PARIS— DANIELE DUBROUX'S NEW movie, ''The Diary of a Seducer,'' takes its name from an essay by the 19th-century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, but fear not, the film is not a primer on existentialism. Neither is it as steamy as the title might suggest. Seduction, after all, is about power, not sex. It just happens that in Ms. Dubroux's comedy-thriller, Kierkegaard has strangely seductive powers.
In Kierkegaard's story, the seducer was a young esthete, Johannes, who set out ''scientifically'' to make the virginal Cordelia fall for him. It being 1843, a blush was proof of success. In Ms. Dubroux's film, however, it is Kierkegaard's book that takes on a life of its own, after Gregoire (Melvil Poupaud), who is writing a thesis on the book, recognizes its power to seduce young women, principally Claire (Chiara Mastroianni).
Everyone else who then reads the book -- including Gregoire's former high school teacher and Claire's psychoanalyst -- in turn becomes obsessed with the person who lent it. And since the passion never seems to be reciprocated, things turn violent.
The film, which opens Friday in New York, was not a box-office hit in France when it opened there last year but was well received by critics. Writing in the Paris daily Liberation, Olivier Seguret said the movie was difficult to describe, ''first because seduction cannot be explained, secondly because Daniele Dubroux has made a very, very, truly very seductive film.''
Almost as intriguing as the movie itself is how Ms. Dubroux, now 49, came to make it, after she herself was almost entrapped by a man obsessed with Kierkegaard's exploration of the esthetics of seduction.
A former critic for Cahiers du Cinema, she has so far made only three shorts and four low-budget feature films (''The Diary of a Seducer'' cost just $1.4 million). On the other hand, a modest output may be almost inevitable, since she researches, writes, directs and usually appears in her movies.
''I work like an artisan,'' she said in an interview in her apartment in the Belleville district of Paris. ''When I have an idea for a story, it's usually because I have met or heard of someone who interests me. I then work a bit like an academic, digging into the material, going back for more exploring. It takes a long time, but it interests me.
''I think I am above all a writer,'' she continued. ''And when I write, there is always the famous 'I' who is the narrator, which is why I often finish up appearing in my films.''
But with ''The Diary of a Seducer,'' the ''I'' became involved long before the film was conceived, when Ms. Dubroux met an attractive and decidedly mysterious man -- she calls him only Didier R. -- who was obsessed by Kierkegaard's book. He urged her to adapt it for the screen and, somewhat reluctantly, she agreed to try. Then, as she tells it, when she delivered her manuscript to his letter box, to her astonishment she found another adaptation of the book, by another woman.
''Slowly, I discovered a whole network of women and even some men whom he had asked to adapt 'The Diary of a Seducer,' '' she recalled, ''even people like a dancer and a pharmacist with no writing experience.
''It was all very odd. He was very enigmatic. I was not allowed into his home, but I learned that he lived with his mother, an eccentric former actress. He was also trained as a doctor, and while he did not have his own practice, all his network were his patients. Me, too. If we were ill, he'd leave the medicine with the baker below his apartment.''
Ms. Dubroux laughed at the absurdity of the story. Nonetheless, her strange encounter with Kierkegaard became the basis for her first screenplay. The narrator -- her ''I'' -- was a psychoanalyst who, after the suicide of a patient, finds the patient's address book and traces Gregoire. Gregoire tells her what he knows and suggests that she read ''The Diary of a Seducer.'' From that point, the plot developed along lines that had become all too familiar to Ms. Dubroux.
Remarkably, she persuaded Catherine Deneuve to play the psychoanalyst -- while Didier R. agreed to play the screen version of himself as Gregoire. (''I think Catherine Deneuve was a bit hypnotized by Didier when they met,'' the director suggested.) Then, two weeks before shooting was to begin, the producer backed out and the project collapsed.
MS. DUBROUX, A LIVElY, good-humored woman, was dismayed, but a few months later she returned to the idea. In what eventually became ''The Diary of a Seducer,'' Ms. Deneuve would no longer involved, but her daughter, Ms. Mastroianni, would play Claire.
''I needed to do it in a fresh way in order to find the energy to do it again,'' she explained. ''I didn't want to make the same film. I lowered the age of the two main characters to that of Kierkegaard's Johannes and Cordelia. But I kept the idea of all these people under the influence of this book.''
In the film, there are echoes of both Kierkegaard's book and Didier R.'s life. For example, Sebastien (Mathieu Amalric) is a rather hopeless ''apprentice seducer'' who, like Johannes, records in a diary his (failed) attempt to seduce Claire and his (successful) fallback plan to seduce her mother, Anne, played by Ms. Dubroux. On the other hand, like Didier R., Gregoire uses the book as an instrument of seduction.
The film includes two kisses but nothing resembling a sex scene. ''What's interesting is what happens in the spirit and in behavior,'' Ms. Dubroux said. ''To be seduced is interesting because it involves an odd kind of alchemy, a sort of hypnosis, a sort of spell, in which you lose your critical sense, you lower your guard.''
The French director Andre Techine, who acknowledges that he is a friend of Ms. Dubroux's and an admirer of her work, said the combination of humor and suspense in ''The Diary of a Seducer'' reminded him of some films by the Spanish director Luis Bunuel. Other critics have noted certain similarities -- in their narrative line and psychological tension -- between Ms. Dubroux's work and that of Mr. Techine.
''She has a taste for telling stories that are at times fantastic, even surrealist,'' said Mr. Techine, whose latest film, ''Les Voleurs'' (''Thieves''), was released in the United States this winter. ''She has a taste for enigma, a taste for intrigue. But her films are also very funny.''
Ms. Dubroux said her next film, which she hopes to shoot this summer, is inspired by a newspaper story of ''a sort of peasant Robin Hood'' who leaves his wife and elopes with a young woman for whom he does ''crazy things.''
Once again, Ms. Dubroux expects to appear in the film, as a friend of the missing husband. The character, as an outsider to the immediate drama, can serve as narrator. But she is more interested in writing and directing than acting, she said.
''The problem is that it's very hard to find French actresses between the ages of 40 and 50,'' she said. ''There are three or four, and they are much in demand.''
''And there's another problem,'' she added. ''I need a funny actress, and there aren't many in France. That's not the case in the United States; there are lots of American actresses who are beautiful and funny. But I can assure you, there aren't many funny women here. So when I can't find anyone else, I have to do it myself.''
Photos: The director Daniele Dubroux. (Border Line)(pg. 1); Daniele Dubroux and Mathiew Amalric in ''Diary of a Seducer'' from France--Seduction as an expression of power, ''a sort of hypnosis.'' (Leisure Time Features)(pg. 18)