I was reminded of a wisecrack made by Barry Humphries (perhaps you know his alter ego, Dame Edna Everage). Anyhow, he quipped that many was the morning he would wake up in his native Melbourne and wonder if there were life before death.

One might think the same during this minimalist, 87-minute movie - a film that could work just as well as a radio play - about grieving men who wonder if there is love after the death of a loved one.

In Yen Tan's glacially paced movie (every shot is relentlessly symmetrical), the actors are squares in graph-paper compositions.

Tan uses his fixed camera as an astronomer might a telescope: to stare at phenomena light-years away. Except that his characters, Jeff (Adam Neal Smith), a Dallas banker, and Andrea (Alessandro Calza), a Genovese graphic designer, are not light-years away. They're right here, in a rectilinear Dallas apartment block, mourning the passing of a mutual friend, Mark.

Jeff was Mark's best friend and harbored a not-so-secret crush on him. Andrea, who clicked with Mark on the Internet, had planned a trip to Dallas to meet him. As it happens, Mark confided in the relaxed and affable Italian in ways he never could to the tense Jeff.

For the movie's first half, Tan, a filmmaker of obvious restraint, keeps such a polite distance from his characters that he frustrates audience involvement in their slow-blossoming intimacy. Politeness and restraint are great qualities in a new acquaintance, but they don't make for riveting drama.

Ciao ** (out of four stars)

Directed by Yen Tan. With Adam Neal Smith, Margaret Lake, Alessandro Calza and Ethel Lung. Distributed by Regent Releasing.

Running time: 1 hour, 27 mins.

Parent's guide: R (sexual themes)

Playing at: Ritz at the BourseEndText

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/