Wednesday, 16 December 2009

unmade beds (w&d alexis dos santos)

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, on another website entirely, before the doe-eyed days had been born, I found myself writing a somewhat critical piece about Winterbottom's Wonderland, a film I didn't enjoy, in spite of the fact his more recent work proves him to be one of our more creative and intriguing filmmakers. One of the few in fact. Anyhow, at this point in dim distant history, this ancient website was in fact the communal property of a group called The Focus Group, which is another story altogether. It so happened that one of the members of that group was independently in discussions with Revolver, Winterbottom's production company, and when he saw the somewhat critical review, (which probably took about six months, as it was not a website which was consulted with any great regularity), he wasn't best pleased.

For understandable reasons. At the end of the day, the UK film industry is a small business, more of a cottage industry than an international finance industry. The players are known to one another, and the same names will regularly feature in production credits. These are the gatekeepers, who control production capital, green lights, and most of all, our cinematic sensibilities. If you want to get anywhere in cinema in this country, at some point you're going to have to convince them of your worth. And presumably not offend them by criticising their recent output.

Which brings us to Dos Santos' movie, Unmade Beds. The premise of a movie directed by a young Argentine, set in London, for reasons which regular readers of this blog will understand, was highly inviting, not least because I'm currently on the hunt for films appropriate for 'non-native speakers' to use a well-honed TEFL phrase. The film had received a bit of buzz on the grapevine, and I happily handed over my money to the Curzon chain for the second day in a row. The first fifteen minutes seemed promising. Potentially beguiling figures speaking in a subtitled polyglot mooched through a highly recognisable Hoxton context, threatening to have minor crises, drink too much, suffer a little, and laugh. In theory this could be New Wave Latin American cinema meeting Nouvelle Vague meeting New British Waving not Drowning.

Then, before it had even emerged from the first act, a terrible dawning began to shroud the cinema. The film seemed to decelerate. The apparent premise of the title, (the various beds in which the film's hero finds himself waking up), was abruptly jettisoned. Much of the film became dedicated to a narcissistic, post-Linklater love story. The plot atrophied. Hours passed. Beguiling moments were lost in the fog. The pie had been left in the oven for twelve years. This was a film which would never cook, and seemingly, never end.

It did, of course. All things end. Even websites. It ended in a sudden flurry of post-dated plot, the final half hour suddenly knitting everything into place, like the neatest of Richard Curtis scripts. 'I took that photo' the French girl says as she stands outside the club where her flatmates hang out every night, flatmates she seems to have no knowledge of, and perhaps has never met. The photo lures her into a club she was going to anyway, where she meets the man she'd thought she's lost who's singing a song which might have been written... for her! It's too beautiful to be true, and indeed, truthfulness has been abandoned in favour of animal heads and the odd breathy orgy, approximately three hours ago.

The credits rolled. There were the names. There were the script editors. Two of them. It's impossible not to imagine the interminable script meetings Unmade Beds must have been through. Because if there's one thing the British film (cottage) industry prides itself on, it's script development. I have a sneaky feeling that sometime long long ago, when the director first presented his premise, and original script, it might have been the quirky, counter-culture vehicle it seemed to be aspiring towards. However, after a million regurgitations, Unmade Beds has been shorn of its inventiveness and charm.

It might be shooting myself in the foot to make these (subjective) observations. Biting the hand which could theoretically feed were the writer to crampon his way up the food chain. However, the experience of Unmade Beds was just too disheartening. Anyone who's watched a film by Sorin or Trapero, Rebella & Stoll, Linklater or Payne or etc knows it's possible to make a winsome and effective slacker movie. However, if you try and script edit in nuts and bolts, the whole house of cards is likely to collapse. All over again.


Anonymous said...
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Darkly Dreaming Dave said...

If you liked Unmade Beds then look at this:
For only 5 euros you can become a co-producer of Alexis' next project! For 25 euros you even have your name on the credits! I think this is a very good way to get viewers to be more involved in projects from such good directors as Dos Santos.