Dir: Vicente Molina Foix. Spain. 1hr 52mins.

Character-driven and dialogue-heavy, Sagittarius (Sagitario) is not a film for all audiences. Its greatest appeal will likely lie with urban arthouse audiences interested in adult-oriented European fare. In Spain, where distributor Lauren Films put this assumption to test, average per-copy ticket sales have been high. Name recognition of Vicente Molina Foix - a novelist, playwright and poet making his cinematic debut as both writer and director - could help sell the film.

Sagittarius tackles the big questions about life and love. An ever-present prop in the film, the classified ads, provides a metaphor for the story's central theme of searching. Jaime and Rosa, two middle-aged best friends - he's a gay actor (Poncela), she's an artist with creator's block (Molina) - commiserate on their inability to find true and satisfying love. He' is getting over a relationship with an older man, a stage director from Argentina (Alterio), while she is an attractive but fickle divorcee with no shortage of suitors. They both take up with younger lovers, less educated boys from a working-class neighborhood who happen to be friends. Rosa's lover, Juan (Alcides), falls head-over-heels for her and strives to become the clean-cut and cultivated yuppie he thinks she wants. Jaime's lover, Rafa (Jacobo Martin), hides a dark past which includes a harmful religious cult.

Rosa also begins a relationship with a more mature Argentine architect (Freire), a friend of Jaime's ex, and has a fleeting affair with her own ex-husband (Valero), a comically politically-correct anthropologist.

Meanwhile, Juan's ex-girlfriend (Isasi) juggles a growing infatuation with the Argentine architect and her Cuban stepmother's (Ibarra) mental instability. Finally, Rosa is being stalked by two men: one a dangerous psychopath, the other a secret admirer whose unsent love letters suggest he knows her better than she knows herself.

One could get the impression from Sagittarius, a la Six Degrees Of Separation, that everyone in Madrid is somehow related. Molina Foix plays on the vast social webs people weave through multiple relationships, and the story gains depth by incorporating characters of varying ages, genders, cultures and social classes. Viewers experience the same relationships from different perspectives, yet the film steadfastly refrains from implying right-or-wrong assessments of any character's behavior. Instead, Molina Foix seems to propose that we are all lost in the same jungle struggling to find meaning and direction.

As a writer, Molina Foix has a keen sense of comedy and successfully mixes humour with drama and even tragedy, throwing in social commentary on a wide range of modern-day topics. As a director, he gets the most out of an ample cast of actors. Veterans Poncela and Molina dominate the screen, while newcomers Alcides, Isasi and Martin give surprisingly resonant performances. Luis Ivars' musical score helps define the shifting moods of the film, and Miguel Ripoll's jazzy collage-like end credits are a stylish bonus.

Sagittarius could benefit from being shortened to a tighter 90-minute running time via the elimination of some of the more fantastical elements of the storyline, for instance Rafa's cult experience, Rosa's psychopath stalker and the Cuban woman's nervous breakdown. Audiences wouldn't miss these elements, and they detract from the universality of the characters and their searches.

Prod co: Fernando Colomo PC
Spanish dist: Lauren Films
Int'l sales: Fernando Colomo PC
Prod: Beatriz de la Gandara
Scr: Vicente Molina Foix
Cinematography: David Omedes
Music: Luis Ivars
Main cast: Angela Molina, Eusebio Poncela, Enrique Alcides, Daniel Freire, Maria Isasi, Jacobo Martin, Mirtha Ibarra, Hector Alterio, Antonio Valero, Ana Torrent