[2 April 2008]
PopMatters Features Editor
Opening with a fabulously sexy tease of a love scene, the camera buried under bedsheets as they rise and fall, offering sudden, brief glimpses of flesh, of unidentifiable body parts, of lips and thighs and nipples and hair, all the while the soundtrack blaring the sounds of animal heat and slapping skin and moans of pleasure, En la Cama [In Bed] announces its intentions immediately.
This is a film about sex, but it isn’t intended to be a “sex film”; rather, while the lovers buck and roll through the intro, always frustratingly out of view, we are reminded that a filmmaker is behind the lens, not just an exploitative voyeur. Essentially, we are being asked to consider the possibility that the graphic sexuality we are bound to witness over the next 85 minutes isn’t just sex for sex’s sake, but rather is here to serve some other, presumably “higher”, purpose.
This is a significant gamble. For, a film that takes place entirely in a motel bed, employing two actors in various stages of undress for the duration, and with pretensions toward being something other than softcore pornography, had better offer more than flesh and sighs and groans caught by clever camera angles. But, not long into this claustrophobic affair, as Julio Rojas’ script begins to pile up its offhand remarks, aimless clichés, and nonsensical asides, it becomes clear that director Matías Bize has gambled, and lost.
As a kind of Before Sunrise mixed up with Last Tango in Paris, En la Cama is a weird assemblage of vaguely intellectual dialogue and torrid, spellbinding, sex. In this way, it’s almost an art film. As we watch, they chat. And then they get aroused again. And then they make love to each other with impressive honesty and passion. And then they chat some more. You see, as much as this film wants to be more than the sum of its softcore parts, this is merely formulaic sex movie stuff: the lather, rinse, repeat of the porno.
After their first, scorching climax, tumbling onto the sheets as the camera swoops overhead, we realize that the lovers have a distance between them that their animalistic coupling obscured. They roll away from each other, silent and bemused. As they enter into clipped dialogue, feeling each other out, we learn that this is a one night stand: indeed, they don’t even know each other’s names.
Naked, the camera moving over and around them, exploring the glory of their bodies, they begin to expose themselves to each other, slipping their secrets, admitting their foibles, teasing out the other’s darknesses. As they talk (and talk and talk), we learn bits and pieces about them, but nothing ever adds up to much.
As a postmodern lark, one supposes, this all may have made some drawingboard sense: a film whose plot pretends to reveal itself through the casual conversations of two characters with dramatic secrets to share, but which really only demonstrates the quotidian blandness of their private lives. However, in practice, the lark winds up a crushing bore. When these two bodies aren’t thrashing madly, they are fairly easy to dismiss.
It helps immeasurably that the two actors are fabulously attractive. Indeed, Gonzalo Valenzuela’s Bruno is a chiseled beauty, soft-featured, broad, and hard-muscled; a sensitive hunk of a man. And as Daniela, his sultry companion, Blanca Lewin is all curves and softness, with a body that is everywhere unbearably smooth, thin and toned, yet with breasts as improbably large as they are impeccable.
The lovers make a stunning, deeply attractive pair, and if the film were but a few minutes long, just a short glimpse of their exquisite bodies wrapped up in ecstatic communion, this would be the erotic tease of the decade. But, alas, one can only watch people, even ridiculously beautiful people, grind it out for so long. There is a reason viral internet porn has become such a successful venture: who wants to watch two hours of just plain sex? Five minutes is exhausting enough.
Still, bogged down as they are by the unlikely script and the general vagueness of their characters, these two young actors do impressive work. Valenzuela’s moody, quick-witted performance is compelling, even though we don’t much care about the stuff he has to say. And Lewin is absolutely entrancing, her eyes dark with mystery, her body alive with a kinetic, sexy energy that she commands with immaculate grace. Indeed, this film survives because of the brilliance of its two actors – were they not so terrifically beautiful, and were they not so tremendously successful at generating intimacy, bliss, and quivering lust, there’d be nothing much to report on but a well shot fuck flick.
Extras include an interesting short film from the young director, rehearsals (which are utterly inessential, since the actors are here spouting the same flaccid dialogue but this time they are fully clothed instead of thrillingly naked), a few interviews, and some deleted scenes (one of which, had it been included, would have shifted the film’s interpretive possibilities into more complex territory).
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/en-la-cama/