Two independent "art" films hit local theaters Friday - "The Object of Beauty," a British film starring American actors, and "Life and Nothing But," a thoughtful film on an important subject by French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier.

- "THE OBJECT OF BEAUTY" is a dark, cynical satire that acts as a metaphor for the current recession. Donald Trump, are you watching?John Malkovich and Andie MacDowell star as a couple used to wealth but not exactly wealthy. They are American high rollers living in a London hotel - a very posh hotel, of course. And under the opening credits we see that Malkovich's Gold Card isn't what it used to be.

With all his money invested in cocoa that is, thanks to a strike, sitting on a dock in the tropics, Malkovich is rapidly losing financial ground. And no wonder. He and MacDowell have no assets - no home, no car . . . they live on room service and travel everywhere by cab.

In fact, aside from their expensive apparel, there seems to be only one real item they own. MacDowell has a very expensive piece of scupture, a small abstract bronze head by Henry Moore, insured for $50,000. And now that they are about $10,000 in debt, with creditors at the door, Malkovich suggests they sell it.

MacDowell, of course, doesn't want to. It was, after all, a gift from her ex-husband (Peter Reigert) - though they are not actually divorced and she and Malkovich are not actually married.

So MacDowell suggests they "steal" it instead, then collect the insurance money. Malkovich isn't sure that's such a good idea.

Meanwhile, a young deaf-mute (Rudi Davies) is reluctantly hired by the hotel manager (Joss Ackland) as a maid. A member of London's poor, she lives in a basement apartment with her punk brother. And one day, while cleaning MacDowell and Malkovich's room, she becomes fascinated by the sculpture.

When it disappears, MacDowell and Malkovich are likely suspects, but so is the maid.

What happens next in terms of plot isn't so important to "The Object of Beauty" as the clever, insightful study in character. This is much more than a simple contrast in rich and poor lifestyles, each equally explored in some depth. More it is about greed and desire - and life in general.

Writer-director Michael Lindsay-Hogg is very perceptive and subtle in his approach and has cast his film very well, including Lolita Davidovich ("Blaze") as MacDowell's best friend.

"The Object of Beauty" is rated R for sex and a nude scene, as well as some profanity and violence.

- "LIFE AND NOTHING BUT" is a sharp look at the devastation of war from a unique perspective. French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier seems fascinated by the war dead who become mere statistics and here explores the way in which they are counted and how they are remembered by their loved ones.

The setting is 1920, and Philippe Noiret (the projectionist in last year's "Cinema Paradiso"), is a French major charged with cataloging those who have died in "the great war."

But not content to merely add to the list, Noiret is insistent that each and every casualty be identified.

The film focuses on the Noiret as he is in charge of an effort to remove the victims of an explosion that blew up a train inside a tunnel, and the two women who repeatedly cross his path as they search for, respectively, their husband and fiance.

Meanwhile, Noiret is outraged by the Army's attempt to find an unidentified "unknown soldier" it can use to divert the nation's attention from the thousands who have died in the war.

Low-key and deliberate, with probing insight that is distinctly Tavernier's, "Life and Nothing But" follows a small group of people trying desperately to discover what has happened to their "missing-in-action" sons and lovers and to make sense of the war that has devastated their country.

It's no small task to tackle a subject like this, but Tavernier and his perfect cast are more than up to it. "Life and Nothing But," rated PG for a couple of profanities and offscreen carnage, is touching, tender and thought-provoking.