Based on a novella (as yet untranslated into English) by the late Chilean author Roberto Bolaño, Il Futuro is a well-crafted “literary” film in mostly counterproductive ways. Following a dubiously motivated opening homage to the aerial highway shot that begins The Shining, the film is a good-looking series of ambitious tropes and contrivances that don’t seem to express much significance, even when it settles into its own haunted-house setting halfway through. Nineteen-year-old Bianca (a sullen and forceful Manuela Martelli), a Chilean immigrant to Rome who, with her younger brother, Tomas (Luigi Ciardo), is orphaned by a car crash, finds her world transformed in ways she can’t put her finger on, and that her narration searchingly dances around. “Accidents release so much energy they modify the universe,” offers computer nerd and would-be delinquent Tomas, and adaptor-director Alicia Scherson unleashes a quiver full of effects and processes to capture Bianca’s altered gaze: exposures that wash out details in bursts of white, lenses that isolate her spatially from the Roman streetscapes and crowds of schoolmates, even a fade that makes the siblings’ ineffectual social worker disappear from their kitchen table.
This initial 40 minutes has a promising fluidity and a witty subtext of potential chaos (Tomas’s viewing of cable porn to coach him on exiting virginity, Bianca’s frequent warnings at her hair-salon job of how easily she could wound the scalp of a customer), but then Il Futuro grows more plotty, and ordinary in its weird way. Tomas brings home a couple of lunkheaded muscle bros from his gym maintenance job, both of whom occasionally crawl into bed with his sister for mechanical release, and who enlist her in a scheme to sleep with and rob the reclusive Maciste (Rutger Hauer), a blind former Mr. Universe and movie star. Scherson, presumably like Bolaño, has no interest in achieving genre-based catharsis with violence, and likewise the sexual frissons are more clinical than erotic; eccentric Maciste is at least as interested in making Bianca authentic “Pittsburgh” sandwiches as in pouring oil on her flesh before he mounts her. The unlikely couple’s lengthy dialogue scenes regularly teeter on the edge of camp (“What’s the color of my sperm? Seriously, is it black?”), but never quite tip over, likely to the audience’s disappointment.
Nearly the entire second half of Il Futuro unfolds in Maciste’s dark mansion full of weight machines, classical statuary, and antique furniture, and the movie feels marooned there. It’s apparent that Bianca feels no desire to go through with ripping off the sensei-robed, hulking old man, as she unconvincingly grows to adore him, even dropping in on the Cinecittà Studios to commune with his past labors in Hercules potboilers. But Scherson drops in other red herrings, like hints of incest between Bianca and anomic Tomas, that just feel like irritating pranks given their similar lack of payoff. Despite the novelty of Hauer’s subdued, halting has-been, and emblematically climaxing with an existential passage about discovering oneself in “the space between planets” that has to read better than it plays, this elaborate tease embodies the title of Bolaño’s source book with an utter lack of irony: A Lumpen Novella.