ELOPEMENT is still a highly charged emotional act, but in the days of World War I when screenwriter Horton Foote's parents ran off to get hitched, it was about the most scandalous behavior a young woman could exhibit. Particularly when she was the daughter of a successful businessman in a tiny south Texas town.

Foote, whose most recent success was "The Trip to Bountiful," again reaches back to his roots for "On Valentine's Day," a penetrating story of a young couple's unselfish and unflinching love. In this loosely autobiographical story, the 69-year-old Foote displays his strong appreciation for the closeness of family while he delicately points out the desperation of loneliness.

Elizabeth and her hard-working husband Horace -- whose "humble prospects" kept Elizabeth's wealthy father from giving them his blessing -- prepare for their first Christmas since their elopement on Valentine's Day. Elizabeth, poignantly played by Foote's daughter Hallie, has not spoken to her parents since. The elopement and the father's cold shoulder have been the talk of the town, even seeping into the pickled patter of the drunk whose mother owns the house where Elizabeth and Horace have rented a room.

But on Christmas morning, Elizabeth's mother initiates a reconciliation, at first slow and awkward but one that, in time, leads to a stronger bond between the generations. The father, played effectively by Michael Higgins, is drawn to the young couple and to their happiness. "They don't have much. But they have contentment," he says.

The young couple's love and determination to pull together become a calm center for some stormy small-town lives, which provide the movie's drama.

"On Valentine's Day" is proof that Horton Foote not only has the talent to write wonderfully tender stories about people, but also possesses the uncanny ability to find producers (including his wife Lillian) and a director (Ken Harrison) who bring them to the screen in the most effective way possible. ON VALENTINE'S DAY (PG) -- At the K-B Janus.