Dir: Jose Luis Garci. Spain. 2002. 105 mins.

When a character, a novelist, in Jose Luis Garci's Story Of A Kiss (Historia De Un Beso) says of his art, 'I try to entertain and to move, never to persuade,' it could easily be Garci himself speaking. A romantic and meditative period melodrama, Story Of A Kiss is the creation of a mature film-maker working according to his own standards and tastes, seemingly without a care as to what the rest of the world is making and watching in cinema these days. A passionate connoisseur of classic America cinema, Garci's films have the studied look and feel of an earlier era. This could be a formula for disaster, considering today's youth-driven market, but the director has a loyal audience in Spain and his films traditionally land within the year's homegrown top 10. In its first weekend it took $273,841 from 100 screens for a healthy average of $2,738.

Garci's films also travel abroad, yet he is less well known than might be expected for a four-time Academy Award nominee and one-time Oscar winner (1982's Begin The Beguine). Story Of A Kiss is one of three pre-selected films to represent Spain for this year's foreign-language Oscar, up against Pedro Almodovar's Talk To Her and Fernando Leon's Mondays In The Sun. The Spanish Academy will announce the final nomination on November 11. The film does not yet have an international sales agent.

Garci's veteran standing in the industry and his self-production afford him the independence to go against the grain. Following 2001's You're The One, Story Of A Kiss is the second in a planned trilogy of films leisurely weaving together unrelated stories from a single village in early and mid-20th century Spain.

In Story Of A Kiss, Julio (Hipolito), a poet and professor living in Paris, travels back to the village of his youth for the funeral of his beloved uncle, prized novelist Blas Otamendi (Landa). The year is 1949. There, Julio begins a courtship with schoolteacher Marisa (Rico), and reunites with ageing caretaker Melchora (Sainz) and Blas's close circle of male friends. The village also elicits flashback memories for Julio of childhood years spent at his uncle's side, listening to the men's late-night discussions and confiding in his uncle about love and life. In the summer of 1925, little Julio (Lozano) has his heart broken for the first time, while Blas falls deeply and unexpectedly in love with young divorcee Andrea (Fernandez).

Garci and co-scripter Horacio Valcarcel draft an arguably romanticised past of well-to-do Spain. Few people are as introspective and measured as the characters they write, in prosaic dialogues peppered with literary and artistic references.

Garci's direction adds to the utopian mood by seeming to leave little or nothing to improvisation: when a flock of birds lifts off behind a strolling couple at the precise moment their conversation ends, one gets the feeling the birds were on cue. The film's nostalgic sentimentality is elevated by a Ravel-heavy classical musical score, and polished with dreamy period settings from two-time Oscar-winning decorator Gil Parrondo, gorgeous wardrobes and frame-worthy cinematography from Raul Perez Cubero.

Acting is strong across the board, with some wonderful secondary characters filling out the scenery. Comedian Landa gives an elegant, sober performance as the ageing, level-headed writer swept off his feet by late-coming love. Theatre actor Hipolito offers a beautifully understated performance, while up-and-coming actresses Fernandez (who debuted in Solas) and especially the too-seldom seen Beatriz Rico are strong as women remarkably independent for their times.

Prod cos: Nickel Odeon Dos, Enrique Cerezo, PC 29
Sp dist:
Columbia TriStar Films de Espana
Intl sales:
Nickel Odeon Dos
Exec prods: Luis Maria Delgado
Garci, Horacio Valcarcel
Raul Perez Cubero
Prod des:
Gil Parrondo
Miguel G Sinde
Pablo Cervantes
Main cast:
Alfredo Landa, Ana Fernandez, Carlos Hipolito, Agustin Gonzalez, Tina Sainz, Francisco Algora, Beatriz Rico, Manuel Lozano