The Childhood of a Leader (2015) – Directors from Bertolucci to Haneke have tried to locate the origins of fascism in the nursery, and unfortunately this is no The Conformist or The White Ribbon. The line it draws between domestic and political tyranny is too pat, its depiction of the miserable, withholding rich a cliché. From the stilted discussions of the Versailles treaty to the way the camera occasionally lingers on extras moving awkwardly in the background, the woodenness here seems at least partly intentional – as if director Brady Corbet is mocking his own historical pageantry – but it’s hard to tell to what extent, or what purpose. Tom Sweet is certainly a singular child actor, with his weird air of preoccupation and his long blonde hair (people keep mistaking him for a girl): the movie’s most effective moments follow him as he roams like a feral cat through his family’s big cold mansion. Still, like the story he learns to read in French, this is only ever an exercise. **

Demolition (2015) – With his blackouts and his good, fast cutting, Jean-Marc Vallée has a gift for dissociation, and this starts well, sketching a whole marriage in the space of a car ride, nailing the weird moments of clarity following trauma. But then Jake Gyllenhaal’s grieving husband starts writing a series of confessional letters to a vending machine company, and the stupid conceits pile on: from Gyllenhaal’s tic of disassembling things to Naomi Watts’ manic pixie dream girl to, I kid you not, a merry-go-round in need of repair. Vallée’s informal framing – he goes for obstructed views and a slightly shaky camera so that we seem to catch things accidentally, as bystanders – at least has the virtue of soft-pedalling this stuff. With his self-satisfaction, the smirk that breaks out at odd moments, Gyllenhaal certainly makes a convincing Wall Street type, but his man-child clowning is not as charming as it’s meant to be. **

Heart of a Dog (2015) – Paying tribute to her mother, her dog, and her famous husband, Laurie Anderson’s words are funny and wise (she’s especially sharp on the selfishness of grief, the way we impose our own preoccupations on the memories of those we’ve lost). Her tone as performer is bewitching and complex, serene on the surface but studded with moments of gnomic humour. Unfortunately, Anderson’s images don’t match the power of her words and delivery. Too often they’re merely illustrative – like an avant-garde slideshow – or clichés like the sky glimpsed through branches or droplets of water running down glass. She achieves some nice effects with surveillance footage, however, and the videos of her dog at the piano are a hoot. ***

Julieta (2016) – Leave it to Pedro Almodóvar to turn an Alice Munro adaptation into a series of quotations from Hitchcock: Eve Marie Saint flirting with Cary Grant in North by Northwest, Tippi Hedren arriving in a seaside town, Rossy de Palma’s homage to Mrs. Danvers. Attempting a different register, telling a story with different stakes – a mother who pines after a daughter who has cut all contact with her – Almodóvar can’t help tricking it up with bits of old thrillers. Sometimes he’s too predictable: his good taste in furnishings, for example – a book of Cecil Beaton photographs here, a Francis Bacon there – feels less like a proud parading of influences this time than a spread in a lifestyle magazine. But this doesn’t get in the way of the feelings at the film’s centre: this remains a simple story, well told. ***