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With: Radha Mitchell, Jean-Marc Barr, Jane Birkin (voice), Christopher Morris, Leah Gersteling, Rose Grayson
Written by: Andrew Kotatko, based on a short story by Raymond Carver
Directed by: Andrew Kotatko
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 22
Date: 09/17/2015
IMDB

Whoever Was Using This Bed (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Waking Bad

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Australian filmmaker Andrew Kotatko's Everything Goes (2004), based on a Raymond Carver short story, is one of my all-time favorite short films. Taking place largely outdoors, it used light and air to brilliant effect; it starts off with a warm tone, like a first gulp of liquor, slowly morphing into something more realistic and bitter as the light fades. (The same story was adapted into a Will Ferrell feature, Everything Must Go, which — it goes without saying — isn't nearly as good.)

Now Kotatko has finished a second short film, Whoever Was Using This Bed, based on another Carver story. This is a darker story, using mostly interiors now, and set mostly at night. And the story is one of Carver's last to be published, and one of his most confrontational. But Kotatko brings an undeniable skill to it that draws a viewer in as effortlessly as the previous film.

The story begins as the phone rings in the middle of the night, a woman (the voice of Jane Birkin) asking for "Mick." It's a wrong number. She calls again, and Ray (Jean-Marc Barr) takes the phone off the hook. But now he and his second wife Iris (Radha Mitchell) are awake. They smoke. Iris reveals a dream she had, a dream that does not include Ray for some reason. They start talking about mysterious pains and ailments they have in their bodies. They try to get back to sleep, know they must get back to sleep, but frustration, fear, anxiety, and doubt keep them up. Eventually the conversation turns to "the plug," i.e. whether or not they want to be kept alive via a machine in a hospital if the worst ever happens. Iris is determined to know the answer to this question.

Kotatko creates a vivid, chilling atmosphere, lit by table lamps and framed by disheveled covers. Smoke and too much coffee (tinged with liquor) flavor the air. Lost sleep and puffy faces and sour pajamas color the characters. Ray and Iris are running on empty, but Barr and Mitchell create a pair of strong characters, with a strong bond, a history, between them. Their discussion could have been oppressive, sending viewers scurrying for comfort, but instead the opposite happens: their rich humanity makes it all compelling.

Whoever Was Using This Bed occupies a state of sad, inescapable truth. To my eyes, Kotatko comes the closest of any filmmaker to capturing Carver on film (Robert Altman's great Short Cuts notwithstanding) and he should be allowed to make a feature-length anthology. Hopefully it won't take another decade for him to add to his canon.

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