Reporting Jonathon Sharp
The luster of eroticism — a naked 19-year-old girl polished in olive oil — doesn’t do all that much in Il Futuro, a film that tries to be literary but comes off as something more pretty than poetic.
Based on a book by Roberto Bolaño, the story follows Bianca (Manuela Martelli) and Tomas (Luigi Ciardo), two teenage siblings recently orphaned after their parents die in a car crash. The car they died in, we see, has changed from yellow to gray. This puzzles Bianca, but her bookish brother explains: “Accidents release such energy they modify the universe.”
Soon, Bianca finds her relation to light modified. The sun in an open window, for instance, becomes a wash of blinding, milky white. The effect, established so early in the film, makes you think we’re moving into the territory of magic realism. But Bianca’s light sensitivity ends up being not much more than a curiosity: flashes of brilliance that fade as quickly as they come on, like magnesium set on fire. Director Alicia Scherson seems to have trouble taking the stuff that makes up a good literature and reflecting it effectively on screen. But more on that later.
Our orphans are living in an apartment in Rome, and for a moment we think this film is about Bianca learning to take care of her brother. But that’s not really where the story goes. Instead, the kid makes friends with two Italian bros at a local gym. The muscle heads end up staying the night at the orphans’ flat, sleeping in the bed of their deceased parents. It’s sort of awkward.
But they seem alright. They clean the house, which had been a total disaster following the crash. And they also cook, making dinners in which everyone sits at the table and eats together. Sort of like a family. And it was only a matter of time before the sexual tension rose, and Bianca slept with her new bros, if only to fend off loneliness or boredom. But as the new flatmates assert their control, things get weird.
The bros hatch a plan to rob an old movie star (Rutger Hauer), a former Mr. Universe who used to star in B-movies with titles like “Machiste and the Living Dead.” Bianca has the main role in the operation: she’s to become his favorite prostitute, gain his trust, and then rob his safe.
Night after night, she sleeps with Machiste. She’s naked and shimmering (thanks to Machiste’s beloved olive oil marinade) in nearly every scene. Together, Hauer and Martelli are a clash of differences: her youth and his age, her lithe weasel’s body and his hulking barrel chest, her reaching for her future and his trying to relive the past. And yes, a thing develops between the two, one that ends up being a strange coming-of-age tale for our girl.
While the story engages, its visuals provoke and the actors, particularly Hauer, deliver fine performances, the direction flags. There are these voice-overs, for instance, in which Bianca reads what seems to be sections of a journal, and they come off like random Bolaño sentences flung over stale images. The writing, in such a context, sounds awkward and forced, like a fish forced to swim in a puddle. And since such voice-overs are the means by which we follow Bianca’s development, we’re left in the dark as to where our girl is at, emotionally and mentally. With that side of the film floating off into esoteric mumblings, we’re left just looking at a naked teenager. Even for an art film, that only gets you so far.