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Unmade Beds

Unmade Beds

Mumblecore goes global in Unmade Beds

Of all the film genres to flourish in recent times, mumblecore is both the most ethereal and, to date, the least profitable. But unlike, say, torture-porn or mockumentary, it has some distance to go before it outstays its welcome. For the uninitiated, mumblecore is essentially an offshoot of the rom-com, but instead of Kate Hudson, Sandra Bullock and/or Matthew McConaughey, you get an infinitely preferable gathering of aimless twentysomethings gently groping their way through matters of the heart, usually while wearing cardigans. (If the NME "C86" class of bed-wetting, thrift-shop-attired guitar bands were a type of film, it would be mumblecore.)

With the exception of Lynn Shelton's Humpday, which opens here next week, and work by the excellent Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation) and Aaron Katz (Quiet City, Dance Party USA), the movement has yet to bear much significant artistic fruit, or to extend far beyond the US. Unmade Beds, then, represents a step in the right direction on both counts.

The film is set in London (it was filmed there and in Nottingham) but written and directed by the Argentinean Alexis Dos Santos. The characters include Axl (played by the curly-haired Pete Doherty-lookalike Fernando Tielve), a rootless 20-year-old Spaniard who has arrived in the Big Smoke to seek out the father he has never met; two easygoing Londoners, Mike (Iddo Goldberg) and Hannah (Katia Winter), who welcome him into their squat and their bed; and Vera (Déborah François) a Belgian bookshop assistant hung up on the Dutch X-Ray Man (Michael Huisman), so named because he claims to work in airport security.

Genre aficionados will rightly notice that there are already more plot-strands contained in this cursory synopsis than in the entire short history of mumblecore filmmaking. Once Axl starts ingratiating himself with the estate agent whom he believes - after a brief and implausibly successful internet search - to be his father, fans of the uneventful, looks-and-glances school of filmmaking promoted by Bujalski and Katz will be in need of an aspirin and a lie-down.

But it’s a mark of Dos Santos’s lovely light touch that Unmade Beds stays as playful as the faintly ridiculous outfits which the wardrobe department has set aside for Axl. (A stripy school blazer, and a top with a domino motif, both raise a warm smile.) The film recalls the freewheeling mood of great London movies such as Bronco Bullfrog,The Low Down and Wonderland (whose screenwriter, Laurence Coriat, is thanked in the end credits). The performances are fresh and unmannered, the editing is intriguingly elliptical, and the sex scenes are both candid and relaxed. Music comes chiefly from Plaster of Paris and (We Are) Performance, both of whom are seen performing energetically in the pub where Hannah tends bar.

Especially good are the random details that make the movie feel spontaneous and unforced. There are instances of gadgets rebelling (a temperamental turntable that chooses which 45s to play, a price-gun that insists on printing the wrong digits) which another film might have worked up into a theme. And when a music video shoot is staged in the squat, with dancers kitted out in flamboyant animal costumes, it doesn’t feel overly odd or wacky—like the various romantic permutations, it’s all part of the characters’ unordered London lives. In this context, the use of parachuting as a metaphor in later scenes comes across as superfluous. After all, the philosophy behind it (which might be paraphrased as: You’ve got to just, like, take the leap, you know?) is already ingrained in every frame.

Unmade Beds is released 11 December.

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