"I hate opera -- most of it is about as appealing as two bound Chinese feet," proclaims Walter, the driven, visionary "hero" of the acclaimed Swedish film comedy "The Mozart Brothers," which opens Friday at the Key Theatre. Nervy fellow, Walter. He happens to be addressing these scathing words to the cast he's about to direct in a radically new production of Mozart's "Don Giovanni."

"The libretto is unusable. Da Ponte {the librettist} was an idiot," he continues, flinging the manuscript to the floor. "I see the opera played in brief dream fragments, as Don Giovanni falls into death's abyss."

The assembled players are not amused; in fact, they are incensed. And things will only get worse. Not to mention hilarious. Walter insists that the ever-so-traditional members of the opera orchestra perform onstage as a kind of Greek chorus; they revolt. He puts his singers through a series of exercises to summon up their latent erotic impulses; they flourish. The director's ex-wife (a cast member) sounds off. His children appear. So does the bedraggled ghost of Wolfgang Amadeus himself. Gazing bemusedly at the proceedings, he ends up giving Walter the strength to forge ahead with his creative quest.

"My film is not so much an opera film as a film about society," says Suzanne Osten, director and coauthor of "The Mozart Brothers." "It's about someone fighting for an important idea -- Walter could just as well have been a government worker or a teacher."

So why did she choose to set her story in the often neurotic, highly specialized world of opera? Especially when she herself can't even read a note of music?

"I spent time watching Etienne directing and working within the conservative opera tradition of the Royal Opera in Stockholm, and the seeds of the film were planted." Etienne is avant-garde theatrical director Etienne Glaser, who also happens to be coauthor of the film, Osten's live-in companion, and -- most significantly -- the actor who plays Walter. "I thought it was hilarious to see him struggling and fighting with those people."

"It was a production of 'Don Giovanni,' " explains Glaser, who has now assumed yet anotherguise -- that of film promoter. "And though the ensemble was very much in touch with my ideas, I still ran into conservative and difficult individuals. Opera is a very, very strong art form, and can be one of the broadest and most expressive."

Glaser is beginning to sound an awful lot like Walter, or, come to think of it, Washington's recently departed avant-garde Wunderkind Peter Sellars, for that matter. "But you must first and foremost regard it as a theatrical form. These stand-up concert interpretations they make are appalling, absolutely contrary to the idea of musical theater."

"Opera has these frightening walls around it," adds Osten, who has also spent most of her professional life writing and directing avant-garde theater. "I had to listen to 'Don Giovanni' millions of times before proceeding on this project."

From the start, she and Glaser attempted to gear "The Mozart Brothers" toward a general audience, pitching their ideas to a variety of potential film-goers: rabid opera fans, musical know-nothings, intellectuals, average Joes. They sought to make Walter's struggle humorous and humanizing, something anyone could identify with easily.

Mozart himself helped a great deal in that department. Despite Osten's lack of musical training, she felt at one with both his art and his spirit. "In the film, Mozart's music touches everyone," she explains. "You hear the cleaning people who work at the opera house humming his music -- just like I do in my bathroom. That's the best thing that the composer in his heaven could imagine. He was a practical theater man, and this is my homage to his practicality."

The astonishing number of recent cinematic and theatrical explorations devoted to Mozart and his work -- stage and screen versions of "Amadeus," the West German film "Forget Mozart," the Belgian film "Babel Opera: A Don Juan Rehearsal," the children's theater production of "Prodigy," and now "The Mozart Brothers" -- have turned this already certified creative genius into something of a cult figure. Osten knows why.

"Mozart was a revolutionary free spirit. He was a vivid person, who believed in vivid theater. He didn't care about tradition. To me, he represents pure creativity. When he appears in the film, he is both affirming and threatening Walter, and also serving as his conscience."

In a sense, "The Mozart Brothers" not only serves as Osten's tribute to the composer, but also celebrates the influence of a more contemporary creative figure: Woody Allen.

"I feel very connected to Woody Allen," she declares. "Watching his movies really released me. He taught me that there is nothing wrong with having people just talk to each other on film. 'Manhattan,' especially, is so clear and intelligent, a wonderful mixture of wit and tragedy." She also admires the work of Luis Bunåuel, Federico Fellini (more than one critic has compared "The Mozart Brothers" to his "Orchestra Rehearsal"), and the "searching" cinematic experiments of John Cassavetes.

Movie-making is a relatively new, and not particularly easy, endeavor for the 43-year-old Osten. As a theatrical director, she headed a 28-member company that received 85 percent of its financial support from the Swedish government. As a fledgling screen writer and director, however, she has met with bureaucratic obstacles and sexism.

"Film is the most conservative branch of the arts in my country," she says. "To get a manuscript through the bureaucracy is a real accomplishment. And there are preconceptions one must fight. For instance, it is felt that women cannot direct adventure films. I suggested a project that required horses, a cavalry,action scenes, love scenes, death scenes. It was rejected. So I decided to prove that I could do a comedy."

Now Osten has begun work in a new genre -- horror. "It's about horror in real life, and horror in fiction," she explains. "The title translates as 'A Very Dangerous Film.' "

And how does she interpret the title of her current opus? Is it meant to suggest a connection with the Marx Brothers? After all, the ads for the film read: " 'Amadeus' meets 'A Night at the Opera?' "

"Everyone asks that question," Osten laughs. "And Etienne and I have different answers. In my film, I present three images of creativity, three creative brothers: strong, opinionated Walter, the confused and questioning assistant conductor and the childish, nonanalytic production designer."

Groucho, Chico and Harpo, perhaps?

"I tell everyone to make up their own minds about the title," declares Glaser. When told, however, that he does bear a vague resemblance to Harpo, he chortles with delight. With the ghosts of Mozart and the Marxes to inspire you, how can you fail?