dir. Alejandro Springall
Opens Fri Oct 6 at Broadway Market.

FIRST-DATE MOVIES have special requirements, to which Santitos answers admirably.

Colorful, light, and cheerful? Check. You wouldn't think of "cheerful" as the word for a movie whose premise is the death of a child, but Santitos sails through those troubled waters like its heroine, the child's widowed mother, with the utter confidence of faith.

Sexy but not mushy or gross? Check. The mother, convinced that her daughter is abducted, not dead, infiltrates one brothel after another. Although sexual congress does occur in such places, it's touched on very lightly. If you and your date work out, "¡Cogemi!" ("Catch me!") might become a watchword between you. If not, it won't make you blush.

Beautiful people? Check. Dolores Heredia is breathtaking. (And she can act, too. Her role, as the mother, is surprisingly demanding. Fragility and toughness, pertness and nobility--we have to believe she has all this in her, and we do.)

But not only beautiful people? Check. I like romances where one party is unbeautiful. In The Princess Bride, Cary Elwes is a little cross-eyed; he sets off Robin Wright. Unbeauty is not a stable quality. With Cary Grant, Kate Hepburn was the unbeautiful one; with Spencer Tracy, he was. If you're like me in preferring the mix, you'll be pleased at Santitos.

Something surprising? Check. I wouldn't have thought anyone could come up with a new kind of imaginary whorehouse, imaginary whorehouses being a staple of literature these many centuries. Santitos has not one, but two--I was tickled.

A few puzzles to work out afterward? Check check check. It's always fun to have subtitles to discuss over coffee. Some reviewers seem not to have understood the (very satisfying) ending at all, so perhaps it's subtle. And the minor characters are Dickensian in their juiciness.

So go with somebody nice--and won't the anthropologists of the future be impressed at the courting rituals we've worked out for ourselves?

Barley Blair is the pseudonym of the little old lady who's smooching back in the 14th row.