Mar 28, 2001 at 12:00 am

Solas means “alone,” and Spanish writer-director Benito Zambrano’s film is about loneliness and the difficulty people have in making basic connections. The movie is appropriately low-keyed and character-driven, but it’s also nudged along by unnecessary sentimentality, as though the director didn’t quite trust the efficacy of his material.

Maria (Ana Fernandez) is a 30-something woman living in Seville and struggling with alcoholism, a loutish lover, a lousy job and a generally dissatisfactory life. As the film opens, her newest burden is her elderly mother (Maria Galiana), who’s visiting from the county and staying with her while Maria’s father recovers from surgery. The two have never been close and much of the film has to do with the dissolving of the barrier between them and the generally salutary effect the old lady has on the people she encounters, including her husband’s doctor and Maria’s hapless though well-meaning old codger of a neighbor (Carlos Alvarez-Novoa).

Zambrano handles this shopworn aspect of the scenario — cynical city person redeemed by naive country person — with deftness if not subtlety and is greatly aided by Fernandez’s intense performance as Maria. Interestingly, the two main male characters, Maria’s father and her lover, are both pretty vile pieces of work. Dad (Paco De Osca), despite having one foot in the grave, still treats Mom with condescending contempt, while Maria’s main squeeze, Juan (Juan Fernandez), is a macho cad. It’s up to the doddering neighbor and two ancillary characters, a sympathetic bartender and a kindly doctor, to offer evidence that all men aren’t pigs.

Despite some ostensibly “modern” touches — a verbally graphic encounter between Maria and Juan, an unflinching look at the physical distress of the elderly — this is an old-fashioned weeper about aging and a mother’s unconditional love. The scenes between Mom and the neighbor are just plain hokey and the film’s goopy, soap-opera score is annoying, but aside from that its essential seriousness is laudable.

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].