Seek out the specific source of youthful energy that brightens Argentine filmmaker Alexis Dos Santos’ lovely London romance “Unmade Beds” and you will fail. There’s no guaranteed technique behind a film as colorful, vibrant and emotionally sweet as “Unmade Beds,” a love story with the power to move young audiences, and arguably older fans of specialty cinema.
Much of its sparkle comes from its attractive leads, Vera (Déborah François) and Axl (Fernando Tielve), two foreigners and fellow squatters at a London loft. Dos Santos certainly deserves credit for a freewheeling tale that benefits from its improvisational spirit.
Director of photography Jakob Ihre (“Reprise”) supplies plenty of dreamlike images. Costume designer Kate Forbes and production designer Kristian Milstead ensure the hip, believable look of the film and its young lovers. Great music from up-and-coming bands completes the package. So “Unmade Beds,” debuting at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, is collaborative art in the truest sense. While Dos Santos stumbles with some of the film’s subplots – “Unmade Beds” is just his second feature after all – he more than compensates with plenty of artistic flourish and a solid handling of the film’s core theme of longing.
She wears an over-sized antelope mask, the pretty Belgian named Vera (François), as she gazes across the bustling loft party. Axl (Tielve), a Spaniard recently relocated to London, snuggles up to Vera while balancing a fuzzy brown bear mask over his face.
The masks are leftover props from a music video shoot, the reason for the impromptu party. But Axl and Vera don’t let the masks keep them from making a connection. They’re two foreigners who’ve made an industrial space on London’s East End home. They’re also searching for people important to their lives. Axl is looking for his British father; someone he believes works nearby as a real estate broker.
Vera is looking for a recent boyfriend. Intent on making their budding relationship as passionate and mysterious as possible, Vera and her date agree not to exchange names or numbers. Instead, they choose a locale and time for meetings. But Vera has lost him and is desperate to find him again. Whether their successful will impact their outlook on the world and more importantly themselves.
Vera also takes Polaroid pictures of the beds she has slept in through her life. It is a form of measurement, a barometer of happiness.
François, best known for her role in “L’Enfant,” is the poster child of “Unmade Beds,” a young beauty with bedroom eyes, a faraway stare and the ability to make people swoon.
Tielve is more wayward as Axl. His decisions regarding reaching out to his birth father are poor. Yet, his innocent, less assured performance perfectly syncs with the essence of the movie.
Dos Santos, whose previous film “Glue” played the festival circuit, frequently pauses the story for quiet moments of beautiful contemplation. Much of the film is dreamlike but Dos Santos keeps the story perfectly coherent.
Still, “Unmade Beds” (available for sale from Protagonist Pictures) is not a perfect film and it would feel less honest if it were.
Further proof of Dos Santos’ talent, few movies end as perfectly as “Unmade Beds.” Friends leap out of plane parachuting down to Earth. It is a brief, exciting display of friendship, funny, arguably somewhat foolish and a perfect example of what makes these young characters so lovable.