Dirs: Dunia Ayaso & Felix Sabroso. Spain. 2003.

It is easy to see how writer-director team Ayaso and Sabroso's new film might attract the Almodovar brothers as co-producers through their El Deseo outfit. The black humour, camp and kitschy urban aesthetic hark back to early Almodovar gems like What Have I Done To Deserve This'!! (Que He Hecho Yo Para Merecer Esto'!!). Following the duo's last misfire, the Maria Conchita Alonso-starrer Shout Out (El Grito En El Cielo), this new film sees them reign in the hysterics and tighten both characterisations and plotting. The result is a sharp yet ultimately gentle comedy which, while not exactly mainstream fare and despite local references and a slew of jokes targeting the film industry, should generate laughs abroad.

Focus International is handling international sales and their efforts should be facilitated by the Almodovar connection. Opening weekend returns through Warner Sogefilms in Spain were so-so - Euros 222,000 off 125 screens - but good word-of-mouth has propelled it to Euros 1.1m after four weeks.

The guileless and aptly named Justo Santo (embodied to perfection by the portly, sad-eyed Nieto) is a two-bit comedic performer at the neighborhood bar owned by his pill-popping brother (young Ochandiano in a rare comedic role). At home, Justo is spun like a pin-ball between his over-bearing, aging-showgirl mom, Katy (Almodovar regular Leon), and health food-obsessed wife Iris (Pena, fresh from her Torremolinos 73 success).

When drug-addled film director Aitor (charismatic newcomer Jaenada, also in this season's November) offers Justo a lead role, then promptly overdoses at the dinner table, Iris puts the corpse on ice in the bathtub until Justo can collect his check from the movie producer. (Justo's one-liner response: "What happened to your Zen calling'"). Complicating matters are Katy's nosiness, Berto's dim-wittedness, Aitor's clingy ex-girlfriend and the fact that Justo needs Aitor's signature before he can grab the cash.

The title (literally, defrost yourself) invokes the corpse-on-ice as well as a running joke of Katy trying to force-feed frozen dinners on her family.

The latter is representative of Sabroso and Ayaso's clever use of even the most minor plot-advancing scenes to introduce a new character or facet, or toss in a goofy non-sequitur, helping the somewhat deja-vu plot stay funny.

For instance, when Katy barges into an Indian neighbour's apartment to spy from their balcony, the scene starts with a lengthy clip from a retro-schmaltzy Bollywood film playing on their TV and ends with her non-chalantly outting the family's gay son.

The directors also capitalize on the potential of a largely-unfilmed immigrant district in Madrid to create a funky, anything-goes feel: from drag queens to drug addicts, Arabic belly-dancing classes to African drummers. Perhaps the most memorable shots in a cinematography marked by nighttime darkness are of two deaths: the director, seen from above as he collapses on a checkered-tile floor, and the ex-girlfriend, seen from below as she flies off a moped to her death.

Other stylistic touches include a clubby soundtrack and tony animated drawings accompanying end credits from regular Almodovar collaborator Juan Gatti. The nighttime visuals may prove a challenge on the small screen, but the right marketing could convert Chill Out into a cult hit on video and late-night TV.

Scr: Dunia Ayaso & Felix Sabroso
Prod cos:
El Deseo, MediaPro, FilmaNova, TeleMadrid, Antena 3, Canal Plus, Ibarretxe
Sp dis:
Warner Sogefilms
Int'l sales:
Agustin Almodovar, Jaume Roure, Anton Reixa
Exec prods:
Esther Garcia, Javier Mendez
Assoc prod:
David Martinez
Kiko de la Rica
Jose Salcedo
Mariano Marin
Main cast:
Pepon Nieto, Candela Pena, Loles Leon, Ruben Ochandiano, Oscar Jaenada, Jose Angel Egido