Russian émigré (who doesn't speak a word of Hebrew) in Israel. Although this segment might be just as powerful as a stand-alone short, it's the reason why VOYAGES is worth seeing.

Distributed by New Yorker Films. No release date yet.

ADRENALINE DRIVE (Shinobu Yaguchi, Japan) ***

Although the Film Society of Lincoln Center's program notes describe ADRENALINE DRIVE as "a masterful parody of popular Japanese teenage girls' romances," it seems more like a take-off on the ever-popular "outlaw couple on the run" genre. In this case, the couple are a shy nurse and even shier rental car clerk who run off with a huge bag of money after an explosion at a yakuza's office. Their story is  compelling, but the most entertaining moments in ADRENALINE DRIVE are supplied by the comedy troupe Jovi Jova, who play a group of junior yakuza losers trying to track the money down. Whether arguing about a car radio singalong or attempting to hitchhike with faces full of bruises and a "We need help!" sign, they consistently upstage the leads. (Not surprisingly, Yaguchi has since made a film of comedy sketches, called ONE PIECE!) Yaguchi's  sense of humor  is reminiscent of a gentler Takeshi Kitano, and he might have made a first-rate film if only he came close to Takeshi's visual precision.

Distributed by Shooting Galley Films. Opens in New York May 5th.

NOWHERE TO HIDE (Lee Myung-Se, South Korea) **1/2

NOWHERE TO HIDE reveals writer/director/production designer Lee as both a talent to watch and one with a long way to go. As a cinema du look action movie, its best scenes are more entertaining than RUN LOLA RUN or any Luc Besson film, yet its inventiveness is impressive only in short doses. It comes across a series of set pieces, the best of which come early, rather than a full-fledged work. Lee only manages to bring one character, a cop named Woo (Park Joong-Hoon), to life; all his colleagues, as well as the criminals they chase down, seem interchangeable and faceless. Woo is as unlikable a protagonist as I've seen in years -  a Dirty Harry type who smacks suspects around, ignores his family and responds to a fellow cop's moral qualms about violence by starting a snowball fight - and the film is really sunk by its tacit acceptance of his thuggery. (By contrast, the "bad guys" seem almost  sympathetic, and unless I missed some subtle critique on Lee's part, I don't think this is the effect he wanted.) Its slick, seductive veneer covers a mile-wide ugly streak.

No distributor.

TWO WOMEN (Tahmine Milani, Iran) **

Rumor has it that the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary will be using TWO WOMEN as a handy definition of the word "heavy-handed." A blunt feminist polemic whose script was banned by the Iranian censors for seven years, it's far more admirable politically than aesthetically. Despite its title, it centers around one woman: Fereshteh  (Niki Karimi), a student whose life starts going down the drain when her parents force her to leave college after an incident in which a stalker attacks her cousin. Her best friend Roya (Atila Pesiani) is lucky enough to marry a nice man and go on to a successful career, but Fereshteh jumps from the fire into the frying pan: although her stalker eventually winds up behind bars, she marries a pathologically jealous man at the insistence of her "disgraced" family. Milani soon abandons her exploration of female friendship, which begins just before the Islamic Revolution, for a portrait of Iranian patriarchy, and while I don't doubt its accuracy, her characters' behavior is never quite believable.  Even after a dozen years of marriage to a man who treats her like his prisoner, Fereshteh retains her will and self-esteem, while the men are so villainous that one presumes they must spend their spare time tying helpless maidens to train tracks. The film's blunt anger is initially refreshing, but 96 minutes paced at the same fever pitch quickly grows wearisome.  TWO WOMEN pales next to other Iranian films that have explored their country's sexual politics with far more insight and complexity, such as Dariush Mehrjui's LEILA, which acknowledges the ways in which women can absorb and pass on sexist values, and Samira Makhmalbaf's THE APPLE, which brings a welcome sense of humor and playfulness to the subject.

Opens in New York July.

EL MEDINA (Yousry Nasrallah, Egypt) ***

A filmmaker who began his career under the wing of Youssef Chahine, Nasrallah has absorbed both his mentor's eclecticism and interest in culture clash.
Starting off in a poor and crowded but vibrant quarter of Cairo, it follows Ali (Bassem Samra) as he explores his desire to become an actor. Frustrated with life as a butcher's assistant and under his father's thumb, he heads for Paris, only to discover  that the only work he can get as an illegal immigrant is as a boxer in rigged fights. EL MEDINA's central metaphor of amnesia suggests a critique of Ali's Western aspirations, yet the film also spells out the manifold reasons why life in Cairo stifles him. Nasrallah uses two different styles to depict life in each city - melodrama, complete with several musical numbers, for Cairo; neo-realist grit for Paris - and his mix of genres makes for a film as amiable as its hero.

No distributor

HUMAN RESOURCES (Laurent Cantet, France) ***1/4

My review accidentally got deleted. I'll try to reconstruct it.

No distributor.

SOUND AND FURY (Josh Aronson) **1/2

This shot-on-video  (and PBS-produced) documentary about two families trying to decide whether their Deaf children should get cochlear implants that may partially restore their hearing raises a wide range of thought-provoking issues about the value of difference, assimilation vs. separatism and the impact of technology, but without addressing them in a particularly satisfying manner. They deserve a more nuanced consideration than the repetitive string of arguments and angry speeches that Aronson offers up. Neither camp seems entirely sympathetic: the hearing parents betray a contempt for Deafness, while the Deaf ones suffer from their own fears of difference. Judging from the debates it shows, SOUND AND FURY's heavy-handedness may reflect the nature of a conflict in which side accuses the other of child abuse. However, Aronson betrays his subjects by having American Sign Language dubbed - often clumsily - rather than subtitled, which radically alters one's perceptions of them. An argument taking place in ASL isn't the same thing at all as  one in English, yet Aronson seeks to minimize  these differences. SOUND AND FURY does open a window onto a fascinating subject, but it doesn't accomplish much more than that.

Opens in New York October 25th.

RATCATCHER (Lynne Ramsay, UK) ***

In the 90s, young American directors like John Dahl, Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith debuted with neo-noirs or youth comedies; for their European counterparts,  a film about working-class misery increasingly seems to be the equivalent way to make one's mark. Rosetta or the characters from any of Erick Zonca's films could live just around the block from James (William Eadle), the 12-year-old protagonist of RATCATCHER.  A chronicle of his unpleasant childhood in a decrepit Glasgow neighborhood, it shows a greater fascination with dirt and abjection than almost any other film I've seen, although it refrains from taking this fixation all the way into gross-out territory. Unlike most films of this nature, it avoids social context - without a couple of TV news clips, one would never guess that it takes place in the 70s - and concentrates instead on a cycle of  obsessively repeated  imagery: mice and water figure heavily in Ramsay's world. No kitchen-sink realist, she's smart enough to include several lyrical interludes - a dream set on the moon, a trip to the countryside that offers a small ray of hope - although she would've been even wiser to develop this imaginative dimension further. Nevertheless, RATCATCHER never amounts to anything more than a fairly personal revision of secondhand ideas, and its defeatist streak left a bad taste in my mouth.

No distributor.