Dir/scr: Fernando Leon de Aranoa. Sp. 2005. 113mins.
Princesas, FernandoLeon De Aranoa's latest slice of social realism, isalmost a total gender switch from the ultra-masculine unemployed dockyard saga Mondays In The Sun, which vaulted himonto the international stage in 2002.

A beautifully acted storyabout the friendship between two prostitutes in Madrid, Princesas has already been asubstantial hit in its native Spain where it opened last year and grossed $6.8mas well as winning three Goyas. It received itsinternational premiere at Sundance in January where it was warmly received.Prospects look strong for a US deal as well as international sales todiscerning arthouse distributors.

Often compared to Ken Loach,Leon De Aranoa is the warmer film-maker. He may takea dispassionate view of the hard milieu in which his characters roam, but heloves the characters themselves and here, even more than in Mondays In The Sun, he and his actorscreate memorable, fully rounded people whose struggles to maintain livelihoodsand dignity are at once involving and often heartbreaking.

The film's lead character isCaye (Pena, who won the Goya for best actress), amiddle-class woman in her twenties who, for reasons we never discover, hasbecome a prostitute. She dutifully has lunch every Sunday with her dottymother, brother and sister-in-law but her family is unaware of her occupation,oblivious to the fact that when her mobile phone rings, it is a client callingfor sex.

She meets with other workinggirls in a hair salon, chewing the fat and complaining bitterly about the LatinAmerican immigrant women patrolling the square outside who have brought theprices down for prostitutes in general.

Ironically, she strikes up afriendship with one of these immigrants - a tall and striking Dominican called Zuleman (played by Puerto Rican Navarez,who won the Goya for best new actress) in Spain trying to make money to sendhome to support her young son. Caye discovers that Zule lives in a neighbouring apartment and, having foundher badly beaten by a client one day, takes her to hospital.

The friendship that evolvesis a touching one. Both have ideals - Caye is savingup for a breast enlargement operation and dreams of settling down with a man, Zule wants to get legal residency in Spain and bring herson to live with her. But their dreams are too often thwarted by the realitiesof their profession. Men abuse them at all turns and the two women come to relyon each other for emotional support.

The story concludes withsome, although not much, light at the end of the tunnel for both characters.But for all the sadness of their lives, Leon De Aranoaassiduously avoids melodrama and injects humour when we least expect it.

He is aided immeasurably inthe realism of the piece by the two fine, unsentimental performances from Penaand Nevarez, portraying the women not as victims butprincipally as resilient and pragmatic. That it's a story about friendshipbetween working class women and not a salacious glimpse into prostitutes' livesis a tribute to the film-maker's humanism.

Production companies

International sales

Executive producers
Patricia de Muns
Carlos de Muns
Sergio Aguero
Javier Mendez

Fernando Leon De Aranoa
Jaume Roures

Ramiro Civita

Production design
Llorenc Miquel

Nacho Ruiz Capillas

Alfonso de Vilallonga
Manu Chao

Main cast
Candela Pena
Micaela Nevarez
Mariana Cordero
Luis Callejo
Llum Barrera