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Romantic tangle in 'Mujer' is oddly lacking in emotion

How many handsome, feuding brothers must a passionate young woman work her way through before she figures out which will be the best father to her future child? If ''La Mujer de Mi Hermano" were a television soap opera, the heroine -- lovely but slow-on-the-uptake Zoe (Bárbara Mori) -- might encounter a dozen angry males and innumerable family evils on her sexy quest for a cradle-rocker.

But in this brisk, shallow, highly condensed version of a telenovela, the heroine has married into a small Mexico City family with only two available men, a pair of estranged brothers. What the mother describes as an argument over ''boys' stuff" is clearly much worse; the men haven't spoken in years. Worse, the heroine has already spent 10 frustrating, babyless years with twitchy, secretive Ignacio (Christian Meier), a wealthy factory owner who takes unnecesary business trips, wears unnecessary second pairs of socks, and waxes his torso hair. Unnecessarily. (''I just want to look attractive for you," says Ignacio, who performs his husbandly duties without enthusiasm and under cover of darkness.)

Frustrated, Zoe throws herself into a new hobby: modern art, specifically the boldly ugly paintings created by Ignacio's despised younger brother Gonzalo (Colombian heartthrob Manolo Cardona). As with so many movie-artists, Gonzalo's talents are signified by a snake-hipped saunter, blackened fingernails, and a large discrepancy between the waistbands of his jeans (filthy) and his underwear (Ralph Lauren). Mori, a Monica Bellucci-lookalike who's a TV star in Mexico, has a warmth and sensuality that's appealing even as the secrets, lies, and crimes unfold with dreary inevitability.

Director Ricardo de Montreuil and Peruvian screenwriter Jaime Bayly, who adapted his popular novel, have created an oddly unsexy melodrama in which every supposedly shocking revelation (rape, incest, homosexuality, pedophilia) is treated with the same blithe shrug of recognition. It's numbing, especially with the film's deadly serious mood.

American and Latin American soap operas and telenovelas do much with seriocomic tones and livelier acting. With Santiago, Chile, locations standing for the Mexico City setting and most of the action transpiring in Zoe and Ignacio's mausoleum-like house, an architectural showpiece made of gray cement and glass, ''La Mujer de Mi Hermano" seems to be happening not between a woman and two men, but between the pages of a shelter magazine.

Justine Elias can be reached at

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