Casa de Los Babys

The story could almost be a faux documentary.

John Sayles' "Casa de los Babys" is a strange film, even for the eccentric director of such art-house favorites as "Matewan" and "Lone Star." Strange because I can't tell where he's coming from: Does his film show in typically oblique Sayles' fashion the exploitation of women waiting to adopt children from Latin America? Or is it homage to the industry that delivers babies to needy gringo women?

Or is his juxtaposition of scenes with waiting-moms and the careless promiscuity of Latino youths producing unwanted babies transcending this locale into the human irony of those who can't have and those who carelessly have.

Probably both, although it is hard to sympathize with the Marcia Gay-Harden character, who lies and steals toiletries from the maid's cart and exhibits questionable activity with the dolls she uses to practice for motherhood. Her ''Believe me, you don't want my husband to have to come down here!'' exclamation is chilling because you know she can cause the trouble.

Darryl Hannah's athletic, masseuse mom is the most memorable as her loss of 3 children after childbirth is slowly revealed to a skeptical flock of waiting mom wanabees. Susan Lynch's Irish girl has a soulful exchange with a Latina maid that is poignant because neither understands the other's language, but each clearly understands the longing for motherhood.

With little climactic activity and too many separate actions and characters, the story could almost be a faux documentary, and its theme is just about as buried as a well-done news piece from CNN. Although it is not the obviously political "Sunshine State," it carries weight about the two cultures, which serve each other. Again the Harden character offers the jaundiced point of view: "They're making us pay for our babies with the balance of trade."

It is possible Sayles is praising women who wait so long for someone else's children. The bard says it succinctly: "Let her never nurse her child herself, for she will breed it like a fool."