Spanish Fly Daphna Kastner

Don't let the cutesy-poo title fool you, there's a real movie here by a woman unafraid to return the gaze of the men who look. Writer/director Daphna Kastner stars as Zoë, a Vanity Fair writer researching an article on Spanish machismo; finding a sexual assertiveness that clashes with her genteel American upbringing, she is torn between clinging to her own rules and giving in to the aggressive maleness that surrounds her. There's some narrative intrigue involving her cocky Spanish translator (Toni Canto) and an American man (Martin Donovan) who's safer if less exciting, but the main event is Zoë's attraction to and repulsion by the men who surround her, and Kastner's camera considers them in ways you hardly ever see. The film captures its heroine's sexual ambivalence by looking back — we see the men as sex objects and ego threats, and the collision of the two impressions creates tension both sexual and dramatic. There are some clumsy (though hardly irrelevant) attempts to link her inhibitions to an absent father, but Kastner's sultry low-key cinematography manages to give better subtext to her clichés than another director could. It's imperfect, but it looks and feels like no other film on the subject. (Miramax)