Dirs: Werner Herzog, Jim Jarmusch, Chen Kaige, Aki Kaurismaki, Spike Lee, Victor Erice, Wim Wenders. 2002. 92 mins.

There are enormous advantages to the short-film format. It allows directors a creative freedom rarely enjoyed these days by even the most bankable names. For the audience, it offers a chance to see top directors flexing their muscles in a genre that's normally a training ground for inexperienced talent, even though its technical challenges are actually just as great as - if not greater than - the full-length feature. Some (though not all) of the films in this line-up are small masterclasses in the art of transmitting ideas with economy and precision. The downside, of course, is the difficulty of programming shorts, even gathered into a feature-length collection. Television is bound to be Ten Minutes Older's ultimate destination - it premieres in the US on Showtime in July - though, with this line-up of directors, there should be plenty of festival pit-stops along the way.

A second instalment in the series, with contributions from Bernardo Bertolucci, Mike Figgis and Istvan Szabo, is already in the works. Several other projects have also latched on the concept: two portmanteau films announced in Cannes will be focussed on Paris and on the impact of 11 September.

Ten Minutes Later is justified by its second segment alone. By a good way the best of the bunch, it's a rare chance to see Victor Erice at work: the great Spanish director has made only a handful of films (this is his first since The Quince Tree Sun 10 years ago). The Lifeline of the title is a new-born baby's umbilical cord which, imperfectly severed, threatens the child's life. Meanwhile lustrous black-and-white images and precision editing show the other family members go obliviously about their daily business to the rhythm of the clock.

A newspaper pinpoints the date: 28 June 1940: even as this tiny life is ultimately saved, the Nazis were crossing the French border into Spain, threatening thousands of others. Mysterious, sensuous and poignant, it achieves in miniature the same allegorical power as Erice's superb first feature, The Spirit Of The Beehive.

Aki Kaurismaki's Dogs Have No Hell is a cryptic, absurdist love story - a jailbird buys a train ticket to Siberia and, with 10 minutes to go before his departure, woos and wins his wife. It's an unhurried piece which pares to the bone the storytelling skills of a already minimalist director. Jim Jarmusch's Int. Trailer. Night has Chloe Sevigny as a frazzled actress taking a quick break in her trailer to smoke a cigarette and relax to one of Bach's Goldberg Variations. But her snatched 10 minutes turn out to be eventful and chaotic.

Spike Lee's We Wuz Robbed relives the brief moment when the 2000 Bush-Gore election still seemed to hang in the balance, as Gore first conceded, then was persuaded to challenge the deciding Florida vote. Very crisply edited, his series of pointed interviews with some of the campaign's leading players illuminate 10 minutes which changed the course of American - and world - history.

Werner Herzog's Ten Thousand Years Older starts from an interesting idea - a primitive Amazonian tribe for whom time has an entirely different meaning than for Western civilisation - but doesn't take it far enough.

Wim Wenders' segment is a particular disappointment given the director's brilliant use of time in his early work - the German title of his 1975 film Kings Of The Road is actually Im Lauf der Zeit, or In The Course Of Time. Twelve Miles To Trona is a slight and facetious story of a man who has accidentally OD'd on acid and is racing for his life to the hospital. But the booby prize goes to Chen Kaige's 100 Flowers Hidden Deep, a whimsical comic fable on the ravages of urban redevelopment. Unfortunately, it's the last segment.

An anthology is bound to be uneven, but the big weakness of Ten Minutes Older is its vague concept. Starting from the loose catch-all theme of "time", it takes in, as the synopsis grandly puts it, "all human experience: birth, death, love, sex, the drama of the moment, history and ancient myth." In other words, pretty much anything the director cares to address: the approaches are too diverse and individual to give this any kind of cohesion. And, other than referring to the jazzy linking music, the subtitle, The Trumpet, merely comes across as a gimmick.

Prod co: Road Movies
Int'l sales: Road Sales USA
Exec prod: Ulrich Felsberg
Prods: Felsberg, Nicholas McClintock, Nigel Thomas
Music: Improvised by Hugh Masekela on a theme by Paul Englishby