Dir: Arto Paragamian. Canada. 2000. 93 mins.

Prod co: Galafilm. Int'l Sales: Pandora (00 33 1 40 70 90 90). Prod: Arnie Gelbart. Scr: Paragamian. DoP: Norayr Kasper. Prod des: Anne Pritchard. Ed: Alain Baril. Music: Milan Kymlicka. Main cast: John Turturro, Oleg Kissielov, Katherine Borowitz, Julian Richings.

Perhaps the biggest commercial obstacle faced by Two Thousand And None is the film-makers' insistence on describing it as a comedy. In fact it's a work of constantly shifting moods whose flashes of humour are low-key, absurdist and very sporadic (the director's dark and offbeat vision recalls that of his fellow Canadian-Armenian Atom Egoyan). The movie had its world premiere at the Taormina Film Festival, where its unusual quality and bold subject earned a special mention from the international critics' (FIPRESCI) jury. But it will need a good deal of further critical support to combat viewer resistance to its uninviting story premise.

Turturro plays a brilliant paleontologist who is having a bad day. First he finalises a divorce from his wife (played by Borowitz, the actor's real-life spouse) with whom he remains very much involved. The he learns he has a terminal brain tumour which will lead him into increasing dementia and, within weeks, to his death. Devastated, he receives the first of several visits from the ghosts of his late parents who help him to embrace his fate. But his ex-wife and friends insist on taking control of his precious last few days on earth, even as he takes leave of the real world and allows himself gracefully to be invaded by memories and dreams.

Paragamian's direction is somewhat flat, perhaps as an intentional counterpoint to the frequently surreal and bizarre events on view. His strengths lie in the fantasy sequences rather than in those involving interaction between the characters. And the performances - with the exception of the ever-excellent Turturro, who projects the perfect blend of humour and pathos - are extremely patchy. At its best, the film is poetic and curiously affecting, but extremely skilful marketing will be required to convey this flavour to its potential audience.