Dir. Monica Laguna. Spain 2001. 102 mins.

A disappointing attempt to deal with two different types of addiction, Monica Laguna's second feature takes far too many short cuts and avoids too many pertinent questions to deal with the many tasks it sets for itself. Ana Torrent, in the lead role of Luna lacks either the passion or the conviction necessary, while the rest of the uni-dimensional parts do not require too much effort from the cast. The small screen seems to be looming just around the corner for this melodrama.

Possibly a personal tale (the film is dedicated to the writer/director's father), the entire plot unfolds in a long, elaborate flashback, spinning the story of Luna, the daughter of a compulsive, pro card player, who grows up into a faithful replica of her father. As a kid, she sees her father shot for welching on a gambling debt he could not pay. Since her mother had died even earlier, just after she was born, Luna is raised in the tavern of her father's pal, who tries to keep her away from cards and hard liquor but fails on both accounts. Obviously, genes are stronger than sense. Luna gets an education both in drinking and gambling while still under age, with the help of a boy who shows distinct talent as a card shark, occasional thief and later, full-time heroin addict in jail. Kicked out by her adoptive father who realises he can't control her, Luna gets a reputation of her own as a master of the poker game, often unbeatable at the tables.

But predictably enough, there is always the reigning champion looming in the background, the one Luna has to beat at all costs. The picture starts with their dramatic encounter, slips into the flashback and comes back almost at the end to round the duel up and deliver the final unravelling of its several plot lines.

Beyond the simple fact that card games, while often used in films, have rarely managed to generate real drama on screen, Laguna's effort to tackle the parallel attempts of Luna to kick the gambling addiction, and of her boyfriend to cut himself off heroin, never go beyond the traditional cliches. No wonder even the characters aren't quite convinced. Luna thinks, for a brief while, that life next to a new boyfriend might offer more satisfaction than the exciting risks she takes every night at the green table. But when she looks at other women around her, aged before their time or burdened down by a slew of babies, she figures out her way to be the best way. On the other hand, love still appears to be a potent argument against drugs, if not in real life, at least in the movies.

Other items of Laguna's agenda, such as the generation gap or the drive for revenge against the man who killed her father, are poorly explored and are often accompanied by elaborate dialogue intended to drive the message home for anyone who might have missed it. Some characters that may have been more elaborate before the final cut, such as a mugger who obviously had some kind of relationship with the heroine, seem now arbitrary, not to mention a plot involving Luna's late mother, which fails to contribute much to the general gist of the story.

Prod co: Lolafilms
Int'l sales: Lolafilms SA
Prod: Andres Vicente Gomez
Scr: Monica Laguna
Cinematography: Teo Delgado
Art dir: Anton Laguna
Ed: Pablo Blanco
Mus: Suso Sáiz
Main cast: Ana Torrent, Ernesto Alterio, Carlos Kaniowsky, Jose Pedro Carrion, Manuel San Martin, Jorge de Juan, Dafne Fernández, Alvaro Monje, Manuel Moron, Antonio Dechent, Alber Ponte, Carlos Bardem, Carmen Lázaro