Il Futuro, directed by Chilean filmmaker Alicia Scherson is most notably the first screenplay adapted from a story by Roberto Bolaño, the singular Chilean novelist whose work hit the English market like a bolt of lightning in the early 2000s. If the era of Bolaño translations is finally over, the era of film adaptations is just beginning. And Scherson makes the canny decision to start small. Not the Fitzcarraldo of 2666 or The Savage Detectives, Il Futuro is adapted from Una Novelita Lumpen, a moody novella, seeping with classic Bolaño tropes: dislocation, literature, and crime.
Director: Alicia Scherson
Producers: Alvaro Alonso, Bruno Bettati, Christoph Friedel, Mario Mazzarotto, Emanuele Nespeca, Luis Ángel Ramírez, Claudia Steffen
Writers: Alicia Scherson, Roberto Bolaño
Cinematographer: Ricardo DeAngelis
Editor: Soledad Salfate, Ana Álvarez Ossorio
Music: Pablo Cervantes, Caroline Chaspoul, Eduardo Henríquez
Cast: Luigi Ciardo, Manuela Martelli, Rutget Hauer, Nicolas Vaporidis, Alessandro Giallocosta, Pino Calabrese
Premiere: January 19, 2013 – Sundance Film Festival
US Release: September 6, 2013
US Distributor: Strand Releasing
The film follows the fate of two recently orphaned teenagers Bianca (Manuela Martelli) and Tomas (Luigi Ciardo), as they make their way through a very millennial Rome. The pair lives illicitly in the family home as their fate is decided by unseen government machinations. Through the story, Tomas brings home a pair of bodybuilders from the local gym, “the Libyan,” and “the Bolognese,” and the group lives as an endearing and extended odd couple.
The plot, as is, thickens when the bodybuilders cook up a scheme that involves Bianca cozying up to a former Mr. Universe (Rutger Hauer) in his secluded mansion. The strongest aspects of the film come in artful digressions. The imagery is a pastiche of sci-fi and desolate stretches of serialized life.
The conceptual framing (the story is narrated from an unknown, disquieting future) also does a lot to convey a brooding malaise. The film mixes up that classic cocktail: Hollywood, bodybuilding, and the Apocalypse.
In a very wise move, Scherson treats the subject material casually, and the film has a soft touch. In its best moments, Il Futuro catches the weird quirks and anxieties of life in the new millennium (Tomas is concerned with muscle mass, Bianca completes a fashion magazine survey, and the Libyan is a game show savant). It’s these touches that make the film. Scherson relies too heavily on plotting, and twenty minutes into the exposition things drag along.
One of the chief paradoxes of adapting Bolaño comes from the fact that his characters are already so preoccupied with the movies (real and imaginary) that permeate their fictional worlds. In Last Evenings on Earth, one narrator spends his afternoons at the movie house, before a run-in with a genuine Mexican movie star:
Jacqueline Andere may or may not have ever made this film. In 2666, a cybercafe clerk corners one narrator and talks to him at length about Twin Peaks, later a pimp discusses the mysterious circumstances surrounding Robert Rodriguez’s alleged first film, filmed after wandering stoned and drunk through Mexico and befriending the staff of a Mexico City brothel. The alleged film begins with a pornographic encounter:
These speculative flourishes, so compact, so incisive, simultaneously come off as expansive in Bolaño’s literature. Like the objectivist poetry of Reznikoff, these imaginary films create entire meta-fictional worlds within the text. One of the best scenes of Il Futuro, has the gang huddled around a supposed Maciste picture (Rutger Hauer as a pulp-Hercules). We see the young Mr. Universe rescue a vestal virgin from barbarians, and it looks like a pretty good movie. Sometimes, small visual clues can be enough to evoke something much bigger.
This interplay between real and unreal movies can be compelling cinema, but any project of bringing an idea from liminal stages into materiality sacrifices something. French philosopher Maurice Blanchot regarded the real measure of humanity to include the content of every conscious and unconscious mind. When any imagined project is brought forth into materiality, a translation occurs, that often only reflects a shadow of the original inspiration. Think of the anesthetizing of dream sequences in film (a recent offender being Inception). Bolaño’s meta-fictions are most compelling when they describe unrealized projects, unmade films, because in the end the films we imagine are always the best.