Il Futuro: the first Bolaño adaptation makes it to the big screen

What does the future hold for two orphaned siblings, two delinquent personal trainers and a blind, aging Mr. Universe?

At a moment when both Chilean film and Roberto Bolaño are all the rage, it’s hard to strip away the hype and look at Il Futuro as a free-standing work of art. Even director Alicia Scherson seemed at a loss for words when introducing the film at its Chilean premiere at Hoyts La Reina recently, simply because there was so much to say.

Manuela Martelli as Bianca (photo courtesy of Jirafa & La Ventura)
Manuela Martelli as Bianca (photo courtesy of Jirafa & La Ventura)

After some rushed words of thanks, the only adjective she could give the audience to describe her third directing venture, a co-production between Chile, Italy, Spain and Germany shot over the course of six years and based on the novel by a Chilean who spent most of his life in Mexico and Spain, was "complicated”.

Luckily, as complicated as things may seem at times, Bolaño tends to simplify them for his readers, creating a misleadingly ingenuous narrative that leaves just the right amount of untold mystery while laying out one matter-of-fact detail after another.

Even luckier still, in Scherson’s film adaptation of Bolaño’s little-read Una Novelita Lumpen (A Lumpen Novella), despite a shaky start, she manages to re-create her own version of this faux naïve storytelling. This deceptively simplistic voice is perhaps the greatest achievement of Il Futuro.

The film opens to neo-classical gold-gilded credits that look like they stepped out of a bad X-rated eighties movie. A small hatchback creeps tentatively along a road, with a woman’s pink scarf fluttering at the open window, not quite intriguing or romantic enough. Cut to the next scene where Bianca and her brother Tomás are identifying the totaled remains of the car and the few belongings that survived the wreck that their parents did not.

Director Alicia Scherson on set (photo courtesy of Jirafa & La Ventura)
Director Alicia Scherson on set (photo courtesy of Jirafa & La Ventura)

Dramatically, there is no reason why the first scene should lead to the second, and no reason we should be any more endeared to the newly orphaned brother and sister than we were to their supposedly reckless but seemingly rather cautious-driving parents. Il Futuro starts off even more nonchalant than Bolaño himself, creating a nebulous and unconvincing first impression.

But this first impression is quickly turned around. Avoiding sentimentalism and melodrama altogether, a few well-paced shots of the family’s apartment back in Rome, focusing on such commonplace items as the mother’s lipstick stain on a mug and the father’s jacket hung over the back of a chair, convey perfectly the sentiment a teenager might feel when faced with the reality that their parents are suddenly and irrevocably gone.

More than a story of how two abandoned children deal with their grief, Il Futuro seems to explore the way in which they confront their newfound freedom. Despite the occasional appearance of a social worker, they are to all intents and purposes left to their own devices, for better or for worse.

The plot of Il Futuro is not complex. The teenagers contemplate their existence for a few weeks, mostly within the confines of the apartment. Sometimes they go to school, sometimes they don’t. Their reactions to the television programs that they watch and the porno movies that Tomás tries to watch illegally begin to illustrate the extent of their naivety and inexperience. They get jobs and make a couple of unlikely new friends - two muscular personal trainers who quickly hunker down in the parents' bedroom. And a plan is hatched.

Manuela Martelli as Bianca (photo courtesy of Jirafa & La Ventura)
Manuela Martelli as Bianca (photo courtesy of Jirafa & La Ventura)

The plan places Bianca (Manuela Martelli), the film’s brave but somewhat surly heroine, in a morally cloudy situation. She begins to make regular visits to the house of an eccentric recluse called Maciste (Rutger Hauer), a former boxer, action movie star and crowned Mr. Universe who has now gone blind and shut himself up in a dark mansion to live out his days alone.

Behind these visits lie two objectives; the new friends, who have questionable motives to say the least, have arranged for Maciste to pay her for sex, but more importantly, once she is inside, she is charged with seeking out the safe and stealing all the money that the old, forgotten celebrity must have squirreled away in his fortress.

Despite the gravity of the state of affairs Bianca has gotten herself into, Scherson continues to avoid melodrama as well as managing to navigate the murky waters without pigeonholing any of the characters as good or bad. Ultimately Bianca has to make a choice about how the situation will end, but that decision does not make her any more heroic or degenerate than any of her other actions so far.

Scherson´s adaptation strays sometimes from the original. The plot is slightly different. But if she does it any justice at all it is in small moments where simple ideas turn everything on its head and a classic coming-of-age story becomes a quietly astounding act of observation in which the audience is left to come to their own conclusions.

Now showing widely in Santiago. In Italian and English with Spanish subtitles.

Watch the trailer.

Il Futuro (The Future)
Directed by Alicia Scherson
Adapted by Alicia Scherson from Roberto Bolaño's Una Novelita Lumpen
Chile/Spain/France/Germany, 2013
94 minutes

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