Film Review: Unmade Beds

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PARK CITY -- Chockablock with tasty music, "Unmade Beds" is a look at the immigrant experience in contemporary London from a slightly different perspective. Tracing parallel stories of a twentysomething French woman, a Spanish expat and their friends, writer-director Alexis Dos Santos creates the texture of a particular time and place in their life as they try to find their identity in a foreign land. More atmospheric than compelling, the film could attract a young audience that relates to the characters and appreciates the terrific soundtrack.

Set in the city's scruffy East End, Vera (Deborah Francois) and Axl (Fernando Tielve) live in the same sprawling squatters warehouse (a triumph of funky production design by Kristian Milsted) but don't know each other. Living with their own personal angst while consuming copious quantities of alcohol, it's not that surprising their paths haven't crossed. In any case, it's convenient for the storytelling, which floats along more like a dream than a linear story.

Axl is in London searching for the father who abandoned him as a child in Spain. Turns out he's now a very normal real estate agent with a wife and two kids. Axl is unable to tell him the truth, and pretends to be looking for a flat in order to have some contact, but he agonizes endlessly over it.

Vera, on the other hand, has withdrawn into herself and her day job as "the worst book seller" in the world. Apparently licking her wounds after a bad affair, she meets a mysterious guy (Michiel Huisman) and starts a romance with no questions asked or information exchanged (shades of a sweeter "Last Tango in Paris"). But there's trouble in paradise, and things don't turn out as planned.

Much of the action, such as it is, takes place at a club aptly named Lost and Found, run by Mike (Iddo Goldberg), the older and wiser mentor of the squat. The most interesting elements of the film take place here as little-known bands with names like (We Are) Performance, Plaster of Paris and Connan Mockasin take the stage, sometimes in drag or outlandish costumes (creatively designed by Kate Forbes). And this is where Axl and Vera finally have their fateful meeting.

What it all amounts to is hard to say as these characters are at the stage in life where they are so totally self-absorbed. When Mike advises Axl not to jump before he's ready, that's probably the deepest thing in the film. However, "Unmade Beds" is great to look at, and Dos Santos is clearly a talented filmmaker (aided greatly here by cinematographer Jakob Ihre) with command of different visual styles. He also displays a nice improvisational touch with his cast topped by Francois' charismatic screen presence. Next time, hopefully, Dos Santos will pay as much attention to his storytelling as he does to the look.

Production companies: Three Pillows Limited, Channel4 Television Corporation, UK Film Council and EM Media
Cast: Deborah Francois, Fernando Tielve, Michiel Huisman, Iddo Goldberg, Richard Lintem, Katia Winter
Writer-director: Alexis Dos Santos
Producer: Soledad Gatti-Pascual, Peter Ettedgui
Executive producer: Peter Carlton, Lizzie Francke
Director of photography: Jakob Ihre
Production designer: Kristian Milsted
Costume designer: Kate Forbes
Editor: Olivier Bugge Coutte
Sales: Protagonist Pictures
No rating, 92 minutes
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