Directed by Alexis Dos Santos
Filmmaker Alexis Dos Santos follows his debut feature, Glue, with the eye-catching but mind-numbing Unmade Beds, another film about hot-to-trot young people, though the subjects of the new film are a half-decade older and thus have more finely developed tastes for binge-drinking and outrageous indie sing-alongs. This latest cool story of youth takes place in London, specifically an East End squat whose inhabitants — still fumbling to find themselves though they’ve already groped each other — constitute a veritable model EU delegation.
Dos Santos’s featherweight film, beautifully shot by Jakob Ihre (a Swede who lensed last year’s Reprise), focuses on Madrid native Axl (The Devil’s Backbone’s Fernando Tielve, almost all grown-up), who travels to London in search of his long-lost father, tallying the beds he sleeps in along the way. It doesn’t take much Googling for Axl to learn his dad’s a real estate agent, and the son proceeds to pose as a flat-hunting student so he can suss the unsuspecting man out. Though Axl eventually decides his father is just a “functional, boring human being,” the evidence of the film suggests the elder man possesses a forbearance uncommon to his profession. Axl’s co-protagonist, a stranger who lives under the same roof, is Vera (L’Enfant’s Déborah François), and she also takes an unorthodox approach to her job, improperly shelving best-sellers to foster a sense of discovery. She’s a lovelorn Belgian entering into an uneasy but steamy flirtation with a stud she refuses to exchange names with. Her hobbies include looking pouty and beautiful and taking Polaroids of the hotel bed where her first encounter with Mr. Anonymous concluded.
Any movie that thematizes mattresses in such a way risks being a total snooze, and Unmade Beds certainly is one, especially as Dos Santos guides his twin protagonists closer toward their inevitable meeting. The rendezvous occurs during a music video shoot at which everyone is wearing an animal mask. We are meant to assume the meeting is significant because Axl, who blacks out and forgets everything that occurs when he’s drinking (which is more or less all the time), recounts to his cereal-eating, skydiving-video-watching squat-mates the next morning that he thinks he kinda sorta maybe remembers meeting someone special last night. Aside from giving one of his most cherished playlists (Tindersticks, Kimya Dawson, and a smattering of lesser-known acts) a visual complement, Dos Santos’s biggest interest here seems to be the vitality-vulnerability calculus unique to post-adolescence, but his failure to flesh out his characters beyond that proves his film’s unmaking.
Opens September 2 at IFC Center