Romantic reveries, comic clashes and dicey dilemmas: they're all aboard the winning Tickets, a train-journey triptych from three leading arthouse auteurs. It pulls out of the station at a relatively slow chug with Ermanno Olmi's study of wistful thinking, but then gets up to speed via Abbas Kiarostami's loose and lively tale of a young man and a general's widow. And lastly we're upgraded to first class for Ken Loach's turn in the driver's seat, which reunites the stars of Sweet Sixteen in an exuberant moral fable.
All portmanteau pics seem to have their slack patches, and Tickets is no exception. Here, the runt of the litter - comparatively - is Italian helmer Olmi's opener, which sees an aged biochemist (Carlo Delle Piane) daydreaming of a dishy PA (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) while soldiers patrol his carriage. It's tender and telling, but a tad underwhelming. The real gems commence when the baton's passed to Iran's Abbas Kiarostami. With its witty reversals and standout performance from Silvana De Santis - a bumptious old bat forever yanking on her reluctant helper's (Filippo Trojano) leash - this centrepiece sweeps the silver medal.
But the gold goes to Blighty's own Ken Loach, at the top of his game with the story of three footy fans (Sweet Sixteen's Martin Compston, William Ruane and Gary Maitland) who must decide whether an immigrant family is on the make or in dire straits. It's predictable and mildly preachy - but so warm, vital and gut-achingly hilarious that it emerges as reason alone for any right-minded person to bound up to the box office and cry, "Tickets, please!"