By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated April 16, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Circle is the key word here. Spanish filmmaker Julio Medem’s dreamy, exquisitely constructed romance, set in Spain and Finland, finds poetry in geometry, particularly in the never-ending spherical shape of fated love. Taciturn loners Otto and Ana — the palindromic names are no accident — meet as children and instantly recognize each other as missing halves of a soulful whole. (Three different pairs of actors play the duo.) And as their lives twine over the years (her widowed mother falls in love with his divorced father), their joined destinies are echoed in a symmetry of coincidence affecting parents, grandparents, teachers, and passing townspeople. Otto becomes a pilot, girdling the globe; Ana moves to Finland, yearning to stand where the Arctic sun never sets.

Within a circle that links the end of the film to the beginning — just this side of overplotting, but saved by good taste and control — Medem alternates the POV of his exceptionally satisfying puzzle between that of Ana and Otto. In Lovers of the Arctic Circle he spikes the narrative’s languorous pace with taut intimations of looming tragedy. And he draws gorgeously shaped performances from his fine cast. A