Thursday, September 12, 2013

Engaging the work of literary legend

Mood takes us only so far in this adaptation of a Roberto Bolano novella.
There's no denying that Il Futuro, the big-screen adaptation of the late Roberto Bolano's novella, A Lumpen Novella, pulls you into a strange world, but director Alicia Scherson's approach to the material left me mostly unmoved.

Though rooted in a potent emotional reality -- two young people struggle after the death of their parents -- events in the movie tend to feel slightly abstract, neither entirely subjective nor vividly concrete.

The story centers on two young Chileans who are orphaned in Rome after their parents die in an automobile accident. Nineteen-year-old Bianca (Manuela Martelli) adopts a quasi-parental posture toward her younger brother Tomas (Luigi Ciardo).

Despite an early-picture visit from a social worker, brother and sister are left to their own devices, trying to sustain existence on their father's meager pension and on money Bianca earns washing hair at a beauty salon.

Not surprisingly, the apartment in which Bianca and Tomas live becomes increasingly unkempt, a reflection of their newly unmoored lives.

Scherson has a facility for creating moods that encompass both distance and dread, as she flirts with evocative themes, the way accidents release universe-altering energies into the atmosphere, the way Bianca's vision is altered so that she sees only daylight -- even at night, the way a sudden disruption of routine tosses two young people into a centerless limbo.

The story moves forward when Tomas, who helps out at a local gym, falls under the sway of two brothers who eventually pull Bianca into their ill-conceived plans. They want to rob a former Mr. Universe and B-level movie star named Maciste (Rutger Hauer). Bianca's supposed to prostitute herself to the blind Masciste, win his trust and then burglarize his safe.

Hauer's presence has come to signal weird eccentricity, much in the way that Klaus Kinski's appearance functioned in some of Werner Herzog's movies, although Hauer is like Kinski thrown into reverse, a purveyor of more muted intensity.

In this outing, Hauer's character remains a kind of symbolic figure, a reclusive has-been who functions as a combination father figure and seducer in Bianca's life. He likes to oil her body before sex, as if he wants nothing to stick.

Scherson pours on major helpings of atmosphere, but her movie's weighted by ideas and thematic suggestions in ways that tend to deaden emotional involvement. Il Futuro is less a story than a description of a condition, life thrown badly out of whack.

I appreciated the effort, but about three-quarters of the way through, I simply wanted Bianca and Tomas to clean up their apartment, and begin acting as if there really could be a tomorrow.

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