Dir: Salvador Garcia Ruiz. Spain. 2000. 132 mins.

Prod co: Tornasol. Co-prod: Via Digital. Domestic dist: Altafilms. Int'l Sales: Wild Bunch (+33 1 4443 9800). Prods: Gerardo Herrero, Javier Lopez Blanco. Scr: Ruiz, based on the novel by Elvira Lindo. DoP: Teodoro Delgado. Prod des: Federico Garcia Cambero. Ed: Carmen Frias. Music: Pascal Gaigne. Main cast: Alex Casanovas, Jorge Alcazar, Alberto Ferreiro, Pepa Pedroche, Empar Ferrer, Guillermo Toledo.

One of the most praised Spanish films in San Sebastian, The Other Side represents a poised second outing for Ruiz and a more auspicious foray into cinema for Lindo - author of the source novel - than her screenplay for the ill received Plenilunio. This movie's low-key approach limits it as a commercial item (though its prospects might be improved by trimming to below the two-hour mark), but it should prosper at festivals, with television sales further down the line.

Fifteen-year-old Ramon (Alcazar) lives quietly with his mother and much older sister in a working class district of Madrid, until he is involved in a violent accident which leaves two of his friends seriously injured and a neighbour dead. The plump, gentle teenager is sent to a hostel for juvenile delinquents, where he befriends a spiky young man (Ferreiro) who has contracted the HIV virus from his immersion in the drug world. Meanwhile his sister engages a lawyer: a family acquaintance (Casanovas), who now leads a comfortable middle-class life and would prefer to forget his rough-and-tumble background. For him, the investigation is a forced return to his origins. And it uncovers a surprising secret from Ramon's own past.

Instead of the obvious expose of life in the ghetto, this is an intimate piece whose elegant photography and languid rhythms build up a philosophical portrait of individuals looking for their place in the world. Ruiz takes a bold approach to his material; for instance, he shows the chain of mishaps leading up to the alleged killing as absurdist farce - and he gets away with it.

The film is let down by a dull performance from Casanovas whose stolid demeanour does little to convey an inner turmoil, but compensation is provided by an excellent young cast, none of whom, apart from Alcazar and Ferreiro, had previous acting experience.