THIS IS A FILM ABOUT SUBTLETY, nuance and patience: A Spanish painter, Antonio Lopez Garcia, stands in a courtyard trying to render light through the leaves of a Quince tree. Ultimately, the artist gives in to failure, compromised by the brevity of seasons, light and life. The artist's painting, like the film, is an effort to capture the world without manipulating it.

Dream of Light is filmed as a documentary. Dialogue is sparse, rambling and understated, blending with the voice of radio news, neighbors and workmen. But all is staged and the Quince tree is central. Even brick layers admire the ripening quince, symbolic of life passing; on a lunch break, they share an over-ripe fruit and speak poetically of marmalade.

Still-life paintings, natures mortes, are all about life and death--blooming flowers, rotting fruit, flies, fish and skulls. Busts and portraiture have their history in death masks. This film reinforces the sense that realism in art is at best a failed effort to put off death by owning a single moment. As the artist paints, his friend sits on a nearby curb and reminisces about being young. "We went to cafes that no longer exist," he says wistfully.

"Do you think you'll finish before the Quinces fall?" another visitor asks. Every sentence carries the theme of time passing.

When the tree begins to droop, the artist talks his friend into holding a leaf in exactly the right place by pushing against the leaf with a stick. The friend holds the stick and he feels silly and says, "It would be funny if it weren't so serious." This sentence speaks for the film as a whole.