One of the hottest tickets at the Sundance Film Festival is "Boxing Helena," a low-budget, independent production in the dramatic competition.

Written and directed by Jennifer Lynch, the film is a bizarre love story, an allegory that takes the title character through a most unusual transformation after a doctor who is obsessed with her saves her life following an auto accident, then surgically removes her legs. He keeps her captive in a box in his home and later amputates her arms as well. (The film has initially received an NC-17 rating, which will be appealed to get an R.)The press kit describes "Boxing Helena" this way: ". . . as much a love story as a horror story." But Lynch flinches at the "horror" tag. "The subject matter itself, just the verbal description, sounds violent, anti-feminist, anti-anything," she explains. "But it's really a tender love story about how we feel for each other, how we can change to make people love us. Her loss of limbs is a metaphor for the thievery that goes on in relationships.

"It's a bit more mainstream than one would think. The secret to being mainstream is simply that the audience goes in with expectations of a story they've never heard before. Rather than heads being blown off, your mind is blown."

"Boxing Helena" achieved notoriety long before it was filmed, due to Madonna accepting the role of Helena and then changing her mind. Later, Kim Basinger was cast, but she too reneged. Ultimately, the role went to Sherilyn Fenn, best known as teen seductress Audrey Horne in "Twin Peaks."

"Yes, Madonna was in it and then Kim Basinger was in it, then they dropped out for personal reasons. I asked a lot of them. Putting somebody in a box and being that person in the box, it's very difficult.

"I'd only met Sherilyn Fenn once before, on the set of `Twin Peaks.' I mean I knew of her and was a big fan of hers. It was years later that I actually thought of her doing `Boxing Helena.' "

Jennifer Lynch is the daughter of David Lynch, the filmmaker who created "Twin Peaks," as well as the feature films "Eraserhead," "Blue Velvet" and "Wild at Heart." And she is aware that people are bound to have certain expectations as a result. "Certainly I have fears about what those comparisons will be, because I in no way expect people to think I'm some gift to filmmaking.

"I just hope that any criticisms don't taint people's expectations of the movie. This is not a David Lynch picture. It's a Jennifer Lynch picture. In some respects it will be interesting to hear what people have to say. I believe you can learn from everything, good and bad."

The 24-year-old Lynch is described in the film's publicity material as the youngest female director in American film history. She wrote the "Boxing Helena" script at age 19. Later, at 22, she penned "The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer," based on her father's "Twin Peaks" television series. The book was on the New York Times best-seller list for 14 weeks. Her early film experience came on the sets of her father's movies, "Dune" and "Blue Velvet."

"When I first wrote the script, it was a pipe dream. I had no intention of directing it, but I wanted to find some way to complete the vision. It's risky and challenging, because there are so many taboos.

"It's an unfortunate, modern love story. A dark comedy with black humor. And those moments will be recognized if people can laugh at themselves a little bit. People do ridiculous things when they want someone to like them. We spend our lives making fools out of ourselves for the love of someone else."

"I think that what's important for me here is that there isn't a moment that goes by that I don't know how fortunate I am to be here. And I've worked very hard to get where I am. I'm grateful and also feel that it's been earned.

"It was a labor of love and I'm happy to tell the story - and I'm also very tired for it.

"It's actually a very beautiful film. Really."

FESTIVAL SCHEDULE

For festival information, phone 328-FILM (3456); for ticket information, phone 322-1700. All theaters are in Park City except the Tower, which is in Salt Lake City, and the Sundance Screening Room, which is at the Sundance Resort in Provo Canyon.

MONDAY

Carl Winter: "Just Another Girl on the I.R.T." 4 p.m.

Egyptian: "Fly By Night" 1 p.m.; "Inside Monkey Zetterland" 4 p.m.; "Careful" 7 p.m.; "Frameup" 10 p.m.

Holiday I: "Something Within Me" 1 p.m.; "Silverlake Life" 4 p.m.; "Arrows of Desire" 7 p.m.; "Black Harvest" 10 p.m.

Holiday II: "On the Bridge" 1:15 p.m.; "Rift" 4:15 p.m.; "Combination Platter" 7:15 p.m.; "Shorts Program II" 10:15 p.m.

Holiday III: "Aileen Wuornos" 1:30 p.m.; "My Home, My Prison" 4:30 p.m.; "LaCarpa" 7:30 p.m.; "Ruby in Paradise" 10:30 p.m.

Prospector: "The Terrorists" 3 p.m.; "A Place in the World" 6 p.m.; "Hard-Boiled" 9 p.m.

Sundance: "Road Scholar" 8 p.m.

TUESDAY

Carl Winter: "Combination Platter" 8 a.m.; "An Ambush of Ghosts" 10 a.m.; "Public Access" noon; "Twenty Bucks" 4 p.m.; "Aileen Wournos: The Selling of a Serial Killer" 7 p.m.; "Frameup" 10 p.m.

Egyptian: "The Journey" 10 a.m.; "Christian Blackwood" 1 p.m.; "Nitrate Kisses" 4 p.m.; "The Story of Qiu Ju" 7 p.m.; "Man Bites Dog" 10 p.m.

Holiday I: "Shorts Program III" 10 a.m.; "Arrows of Desire" 1 p.m.; "Christian Blackwood" 4 p.m.; "Shorts Program IV" 7 p.m.; TBA 10 p.m.

Holiday II: "How to Be a Woman and Survive" 10:15 a.m.; "The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg" 1:15 p.m.; "The Sentinel" 4:15 p.m.; "Dark Side of the Heart" 7:15 p.m.; "Earth and the American Dream" 10:15 p.m.

Holiday III: "The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid" 10:30 a.m.; "Boxing Helena" 1:30 p.m.; "Days of Being Wild" 4:30 p.m.; "The Southern Cross" 7:30 p.m.; "Where the Boys Are" 10:30 p.m.

Prospector: "Careful" 9:30 a.m.; "Crush" noon; "Visions of Light" 3 p.m.; "Lovers on the Bridge" 6 p.m.; "The Last Days of Chez Nous" 9 p.m.

Sundance: "Lillian" 8 p.m.