2 July 2009 | larry-411
A wonderful little gem that is close to perfection
I attended the World Premiere of "Unmade Beds" at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. This is the second feature from writer/director Alexis Dos Santos, whose first film, "Glue" (from Argentina), was one of my Top Picks of 2006 after having had its debut in Toronto. So naturally "Unmade Beds" was a must on my list and I had high expectations. It met and exceeded them.
The film stars Déborah François and Fernando Tielve (Carlos in "The Devil's Backbone") as two naivé young expatriots living in London, wandering souls in search of a home. Axl (Tielve) is also looking for his mysterious English father, whom he hasn't known since his hazy early childhood. His nights consist of drinking, dancing, and waking up in strange beds with even stranger people. Meanwhile, Vera (François) has her sights set on a mysterious man as well -- someone with whom she can spend a night without commitment. She is equally lost in a cold world where eye contact and a smile are a rare commodity. This is the big city, and it can be cruel as hell. Their goals are different, or are they? The pulsating indie rock soundtrack seamlessly blends with the live music performed onstage in the concert club which doubles as their crash pad. Some tunes are reprised, with common themes paralleling the pair's progress (or not) in finding what they're searching for. Watch for Tielve's mirror "performance" of Black Moustache's "Hot Monkey, Hot Ass!" It was a crowd pleaser in all the screenings I've attended, especially since its boldness is in such stark contrast to the puppy dog innocence he displays through much of the narrative.
The visuals are especially notable, as cinematographer Jakob Ihre captures the trippy, frenetic atmosphere of the concert hall. Using mostly hand-held camera and stage lighting, with its strobes on the dance floor flashing across his staggering frame, the viewer is made to feel just as drunk and clueless as Axl. Vera is constantly in motion as well, looking equally lost and vulnerable, as she glides through crowded London streets looking for companionship. The viewer is always a close observer, almost within arm's length. We want to reach out and hug these lonely strays but we can only watch helplessly and hope they'll each end up in someone's arms.
Writer/director Alexis Dos Santos has grown tremendously as an artist -- while "Glue" was mostly improvised, "Unmade Beds" is not although it still retains a loose unscripted feel. That's a tribute to his insightful writing as well as the sensitive performances of Tielve and François. As a team, the three have crafted a wonderful little gem that is close to perfection.