Short Cuts: Ice Mother, Italian Film Festival, Time Trial

15+, 106 minutes. Australian Centre for the Moving Image, until Tuesday, September 18

There has been a steady stream of British and American movies in recent years catering to the pleasures and prerogatives of ageing populations, but few of them have the humanist warmth or steady gaze of this wry Czech drama about a widow who puts her life in order and confronts the consequences. Living mainly at the service of her two ungrateful adult sons and their respective families, Hana (Zuzana Kronerova) finds unexpected renewal when she's drawn into her local winter swimming club – the icy dips are a shock to the system in more ways than one. Mixing with the likes of Brona (Pavel Novy), a comparative free spirit whose key dependents are his chickens, Hana grasps her second chance. The bit players are drawn with a caricature's broadness, but writer/director Bohdan Slama (The Country Teacher) isn't merely interested in fancy-free triumph, he's willing to dig into why Hana got to this turning point. The true respect Slama pays to his greying protagonists is to consider them fully-formed characters.

Ice Mother: a wry Czech drama about a widow who puts her life in order and confronts the consequences.

Ice Mother: a wry Czech drama about a widow who puts her life in order and confronts the consequences.

ITALIAN FILM FESTIVAL Kino Cinemas, Astor Theatre, Palace Cinemas Balwyn, Brighton Bay, Como, and Westgarth, Thursday, September 13, to Sunday, October 7

"We're a country that saves human lives, but we can't continue letting everyone in," notes a senior Italian official discussing asylum seekers in The Order of Things (★★★, 18+, 112 minutes), and throughout Andrea Segre's calm on the surface drama – part of the extensive program at this year's Italian Film Festival – the gaps between beliefs and actions, between hopes and outcomes, are sharply exposed. A senior bureaucrat, Corrado Rinaldi (Paolo Pierobon) is sent to Libya, along with his French counterpart, in a bid to stem the journey of Africans seeking a safe life in Europe, but his vigour for policy is challenged by the trust of Swada (Yusra Warsam), a Somalian refugee he meets at a chaotic detention centre who asks him to pass on her details to waiting family. Segre has long examined the divide between Italy and those living on its margins with films such as 2011's Shun Li and the Poet, but here he contrasts the state and the individual, an approach that speaks equally to Australia as it does to Italy.

15+, 82 minutes. Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Monday, September 10, to Tuesday, September 25.

In Finlay Pretsell's experiential documentary, professional cycling is a state of agony that promises the salvation of euphoria. "We train to suffer more," notes David Millar, a Scottish cyclist whose unexpectedly final season on the European circuit is a forge on which his life's passion and mistakes are brutally beaten into their final physical and psychological state. In other words, this is not your average cycling documentary. The rising star of British riding, with Tour de France stage wins to his name, Millar was banned for doping offences in 2004, cheating he acknowledged throughout his subsequent comeback, but that's just one historic strand in a documentary that captures the serenity and struggle of racing. Pretsell reveals the daily peloton as a complex, bobbing organism complete with workplace chit-chat and the constant oversight of employers, and his film immerses you in Millar's environment and mindset. There is obsession and momentum, but never a hint of cathartic release.

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