Love and listlessness in bohemian London. By JACOB POWELL.

RECREATING the spirit of those peripatetic uni days, Unmade Beds reveals its story amidst the aimless existence of urban 20-somethings brought together for brief spell in a sprawling London squat. Sporting a consistent tenor of muted cool, Alexis Dos Santos’s appealing new feature charts afresh the age old quest for love, connection, and meaning.

Our boyish lead Axl (Fernando Tielve) has departed the sun warmed climes of Spain to hunt down the long lost father he never knew and we meet him near the end of his search in the close quartered metropolitan confines of London. He falls in with a couple who inhabit a conveniently liveable squat with an array of youthful drifters and takes his unsettled place amongst this tenuous community. We watch as he uncertainly negotiates the pent up emotion surrounding the discovery of this father – with his ‘real’ family – through a misty drunken haze. Axl likes a drink or two but unfortunately (or perhaps that should be fortunately) for him he has severe memory blackouts whenever he overindulges – which is pretty much every night.

Unmade Beds’ second central storyline follows young French expat Vera (a pleasantly natural Déborah François) who, escaping the memory a broken relationship and her unfulfilling part-time job at a local bookstore, begins a mysterious relationship (with a man she meets at a bar) in which neither reveals any true details about themselves. She resides at the same squat as Axl and their paths criss-cross incidentally until at a party one night their storylines meet; though, in her party costume mask and with Axl’s memory problem there is little recognition the next day of the brief spark that fires as they share their woes.

Dos Santos includes a killer indie soundtrack lending the film a further air of authenticity, including tracks from Kimya Dawson, Tindersticks (who also scored Claire Denis’s 35 Shots of Rum), Daniel Johnston, Black Moustache, and New Zealand’s own Connan Mockasin. Some of these acts play live in the bar run by many of the squatters and this music infuses the production; a natural part of the essential structure of the film. The visual aesthetic of the film has an equally natural and worn feeling with many night shots and grimy settings juxtaposed with the scenes of drunken mirth. There are some great shot setups – quite photographic in nature – which mirror the use of the Polaroids Vera employs as her creative outlet, which in turn mirrors the idea of a series of moments around which the film is constructed.

For all its authenticity and refusal to pander to typical romantic resolution, Unmade Beds just didn’t take hold of me the way it seems to have grabbed many others. Axl as a character failed invoke any significant empathy in me and the film ended seeming an exercise of style over substance – although some good style I admit. I preferred Andrew Bujalski’s exploration of cusp-of-adulthood listlessness via latter day slackers in Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation to Axl and Vera’s somewhat annoying self-indulgence. But for all this Unmade Beds was still an enjoyable film; it just suffered against the superior company of my other festival viewing.

See also:
» Making Unmade Beds