There are two possible responses to Diane Kurys' new movie "A Man in Love." You can walk out in a huff or you can stay with it and howl. I howled.

You've got to love Diane Kurys. Not just anyone can make a film as monumentally boneheaded and pretentious as this. "A Man in Love" is a story about the love affair on a movie set between an American actor, Steve (Peter Coyote), hired to play the lead in a picture about the life of the Italian writer Cesare Pavese, and his costar, Jane (Greta Scacchi), the beauty chosen to play Gabriella, Pavese's last love. But it's not the love affair that provokes the howls; it's Kurys' presentation of her artist types.

"A Man in Love" is a movie about how artists create, or, alternatively, about how self-indulgent jerks parade their temperaments as a proof of their talent. Either way, Kurys doesn't know the difference. Steve, who was chosen to play the writer because the Italians need the participation of an American star to finance the film, is presented as a major talent -- in other words, childish, self-centered and manipulative.

When you get a look, close up, at Kurys' ideas about artists and creativity, you begin to realize how her films go wrong. Kurys, whose previous films have been in French and who is working here for the first time in English, specializes in a particular kind of bad movie. Her films aren't compromised in the conventional sense -- they're not botched. Watching "A Man in Love," or her previous feature, "Entre Nous," you feel that she's made the film she wanted to make.

There's an immediate seductiveness to movies about movie-making, the layering of artifice on artifice. The movie shifts locations from the set in Rome to Paris and Tuscany, and Kurys pays careful attention to the quality of light in each of the settings. The sensuousness and languor of all this is appealing; it's like flipping through the pages of Vogue. And with about the same intellectual depth and substance.

Art bloat might be an adequate term for what "A Man in Love" suffers from -- it's a masterpiece of banality. Kurys is like Jacqueline Susann, but with taste, and what could be worse?

It's hard to know exactly what Kurys thinks she's getting at with this behind-the-camera story. The film wanders back and forth between the work on the set -- mostly scenes of Steve ranting about people not caring about his "feelings" -- and the conflicts between Steve, Jane and Steve's wife Susan (Jamie Lee Curtis). But none of it comes to any point and Kurys can't structure her film-within-a-film story so that the layers play off one another.

As a love story it's more successful, if only because the performers are so appealing. As Jane, Greta Scacchi has a natural, earthy glow. She plays the daughter of Claudia Cardinale, who, in one of the movie's lamer subplots, is dying of cancer back home in Tuscany, and that seems perfect; Scacchi has the same kind of sensuality that Cardinale brought to her earlier roles.

With his craggy, borderline handsome features, Coyote is the perfect actor for a character of this sort; he plays the navel-searching self-absorption of the creative type better than anyone else. And I admit I loved watching him throw his tantrums and make a playpen of his emotions.

Jamie Lee Curtis has a thankless part as the neglected wife, but she manages to get something out of it anyway; she brings some humor and a sense of having done a little living to the part.

It's Kurys who seems, in the end, not to have gotten around much. The movie has a feminist ending in which Jane takes control of her life. Jane has been transformed by her affair with Steve. Sleeping with him, apparently, has turned her into a writer, and the indication at the close of the film, as she begins to type out the first page of a manuscript titled "A Man in Love," is that Kurys went through a similar transformation. (Supposedly Kurys, who had a bit part in Fellini's "Casanova," based the script on her experience with Donald Sutherland.) In the romance-novel terms of the movie this fits perfectly. How else are artists born? The problem now becomes, how do we keep Kurys from passing the genius seed along?

A Man in Love, at the Outer Circle, is rated "R" and contains nudity and suggestive material.