Sunday, March 29, 2009

The FSLC's ND/NF Series: UNMADE BEDS No sophomore slump for Alexis Dos Santos

Fernando Tielve, right, with Déborah François

Comparing Alexis Dos Santos' UNMADE BEDS, which had its New York debut last night at the FSLC's yearly New Directors/New Films series, to the writer/director's first full-length film Glue is worthwhile, I think. Both are lively and loose, yet not so loose as to lose the intelligent viewer who's willing to keep up with Señor Dos Santos' swift pacing, his quick cuts from one set of characters or events to another, and most of all, his seemingly haphazard grasp of technique -- which is actually rather knowing. His visuals, often smashingly original, match the mindset of his characters.

Cute threesome: from left, Iddo Goldberg as Mike,
Fernando Tielve as Axl and Katia Winter as Hannah.

In Glue, a teenager tries to come to terms with life, and the movie captures teen sexuality in all its raw and crazy vitality. With imagination (and an original color palette), the writer/director, his crack cinematographer (Natasha Braier) and editors (Ida Bregninge, Leonardo Brzezicki and Dos Santos himself) manage to create a new look and feel that perfectly portray the age, confusion and raging hormones of its lead characters.

Unmade Beds, with its crisp, pudgy/bold title lettering in red, white and blue, immediately nods toward a more professional appearance. Indeed, this entire movie -- in its way, as loose and lively as Glue -- is also more mature and comprehensive. The characters, an international set, are slightly older, though not yet what you'd call autonomous adults, and their concerns now include earning a living, finding their "joy" and connecting -- sexually and otherwise. (Again, as in Glue, the homo/bi-sex must take place when the characters are high. When Axl comes on to Mike a second time, in a more sober state -- he's in for one of those "Sorry, kid, but that's not me" moments.) There's also a "parenting" issue here, and Dos Santos has his young character handle it with surprising reticence and tact, which results in our being moved without feeling much manipulated. (Shown above: Déborah François as Vera)

Déborah François, left and Michiel Huisman as X-Ray Man

In his trip from Glue to Unmade Beds, it's as though the writer/director is growing up along with his characters, from film to film. (This may be something like Gabriele Muccino achieved in his early films (But Forever in My Mind, The Last Kiss, Remember Me My Love) prior to becoming Will Smith's go-to guy for high-toned schmaltz.) In any case, as a director, Dos Santos is very good with his actors: all of whom give full performances, making their impression while remaining part of the ensemble. (Among the cast, all of them very good, the standout is probably Ms François, barely recognizable here from her previous work as the bereft young mother in the Dardennes' L'Enfant or the blond wreaking vengeance in The Page Turner.) Dos Santos' writing, too, is nuanced as to character, position and age. He never gives us too much information, yet there's enough so that we can engage with each character via situation and emotion.

An already quite "international" filmmaker, Dos Santos himself appeared at the screening, galumping down the aisle toward the microphone with speed and charm when first introduced. I could not stay for the Q&A, but I would love to learn more about this up-and-coming writer/director, who told us, pre-film, that being included twice in the ND/NF film series made him feel "young." Which is fine, as this should indicate more loose-'n-lively movies in the years to come. (Shown above: Michiel Huisman)

Unmade Beds screens one more time during the New Directors/New Films series: Monday night, March 30, at 9 at MoMA.

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