It kicks off with Ermanno Olmi’s delicate, tender tale of an elderly professor (Carlo Delle Piane) undergoing unexpected emotional upheaval while forced to delay his trip home; suspense is introduced through the presence of security guards on the look-out for terrorists and illegal migrants, but the episode is flawed both by a certain predictability and by the female lead – a PR assistant played by the excellent Valeria Bruni Tedeschi – having been given little to say or do save smile winsomely.
Things improve enormously when the film segues into Abbas Kiarostami’s typically sly, elliptical and enigmatic study of an obstreperous and obese but oddly beautiful middle-aged woman (Silvana De Santis) travelling with a far younger man (Filippo Trojano) – a son? a servant? a gigolo? – and of their often very funny, always beguiling encounters with other passengers. What’s not said, shown or done here is at least as fascinating – and, perhaps, just as important – as what little is made explicit; it’s a miniature masterpiece of ever-shifting perspectives and tantalising mysteries.
Then comes Ken Loach’s rather more conventional, frequently hilarious and finally rather touching depiction of an encounter between three Scottish football fans (Martin Compston, William Ruane and Gary Maitland, from ‘Sweet Sixteen’) and an Albanian family first seen in the Olmi episode. Written by regular Loach collaborator Paul Laverty, it’s pleasingly profane, politically well-meaning, and makes for a rousing coda to a film that’s consistently warm, witty and wise.