Of all the problems faced by the young heroes of Alicia Scherson’s Il Futuro, the biggest is probably dislocation. At the start of the film, teenagers Bianca (Manuela Martelli) and Tomas (Luigi Ciardo) have to move from Chile to Rome when their parents are killed in a car accident, and though they have a house all their own and a decent-sized inheritance, the down economy forces them to take menial jobs: Bianca at a hair salon, Tomas at a gym. The Rome they’re in feels different than the city everyone around them sees. They’re kept awake by an otherworldly glow that streams through their windows at night, and they’re befuddled by streets that seem to change position fractionally every morning. This general confusion complicates matters when Tomas’ new friends from work ask Bianca to help them rob an old, blind bodybuilder/actor who calls himself “Maciste,” after the Hercules-like movies he used to make for the international market.
Rutger Hauer plays Maciste, who shuffles around his big old mansion like a ghost, but livens up whenever Bianca comes over, as he teaches her to feel sexual pleasure, and shows her how to make the best sandwiches in the world. (“They’re like airport sandwiches, but better.”) Meanwhile, Tomas falls in line with his buddies, who teach him how to unscramble the porn channels on their cable TV and prevent him from going to school. It’s very allegorical, Il Futuro. Even the magical-realist touches Scherson sprinkles in serve to describe how Bianca and Tomas are feeling, as they learn how to be adults in an unfamiliar world, without parental guidance.
What makes those touches so powerful is that Scherson doesn’t overdo them. Bianca and Tomas live in a world where the TV broadcasts heavily symbolic documentaries about the Big Bang, and where they talk about how their parents’ accident was so powerful that it remade the universe, changing the colors of things. But they themselves aren’t symbols, or quirky constructions. They have real feelings and desires, and Scherson—like the late Roberto Bolaño, who wrote the novel on which this movie’s based—honors what they’re going through, both in the way she films them, and in what she has them say. Bianca describes herself to others as feeling small and insignificant, like a bait-fish whose only purpose is as a link in a larger food-chain. But because Maciste likes to give Bianca an oil-massage before they make love, she has an angelic sheen whenever she’s seen post-coitally. To a large degree, Il Futuro is about Bianca growing into the majestic goddess she looks like when she’s with Maciste.
But there’s something else going on with Il Futuro too, undercutting some of its hopefulness. From the opening credits—all brassy and over-the-top, like a parody of 1980s neo-noir—Scherson keeps reminding viewers that this is all fake. Bianca tours the Cinecittà studio, and rents some of Maciste’s movies at a video store decorated by a miniature Hollywood sign. Maciste himself tries to set her straight about what show business is really like, talking about how his most glamorous co-star is now a grandmother living in some U.S. suburb. But Bianca is drawn to the romance of the idea that she’s some kind of tragic, malevolent monster, locked in a struggle for the soul of a former Mr. Universe.
This is also something she has to overcome, but it’s difficult. There’s a lot of talk about “the future” in Il Futuro, but Bianca and Tomas duck it, preferring to live in the now rather than trying to make plans for a life that they know from firsthand experience can be radically altered in an instant. Il Futuro is a playful, soulful movie, affecting because it’s populated by lost children who can somehow sense they’re in a movie, and that in a movie, the only future is The End.