Dir: Juan Villegas. Argentina. 2001. 72mins.

A brisk deadpan comedy about urban alienation and foundering relationships, Saturday generated mildly positive critical word-of-mouth in Venice earlier this year, where it played in the Cinema Of The Present section. Too lightweight and insufficiently original to make much impact in commercial terms, its main function is likely to be as a calling card for its first-time writer-director Juan Villegas. The picture could also attract minor interest as part of a package of new Argentine films and, along with Fabian Bienlinsky's Nine Queens and Lisandro Alonso's Freedom, is the subject of a seminar devoted to the country's resurgent cinema at the London film festival, which opens this week.

The action takes place during one long day and night in downtown Buenos Aires, where three couples mope about aimlessly. We meet Martin (Hendler) and Nathalie (Anghilieri) as they bicker in their car; Camilla (Toker), a journalist bored with her boyfriend Leopoldo (Murua); and Gaston Pauls, a self-opinionated local celebrity with a roving eye, and his girlfriend, Andrea (Sola). These initial pairings are swiftly dissolved as the couples mix and match in the course of the evening, seeking fresh thrills with another partner. But each new combination only, in the end, offers the same irritations as the previous one.

One of the running gags concerns the casting of Gaston Pauls, a well-known Argentine actor (his numerous credits include Nine Queens and Comanche Terrritory), playing a thinly caricatured version of himself and consistently misnamed Gaston Pols by all the other characters. Overseas, where Pauls is virtually unknown, this joke is likely to fall flat, although other bits of comic business, such as Martin's proneness to car accidents (always shown off-screen) or Leopoldo's inability to light matches for his cigarettes, are moderately amusing.

Villegas's real forte is his ear for repetitive, absurdist dialogue. His characters launch into long passionate, illogical conversations on a variety of trivial subjects from each others' haircuts to the odds of winning a competition. Nathalie's firm belief that everything has an equal chance of happening could be the moral of the feature, which suggests that whatever these young people do, their lives will end up much the same as before. There's a touch of Richard Linklater's early work in this portrait of a generation of Latino slackers.

Ultimately - unlike Linklater - Villegas doesn't manage to depict ennui without becoming tedious himself, although he has the good sense to keep his film spare and to the point. The images are effectively framed and other technical credits are adequate for a minimal budget.

Prod co: Tresplanos Cine
Co-prods: Universidad del Cine
Int'l Sales: Tresplanos Cine
Exec prod: Nathalie Cabiron
Prods: Federico Brizzio, Sebastian Otero
Scr: Villegas
DoP: Paola Rizzi
Prod des: Luciana Inda
Ed: Martin Mainoli
Main cast: Gaston Pauls, Daniel Hendler, Mariana Anghilieri, Camila Toker, Leonardo Murua, Eva Sola