The diffident claims of its title are amply confirmed by "Insignificant Things," a well-intentioned but under-achieved criss-crosser which claims to understand the human heart but which ultimately feels lightweight.

The diffident claims of its title are amply confirmed by “Insignificant Things,” a well-intentioned but under-achieved criss-crosser which claims to understand the human heart but which ultimately feels lightweight. Seeking to chart emotional dissatisfactions at different social levels is ambitious, and though the central idea is neat and treatment deft, character work is crucially lacking, meaning the pic never rises above the emptily evocative. Debut helmer Andrea Martinez Crowther shows great promise, but exposure beyond limited fest appearances will have to wait this time around.

Feisty young migraine-sufferer Esmeralda (Paulina Gaitan) lives in Mexico City with her ailing grandmother and younger sister. She works in a diner, where one day aging Gabriel (Fernando Lujan) leaves his wallet, which contains a piece of paper with a phone number. In an appealing conceit to which the script doesn’t do real justice, Esme has a box where she collects objects she finds around the diner, and she puts the number in the box.

The number is that of Gabriel’s daughter, with whom, for reasons not entirely clear, he has not spoken for 20 years but with whom he wants a reconciliation. This particular storyline starts and ends there, with the result that Lujan spends large stretches simply moping unhappily around and milking the sentimentality.

Another of Esmeralda’s objects is an origami seahorse left at a table by doctor Ivan (Carmelo Gomez). Ivan’s lover is photographer Eli (Lucia Jimenez), but unknown to her, he has a son, seriously ill, by Paola (Barbara Mori). There is enough material in this section for several soap operas, and it feels rushed; Jimenez in particular struggles to engage sympathy.

Several scenes are repeated as the stories blend into one another, but despite being handled with seamless dexterity, they bring no extra emotional punch and feel merely like a film trick. Lensing self-consciously strives for magical realism, as exemplified by the scene in which snow apparently falls on Mexico City, but there is too little of substance to engage the emotions: Surely it’s time to place a ban on snow globes in movies.

Appropriately, the score often features a single lonely violin.

Insignificant Things

Mexico-Spain

Production

A Warner Brothers Pictures International. release (in Spain) of a Tequila Gang, Manga Films, Media Films production in association with TVE. (International sales: Bavaria Film, Berlin.) Produced by Bertha Navarro, Luis De Val. Executive producer, Guillermo Del Toro. Directed, written by Andrea Martinez Crowther.

Crew

Camera (color), Joseph M. Civit; editor, Angel Hernandez Zoido; music, Leonardo Heiblum, Jacobo Lieberman; art director, Olin Diaz; sound (Dolby Digital), Matias Barberis, Nerio Barberis. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (Zabaltegi New Directors), Sept. 23, 2008. Running time: 96 MIN.

With

Paulina Gaitan, Barbara Mori, Fernando Lujan, Carmelo Gomez, Lucia Jimenez.

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