Dirs: Julio Wallovits, Roger Gual. Spain. 2002. 89mins.

This low-budget debut feature film seemingly came out of nowhere to quietly storm last week's Spanish Film Festival in Malaga, where it created buzz among critics, crowds and even international buyers gathered for a sidebar market. The film marks the debut of two promising new talents, co-writers and directors Julio Wallovits and Roger Gual, who walked away from Malaga with Best Script and jury prizes as well as the Best Actor award for the film's male cast (only one actress in the lot). Shot on digital video for $219,000, the sparseness of resources favour Smoking Room's theatrical, dialogue-heavy script and accentuate the actors' intelligent performances. Indie film fans worldwide will appreciate this effort, which should also enjoy a healthy shelflife on thematic TV and video, particularly in Spanish-language markets. DeA Planeta is handling worldwide rights at Cannes.

The Spanish branch of a US firm is obliged to enact a no-smoking ordinance in its office, a rule which enrages the mostly male staff. One worker, Ramirez, starts a petition demanding that a space be set aside as a "smoking room" for personnel. While on the surface his colleagues seem to support the idea, most eventually find self-interested excuses for not signing the petition. Friendships are as tenuous as job security in the brutish, competitive and overtly masculine workplace depicted. When superficial relations begin to crack, no one at the office is left unaffected.

The no-smoking ordinance and petition provide Wallovits and Gual with a launching pad for a meditation on the 'plight of the working man,' and men in general. With echoes of the tough, dog-eat-dog world of the David Mamet-scripted Glengarry Glen Ross, Smoking paints a portrait of rage bubbling under the surface of the average man in a suit utterly powerless over his own life, debased by a thankless nine-to-five job and alone in a cold, urban landscape.

But Smoking also shows an intelligent sense of humour, with several laugh-out-loud dialogues and a resistance to eclipsing realism. The real work world, after all, is characterised more by a monotonous redundancy than life-altering acts of revenge and rage, a lesson embodied in the final, back-to-routine scene of the workmates playing happily together on the soccer field.

Editing is by and large crisp so that the film manages not to lag too much despite a lot of talk and a lack of real action. Bland, neon-lit interiors set the right tone while cinematographer Cobi Migliora's consistent use of tight head shots and fluid camera movements - permitted by the DVCAM and perhaps influenced by the directors' advertising backgrounds - rely heavily on actors' facial expressions to interpret dialogues. Performances by the cast of some of Spain's leading secondary character actors are top notch across the board, with Eduard Fernandez (recently prized for Fausto 5.0), Antonio Dechent (the masochistic bullfighter in Intacto) and Manuel Moron (the abusive father in El Bola) standing out. Vicky Pena (Piedras) holds her own among the men.

Prod cos: El Sindicato, Ovideo TV, Estudios y Servicios de Empresa, DeA Planeta
Sp dist/int'l sales: DeA Planeta
Exec prods: Quique Camin, Jose M Piera
Delegate prod: Antoni Camin
Scr: Julio Wallovits, Roger Gual
Cinematography: Cobi Migliora
Prod des: Quim Roy
Ed: David Gallart
Main cast: Antonio Dechent, Juan Diego, Ulises Dumont, Eduard Fernandez, Francesc Garrido, Miguel Angel Gonzalez, Chete Lera, Juan Loriente, Pep Molina, Manuel Moron, Francesc Orella, Vicky Pena