Dir: Jaime Rosales. Spain. 2003. 110mins.

Spanish film-maker Jaime Rosales' The Hours Of The Day (Las Horas Del Dia) marks a confident debut feature, and one which should have no trouble finding a niche on the festival circuit - as its acceptance in Directors' Fortnight at Cannes testifies. It may also clinch a limited number of sales to arthouse distributors thanks to both the universality and morbidity of its Everyman-gone-bad tale. In a vote of confidence, Bavaria Film International picked up international sales rights on the film just prior to Cannes. The impetus for the story is the occasional brutal murder that an otherwise regular guy commits in his spare time, yet the bulk of the film turns on mundane dialogues between a group of real-to-life characters. Such a set-up relies entirely on the acting, and without the engaging, naturalistic performances Rosales elicits from his cast, could not have been pulled off. Lead Alex Brendemuhl, present in every scene, is particularly effective in transmitting his character Abel's bland reserve and inexpressiveness through steely blue-eyed gazes and subtle facial gestures and body shifts.

Abel lives with his mother (Martinez) but spends most nights at the home of his increasingly estranged girlfriend Tere (Roca). He owns a clothing store that he plans to sell off if he can convince his sole employee, spunky working-girl Trini (Monsoriu), to accept a lower indemnity pay. He whiles away the hours listening to his best friend Marcos' (Romero) get-rich-quick schemes and hanging around local bars.

One fine day, 30 minutes into the film, Abel takes a taxi ride into a deserted field and, for no apparent reason, strangles the female driver, ending her life with repeated, bloody stone blows to her head. He doesn't kill again until close to the end of the nearly two-hour film, when he spontaneously strangles and beats an elderly stranger in a bathroom.

Both murders are ferocious, slashing into the purposefully lulling slice-of-life narrative. The audience do not see the victim's faces, but they do see Abel struggling to finish them off and his lack of concern about leaving evidence, both intentional antitheses of the typical movie murder. Yet the killings are constructed as ultimately a routine element of Abel's humdrum existence, and are filmed and paced as leisurely as the rest of the film.

Rosales and cinematographer Oscar Duran let their camera act as unobtrusive eye-witness, placing it outside of scenes looking in, allowing characters to wander naturally in and out of frame. Rosales also uses natural sound and light, perhaps forced on him by his limited budget, but an effect that further underscores a sought-after realism and normalcy.

Despite all this, the film evokes tension. Audiences will find themselves nervously anticipating the next victim and searching for deeper meaning in intentionally banal dialogues, trying to uncover Abel's motives in revelations such as his astrological sign or how he never got over his childhood pet's death, and in cryptic pronouncements such as "If you want to be happy, you have to resign yourself to what you've got" or "I hate shaving every day."

Prod cos: Fresdeval Films SL, In Vitro Films
Sp dist:
Wanda Vision
Int'l sales:
Bavaria Film International
Exec prod:
Maria Jose Diez
Rosales, Ricard Figueras
Rosales, Enric Rufas
Oscar Duran
Prod des:
Leo Casamitjana
Nino Martinez
Eva Valino
Main cast:
Alex Brendemuhl, Agata Roca, Maria Antonia Martinez, Pape Monsoriu, Vicente Romero