"In Bed": Night Moves By Norman Wilner

in 18th Palm Springs International Film Festival

by Norman Wilner

Matias Bizé’s In Bed (En La Cama, 2005) opens with a love scene that takes the term “soft focus” to its literal extreme: The image is so diffuse that we’d have no idea what we’re watching, were it not for the soundtrack — a duet of panting, urgent voices moving towards climax.

Gradually, the shapes resolve themselves into the forms of two strangers who’ve checked into a hotel room for a night of impulsive sex. The movie will stay with them, more or less in real time, the camera never leaving the hotel room as they talk, recover, roll around some more, and wind up forging a connection neither of them had anticipated.

Their names are Bruno (Gonzalo Valenzuela) and Daniela (Blanca Lewin), and they’ve met at a party. They talk, as people will, about random stuff; Bruno offers a little half-assed film theory, and Daniela serves up a discourse about the appeal of anonymous sex as a kind of emotional palate cleanser.

They pull some of their clothes back on, but the more they try to dress, the more naked they seem emotionally; despite their casual attitudes, it’s clear that something pretty profound has passed between them this night. And the more they talk around it, the more it keeps bubbling back up to the surface.

In Bed feels like the Chilean equivalent of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, though Julio Rojas’ screenplay isolates this film’s two lovers even further than Richard Linklater’s romantic duets: The focus is exclusively on Bruno and Daniela. There are no other people in the film, although Bruno’s cell phone serves as a constant reminder of the outside world.

Rojas’ dialogue is nicely tailored to the characters, but the real power is in the casting of the film’s leads. Not only do they have to be physically attractive, and comfortable enough in front of the camera to perform half-naked (or fully nude) in Bizé’s long, languid takes, but they must be skilled enough as actors to handle the script’s considerable emotional turns: For her marvelous and complicated work as a confident woman whose whole world is shaken by a tryst with a stranger, Lewin won the FIPRESCI jury’s award for Best Actress in a Foreign Language Film, but Valenzuela matches her move for move.

In an age of elaborate digital effects and swirling surround sound, it seems almost counterintuitive for a film to suggest that simple conversation between two people can be as engaging and thrilling as anything Hollywood has to offer, but it’s a statement worth making. In Bed is an eloquent and moving argument for elegant simplicity of a talking picture. With sex.