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MOVIE REVIEW

Deliberate acts of kindness fill 'Intimate Stories'

Whenever a movie has something nice to say about people, I'm all ears. So it was with tremendous satisfaction that I watched ''Intimate Stories," a delightful road movie from Pablo Solarz and Carlos Sorin set in the dusty climes of southern Patagonia. It's a showcase for sincere, well-meaning folks, three of whom travel for the most part separately from their small town of San Julián searching for something they're not sure they'll find.

Old Don Justo (Antonio Benedictus) steals some money and sneaks away from his son and daughter-in-law to look for a long-lost dog. Roberto (Javier Lombardo) is a traveling salesman who's taking a birthday cake to the kid of a preferred female customer. And Maria (Javiera Bravo) has won a spot on ''Multicolored Casino," a cheesy game show whose contestants spin a wheel and call out two letters hoping to win such unglamorous prizes as beauty kits.

Along the way, the characters encounter people willing to assist them, and sometimes they encounter each other. But Solarz, who wrote the script, and Sorin, who directed it, don't force an interwoven narrative. Like the performances, the movie is a small-scale feat of naturalism. While the people are often sad, their long faces never stretch into melancholy -- the film is too delicately made for melodrama or tragedy.

The rarest quality of ''Intimate Stories" is its tenderly amusing sense of humor. Roberto, for instance, is a detail man, and the cake he's hauling gets a few makeovers, once because he's uncertain of the child's gender. And ''Multicolored Casino" is garishly kitschy television in the way only Latin America seems to produce. The show does bear one splendid, almost holy image of Maria's beatific face superimposed on a spangling background.

Sorin says that most of his cast are first-timers. But the actors are so wonderful and feeling that I'm of a mind to call Argentina's Screen Actors Guild to confirm that. Benedictus is especially seasoned, his face etched with decades of wonder and worry.

''Intimate Stories," which was made in 2002, was Sorin's first feature film in more than a decade. (He's since finished two others.) His last one was ''Eversmile, New Jersey," with Daniel Day-Lewis in 1989. His best film remains 1986's incredible ''A King and His Movie" about a director struggling to get a picture made in Argentina. It was the soulful work of a dedicated humanist. Argentine cinema has come a long way since then, documenting the country's shifting fortunes. Sorin's return to filmmaking is a welcome one, if for no other reason than his new movie's suggestion that the milk of human kindness isn't as curdled as we think.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

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