il-futuro1[xrr rating=2.5/5]His last novel not yet translated into English, Roberto Bolaño’s A Lumpen Novella is also the first to get the cinematic treatment with The Future, a clumsy, well-meaning adaptation that reminds how hard it is to transmit wispy novelistic delicacy onto the big screen. This is especially the case with books as internally focused and minimally plotted as Bolaño’s, and while it’s hard to say exactly what went wrong here without knowledge of the source material, it’s clear that, despite some sharp moments, the end product isn’t successful on its own terms. A fitting story for the present political climate, with its heavy backdrop of economic and spiritual malaise and a plot driven by two orphans sorting through the fragments of a lingering tragedy, the film remains weightless and clumsy despite its relative proficiency.

One of the nagging issues gets presented via the odd opening sequence, which opts for soaring credits, golden light and strange currents of old Hollywood glamour. This has seemingly little connection with the rest of the movie (aside from the running theme of faded glory), and the jarring shift it creates is the first indication of a persistent inability to match tone across different sequences. The rest of the film remains caught between a realistic depiction of modern Rome, all static master shots and subtle comedy, and a gothic fairy tale, with a hidden cash box and a blind recluse cosseted away in an immense mansion.

After their parents are killed in a car crash (hinted at via that elusive introductory passage) siblings Bianca (Manuela Martelli) and Tomas (Luigi Ciardo) are left staring at the rubble, contemplating the wrecked chunk of auto that they’re now forced to claim. When Bianca questions why the vehicle is suddenly grey instead of yellow, the lot manager insists it doesn’t make a difference, while Tomas writes the whole thing off to the magical properties of the car accident. The vague space between these two explanations, between complete disinterest and bemused speculation, is what drives the rest of the film, which plays out via conflicts between searching characters bent on finding answers and those who simply care about nothing.

Left with the family apartment and their father’s pension, the siblings are forced to establish a new arrangement. It seems telling that this all takes place in Rome, with repeated shots of the Coliseum and other ruins, as Scherson establishes the heavy weight of the past leaning upon these two lost youths. Attempting to pick up the pieces, Bianca gets a job at a salon, begging to be allowed to cut hair, instead relegated to washing and greeting duty. Tomas cuts school to hang out at a local gym, where he takes up with two lunkhead trainers, who present a less than savory influence, teaching him to use porn as a form of sexual instruction, eventually taking over the parents’ bedroom as unwanted house guests.

Another key facet of The Future is that Bianca and Tomas are outsiders, Chileans deposited in Rome, and with their parents gone it’s unclear what connection they have to this place. That sense of dislocation, as well as the omnipresent burden of the past, gets even heavier as Bianca becomes involved with Maciste (Rutger Hauer) a former Mr. Universe and ersatz film idol who’s now rotting away in his decaying mansion, a ghostly Xanadu of framed posters, weight machines and forbidding Havisham-style drawn curtains. She’s sent here as part of a scheme laid out by the two meatheads, yet this whole sequence is never really brought to fruition, and soon proves to be the swamp in which the film eventually founders.

The most literal representation of decaying legacies yet, Bianca’s repeated visits to this house find both her and the movie forced so far down into a shadowy atmosphere of malaise that these sequences take over the movie, matching the entrancing pull of destruction affected by this wreck of a man. The intent is clear, yet unlike something like Paul Schrader’s recent The Canyons which dives headfirst into the stylized, artificial depiction of campy coldness, The Future never comes up with a defined method of presenting this material, dithering between horror-tinged discovery (Hauer evoking Last Tango in Paris with his broad, wasted physique and sexual fixations) and outright silliness. Lacking the creativity or chutzpah so sustain this tricky roundelay, the film ends up feeling both flatly middlebrow and a little confused, a serviceable adaption that never sets itself apart from its source.

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