Dir: Gerardo Herrero. Spain. 2000. 105 mins.

Prod co: Tornasol Films. Spain distrib: Alta Films. Int'l sales: Kevin Williams Associates (34-91-338-5355). Prods: Gerardo Herrero, Javier Lopez Blanco. Assoc prod: Mariela Besuievsky. Scr: Angeles Gonzalez Sinde, based on the novel La Conquista Del Aire by Belen Gopegui. DoP: Alfredo Mayo. Prod des: Gabriel Carrascal. Ed: Carmen Frias. Music: Lucio Godoy. Main cast: Marta Belaustegui, Joel Joan, Sergi Calleja, Lola Duenas, Paz Gomez, Jose Tome, Ana Duato.

The "amigos" of Las Razones De Mis Amigos (The Reasons Of My Friends) are three thirtysomething friends grappling with self doubt about the worldly choices they've made and the yuppie lives they lead. Theirs is not a cheerful reality, and Gerardo Herrero's unfussy directing, scripter Angeles Gonzalez Sinde's authentic dialogues and Gabriel Carrascal's studied production design do justice to the chilly milieu.

The film opens with Carlos (Sergi Calleja) asking for a hefty loan from friends Marta (Marta Belaustegui) and Santi (a stand-out performance from up-and-comer Joel Joan) to bail out his business. Although they immediately agree to the loan, Marta and Santi struggle to come to terms with the significance of the request both for their friendships and the redefining of their own priorities. Adult issues like marriage, mortgage, adultery and childbirth add to the complexity, but money is at the core.

Viewers may not particularly like the "amigos" or agree with the compromises they make, but - again to the credit of director Herrero and Gonzalez Sinde, whose script is based on a novel by Belen Gopegui - we can empathise. Without that empathy a character-driven story like this one could easily fall flat.

Friends gives a faithful portrayal of modern-day, Madrid-dwelling professionals, though perhaps with aspects more attuned to an even older generation than the one depicted here. The story's emphasis on the left-leaning individual's struggle to stay true to his or her ideals in the "real world," for instance, may feel less relevant for more cynical, under-thirty audiences in contemporary Spain. Friends has done well at the local box office, grossing $180,000 after its second weekend. Internationally, its subject matter and aesthetic appeal could well resonate with adult, arthouse audiences.