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Rising distaff helmer Iciar Bollain doesn’t quite fulfill expectations with “Mataharis,” coming in the wake of her hit “Take My Eyes.” Tale of three women detectives investigating their own lives as well as their clients’ is solid and well-played but ultimately minor fare, charting a course between a trio of stories without making any one stand-out enough to be memorable, or emotionally incisive. Home biz will be respectable, but these dames’ legs aren’t likely to strut outside Spanish-lingo territories.

The Valbuena Detective Agency is professional home to private dicks: Eva (Najwa Nimri), Ines (Maria Vazquez) and Carmen (Nuria Gonzalez). Eva’s just returned to work after having her second child, and she’s struggling with the usual problems while juggling parental duties with hubby Inaki (Tristan Ulloa).

When she catches Inaki lying, she puts her sleuthing skills to work, following him to a mysterious meeting with a young boy.

Meanwhile, single, driven Ines (with a photo of Mata Hari on her wall) is working undercover at a multinational plant to catch a couple of mid-level managers suspected of pilfering the company’s coffers. Soon it becomes plain why she’s really been hired: to report on Manuel (Diego Martin), who’s organizing workers to fight an outsourcing scheme.

Third story revolves around Carmen, the oldest of the trio. Hired by photographer Sergio (Antonio de la Torre) to see whether his wife is having an affair with his biz partner, Carmen begins to question her own loveless marriage. Pic’s best scene involves Carmen and Sergio slow dancing, both suddenly remembering what it’s like to be touched, let alone held, by the opposite sex.

If only there were more surprises like that throughout the film, but Bollain keeps things on a rather predictable keel, constrained by the need to tell three stories at once. Still, she manages to capture the ultimate irony of detective work: They may be masters of surveillance, but they don’t know what’s inside people’s heads.

Actresses, all well known at home, are uniformly solid and play well together, though side characters, such as Carmen’s unresponsive hubby (Adolfo Fernandez), and the women’s boss (Fernando Cayo), never feel fully formed, leaving story holes in their wake. Shot entirely on Steadicam, lensing — well-edited — gets an appropriately urban feel.

Mataharis

Spain

  • Production: A La Iguana, Sogecine-Sogepaq production. (International sales: Sogepaq, Madrid.) Produced by Santiago Garcia de Leaniz, Simon de Santiago. Executive producer, Santiago Garcia de Leaniz. Directed by Iciar Bollain. Screenplay, Bollain, Tatiana Rodriguez.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Kiko de la Rica; editor, Angel Hernandez Zoido; music, Lucio Goody; production designer, Josune Lasa; costume designer, Estibaliz Markiegui; sound (Dolby Digital), Alvaro Silva; sound mixer, Alfonso Pino; sound editor, Pelayo Gutierrez; line producer, Pizca Gutierrez. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (competing), Sept. 21, 2007. Running time: 93 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Najwa Nimri, Tristan Ulloa, Maria Vazquez, Diego Martin, Nuria Gonzalez, Antonio de la Torre, Fernando Cayo, Adolfo Fernandez, Mabel Rivera, Manuel Moron.
  • Music By: