Dir: Alejandro Chomski. Argentina-Spain. 2003. 86mins

One of the most talked-up films at Cannes, the Un Certain Regard entry Today And Tomorrow turns out to be a watchable, non-judgmental, low-budget portrayal of a young woman's descent into prostitution in post-slump Argentina. Given the hype surrounding the director - who is the subject of an ongoing documentary, Who Is Alejandro Chomski', featuring people the globetrotting 35-year-old film and video clip professional has worked with, from Jim Jarmusch to Emir Kusturica - audiences would perhaps expect to be knocked sideways, rather than gently shoved. But then again, the restraint of Chomski's feature debut is not a bad quality: it serves to focus the mind, and the eyes, on the film's subject, and to divest this tale of ordinary desperation of the melodramatic frippery that it might otherwise have worn. Wild Bunch can be expected to sell the film energetically; they were so keen to secure it that international sales manager Gael Nouaille flew to Buenos Aires to see a rough cut. International arthouse audiences should respond in a small-to-middling way.

Set over a single day and night, the story centres on Paula, a girl from a decent middle-class family who is a promising young theatre actress. But arthouse theatre does not pay the rent - certainly not in crisis-laden Buenos Aires - and when a man comes around to cut off the gas, Paula is forced to take action. A handheld camera follows her as she scoots off on her moped, or mopes off on her scooter, first to discover that she is overdrawn, then to borrow the money from a bar-owning uncle, then to queue to pay the bill, then to get home to discover that the gas has been cut off anyway.

Things go downhill from here: the landlord pays a visit to demand the four months' rent that Paula owes, and she is forced to turn to her businessman father for help. But he comes over all moral, and his proud, ultra-touchy daughter walks out. After a couple more failed attempts to raise some cash, Paula picks up the phone and calls Claudia, an old schoolfriend, who now makes a living as a prostitute.

Firmly in the neo-realist tradition of much recent Argentinian cinema (such as Pablo Trapero's Mundo Grua), but with affinities, too, with uncompromising European misery-fests like Rosetta, Today And Tomorrow works because Paula's descent into hell, though shot in a pared-back, hit-and-run style, is predicated on an almost Hollywood script premise: that she has to make $300 by morning in order to keep her apartment. These two levels play off against each other throughout. The camera keeps finding different angles on scenes and faces; quickfire editing and the use of low natural or neon light in the night scenes bring out the dangerous edge of the city.

At the same time, though, the series of setbacks Paula (who hides behind the professional name of Ana) suffers as she meets her first clients are the stuff of screenwriting courses - and they keep the audience watching right to the bitter end, as the crushed and humiliated heroine contemplates the dawn over the harbour, no doubt remembering the exchange with Claudia that began the evening. The real risk in selling one's body, Paula had said, is to your dignity. 'What dignity'' her more street-hardened friend had replied.

Prod co: MKM Producciones
Cinema Digital, Bulbek & Mas, Aldebaron Films
Int'l sales:
Wild Bunch
Exec prod:
Carolina Konstantinovsky
Assoc prod:
Fernando Safdie
Alejandro Chomski
Guillermo Nieto
Prod des:
Aili Chen
Alejandro Zito
Luchi Camorra, Adrian Dargelos
Main cast:
Antonella Costa, Manuel Navarro, Romina Ricci, Carlos Duranona, Ricardo Merkin, Horacio Acosta