"El Diputado" (loosely, "The Congressman"), Eloy de la Iglesia's 19th film, tries to get at an important idea: the relationship between public politics and a political view of private life. So it's a shame that it does so in such a draggy way. It doesn't build to a climax, it dribbles there.

Set in post-Franco Spain, "El Diputado" tells the story of Roberto Orbea (Jose Sacristan), a Socialist leader with a secret -- he's a homosexual. He's repressed it for years (ever since his army days), but after he meets an attractive young hustler in prison, he begins leading a double life. Eventually, he falls in love, with a young blond named Juanito (Jose Alonso). His wife Carmen (Maria Luisa San Jose) catches on, but hey, she's a Socialist too, and pretty soon the three of them are all socializing together.

What Roberto doesn't realize is that Juanito works for right-wing thugs, who have hired him to seduce (and thus discredit) the increasingly popular diputado from Madrid.

"El Diputado" starts out nicely, with crackerjack editing and some fun surrealism, but there's no real narrative drive. We know from the beginning that Roberto will be arrested (the movie is a kind of long flashback), so the only interest lies in how he gets to that point, which isn't terribly interesting. Roberto decides there are more important things in life than politics; Juanito decides that there are more important things in life than money; Carmen comes along for the ride. It's like a perverse Spanish improvisation on "Butch Cassidy."

De la Iglesia directs with a graceful, gliding camera, and he's playful with the medium, dabbling in freeze frames and still montages. But as the film gets talkier, the style gets more static. And it's hard to get a handle on the tone. It has its moments of satire, poking fun at the leftist's earnestness (on a camping trip, Roberto reads aloud from a Marxist tract to Juanito, who quickly falls asleep).

But the satire undercuts what's serious about the film; worse, de la Iglesia leaves himself open to the same kind of satire himself. He's trying to elevate a man who cashes in his political ideals for a me'nage a trois. For de la Iglesia, a happy sex life is more important than a political revolution, a point that might be refreshing and liberating in Spain. Here in the States, where everyone seems to believe that a well-kept lawn is more important than politics, it's just depressing.

Diputado, at the K-B Janus, is unrated and contains full frontal male nudity and graphic sexual situations.