Dir: Imanol Uribe. Spain. 2000. 118 mins.

Prod cos: Sogecine, Aiete-Ariane Films. Int'l Sales: Sogecine (00 34 91 396 74 00). Exec prod: Fernando Bovaira. Prod: Andres Santana. Scr: Elvira Lindo, based on the novel by Antonio Munoz Molina. DoP: Gonzalo F Berridi. Prod des: Felix Murcia. Ed: Teresa Font. Music: Antonio Meliveo. Main cast: Miguel Angel Sola, Adriana Ozores, Juan Diego Botto, Fernando Fernan Gomez.

Born to a Basque family in El Salvador, Uribe came to Bilbao as a child and has frequently addressed Basque politics in his work (they hover in the background of Plenilunio, as a factor in its protagonist's troubled past). He has twice won San Sebastian's Golden Shell, in 1994 and 1996, but - playing out of competition - his new film met a more subdued reception, both at its festival press screening, where it was hissed, and in the Spanish reviews. It opened domestically last week on 55 screens to quiet business. In the absence of either critical support or the names to attract an international audience, overseas prospects are even more limited.

Set in an unnamed small town near Madrid, the movie begins on the disturbing image of a naked schoolgirl who has been abducted, assaulted and murdered. The middle-aged police inspector (Sola) assigned to the case has come from a long tenure in Bilbao, the pressures of which have left his wife in a mental hospital and himself plunged into melancholy. However, during his investigation he meets the child's teacher (Ozores), an elegant divorcee who revitalises his life.

Unmasked early on, the killer (Botto) is a sociopath prone to rabid extended monologues and running amok on nights of the full moon (hence the film's title). It is as a thriller that Plenilunio is weakest, with its lack of suspense and cartoonish villain. Another problem is the screenplay's failure to shake off its literary origins; in particular, the several philosophical conversations between the policeman and the priest who raised him come across as pedantic to the point of bathos.

The film captures an atmospheric sense of cold, wintry provincial Spain, while Uribe draws two highly appealing performances from Sola and Ozores and a valiant one from Botto in an impossible role. But ultimately it's moonshine.