When Hope Springs Maternal

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They want to adopt babies, so six North American women wait out the residency requirements imposed on them by an unnamed South American country. They eat. They shop. They very tentatively explore the alien culture they impatiently inhabit. Over the course of a highly compressed 95 minutes we get a sense of the maternally frustrated lives they have lived before arriving at the Casa de los Babys.

In a way this is a typical John Sayles movie — interwoven, contrasting stories told in a civilized, humane and fairly leisurely way. But in some ways it is not. His best recent work, Lone Star and Men with Guns, has been shadowed by violence, which gives his films an uneasy power that this one lacks. What shadows Casa is wistfulness.

Daryl Hannah has a potent monologue about giving birth to three children, all of whom succumb to birth defects. Susan Lynch tears your heart out as she imagines passing a snow day in Boston with the child she does not have; her hotel maid (Vanessa Martinez) dreams of the child she gave up for adoption. One speaks Irish-accented English, the other Spanish. They can't understand each other, but they do communicate on some very basic level. Aside from Marcia Gay Harden, above, covering a hard-used life with near sociopathic behavior, the other characters are less well developed. But they are all well played, and this wisp of a movie turns out to be more thoughtfully affecting than many a more high-flying film.