Judge Daryl Loomis lazily tried to write this review from en la cama. He found it very hard to reach the keyboard and, instead, went to sleep.
Where you love. Where you betray.
The one-night stand is a paradox. While often a completely anonymous experience, the kind of intimacy inherent in sex belies this anonymity. On the one hand, it is blind rutting; on the other, one must be as close as humanly possible to perform the act. A lot of films try to understand the psychology and emotion of these encounters, but most are resigned to be mildly erotic and pretentious character pieces that are more in love with themselves than they are with their subject. Does this Chilean/German co-production rise above the average triteness of these films, or is this just another shallow roll in the hay?
Facts of the Case
After meeting at a party, Daniella (Blanca Lewin, Eternal Blood) and Bruno (Gonzalo Valenzuela) go to a cheap motel for a little after-party fun. They don't know the other's name yet, but the sex is great. Their post-coital musings reveal more than their names, however. The stranger next to them affords each the freedom to open up and discuss their wildest philosophies and deepest fears. Between bouts of love-making and more discussion, they become more personal, and soon they breach the wall of anonymity. When their darkest secrets come out, they threaten the euphoria and emotional safety for the possibility of something more.
The entirety of En la cama takes place in this motel room and mostly, as the title may suggest, in bed. It's not often that you see a full-length film take place in only one location, but director Matías Bize keeps the subject as small as possible. While I realize that there's a huge industry of movies that do take place entirely in the sack, these are not the kinds of projects we review here. The two actors (the only people who appear in the film at all) have only two things to do: talk and have sex. This narrow subject makes it an easy story to understand, with few of the plot pitfalls associated with broader films, but with such a small story and no new scenery for the characters to experience, the challenge lies in keeping the dialogue interesting without making it unrealistic and overly philosophical. Luckily, En la cama mostly succeeds in keeping the story moving at a steady, though realistically slow, pace.
Bize uses the inherent shallowness of the one-night stand to show a fully realized relationship in fast forward. After an opening four-minute sex scene, Daniella rolls off Bruno, lights a cigarette, and says jokingly but with knowledge, "I think you don't know my name." She doesn't care; she understands the anonymous stakes of her encounter, but Bruno gets really defensive. Daniella jeers him affectionately for it and acts like a big shot until she calls Bruno by the wrong name. All of a sudden, they're back on even footing and now begin to relate to each other. As they progress, their emotions and fears rise to the surface. As they talk, they make emotional connections, and it seems like they might be able to forge a relationship out of this tryst, but these are games that both sides play. In discussing their lives that exist outside this room, they each build webs of lies to make the other believe they're some they aren't. Naturally these lies are revealed and their revelations take them into the final stage of their relationship. Their stories now unraveled, Bruno and Daniella take different paths in dealing with their exposure. Bruno goes further with his confessional, giving Daniella every dirty piece of information, revealing every last part of his soul. Daniella, on the other had, detaches herself and recoils in horror at Bruno's words. Instead of the understanding that Bruno expects, Daniella becomes purposely hurtful and her statement that "We are nothing to each other. We were nothing and we'll never be more," while true, is all the more devastating. Bruno's response is unexpected, and while not terribly realistic, does leave a surprisingly warm finish on the film.
Both actors do fine work in their roles. Both are attractive and appealing and look like the kind of duo that could wind up rolling around together randomly after a party. Julio Rojas' screenplay doesn't feature the best dialog, but it is fairly realistic, especially in achieving the kind of excited banality that only people living in their own heads can achieve. As a result, some of the lines are vapid and shallow, but so are the characters and the situation. Sometimes, it does get irritating, but this is often a pitfall of nailing how people often really talk. The sex in the film, additionally, works realistically. It's erotic, and both loving and mechanical at the same time. There is a real sense that these characters want each other but don't truly know how to get inside the other (so to speak). Songwriter Emmanuel del Real has also written a series of original songs for the film that work well to accentuate the particular emotions in the film and give a good sense of the underlying feelings in the characters. On almost all counts, fine technical work was done all around on this film.
Koch Lorber has done a good job on their release of En la cama. The image is clean and crisp, though I did notice some edge enhancement here and there. The motel room is normal, with a few flourishes that the image is detailed enough to capture. The surround sound is adequate for the film. It's nothing special, but it doesn't need to be. The dialogue from the two actors is accurately represented through the center and front channels and del Real's music fills out the surround. The disc, especially for a Koch release, is fairly stocked with extras. A series of deleted scenes give further characterizations from the actors, but are wholly unnecessary to the final film. Rehearsals give a sense of how far the actors came. Interviews and a trailer accompany these supplements. The best extra, though, as is often the case, is an earlier short film that Bize made. It is another actor's piece starring one woman on the phone, an affecting work that clearly shows the director's penchant for character pieces. All around, a good release from Koch that feels like more of a complete than too many of their entries.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While, on the whole, I really enjoyed En la cama, some of Bize's stylistic touches did bother me. Mostly, it seems that the director didn't have the right amount of confidence in his story and his actors. To compensate for what has strong potential for boredom, the editing is entirely too fast. It's hard to see what's going on sometimes, especially in the sex scenes, and it undermines the solid character piece that En la cama otherwise is.
While the film isn't as tight as it could be, En la cama features hot sex, solid performances, and an engaging story. Even with the problems in the direction and the cinematography, this is a whole lot better than many films that purport to be erotic and telling of the human condition.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Lorber
• Short film: Calling by Matías Bize
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