The Future (Il Futuro): Sundance Review

The Future

Chile, Germany, Italy, Spain (Director and screenwriter: Alicia Scherson)

When their parents die, Bianca starts to smoke and Tomas is still a virgin. The orphans explore the dangerous streets of adulthood until Bianca finds Maciste, a retired Mr. Universe, and enters his dark mansion in search of a future. Cast: Manuela Martelli, Rutger Hauer, Luigi Ciardo, Nicolas Vaporidis, Alessandro Giallocosta. World Premier

Intriguing Rome-set drama drips with literary conceits without becoming precious.

Chilean director Alicia Scherson adapts a novel by her celebrated countryman Roberto Bolano.

PARK CITY -- The ancient world still holds sway in The Future, Alicia Scherson's adaptation of a Roberto Bolano novel whose newly orphaned siblings must start to care for themselves amid the ruins of Rome and other faded splendor. Thoughtful and less sensationalistic than its premise might suggest, it's made for arthouses and offers a fine showcase for costar Rutger Hauer, who holds his own against a beautiful girl who's usually naked in their scenes together.

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That girl is Bianca (Manuela Martelli), whose parents just died in a car wreck, leaving her and Tomas (Luigi Ciardo) to fend for themselves while staying in school. "Accidents release such energy they modify the universe," we are told, and in fact, when the siblings go to see the car their parents died in, it has changed from yellow to white. Bianca is also witnessing a strange light and has a sudden desire to become a hairdresser, but the biggest change in the pair's life occurs when Tomas brings home two bodybuilders (Alessandro Giallocosta and Nicolas Vaporidis) from the gym the bookish boy has started going to.

The men, overnight guests who soon take up residence, have their good points -- they cook, and clean the mess Tomas and Bianca have made since the accident -- but they have an unsavory moneymaking plan: They want Bianca to become the paid mistress of a former action movie-star (Rutger Hauer's Maciste) long enough to find where in his ornately decorated, gated estate he hides his money.

Maciste was famous for playing a Hercules-like he-man in the '60s, lending the haircutter's plan to rob him a Samson-and-Delilah flavor. But this Samson is already blind, a fact the bodybuilders kept from Bianca. Getting to know her target over the course of many visits, she comes to care for him.

Scherson's handling of this unusual friendship makes it the heart of the film, and time spent outside Maciste's house -- no matter what picturesque Roman ruin is in the background -- feels washed-out and ordinary by comparison. Hauer, a hulk compared to girlish Martelli, is tremendously sympathetic as the sandwich-loving man who's afraid to leave his home. Though the two are having sex (an implication confirmed by an oddly heartbreaking question about body fluids), we don't see Maciste treat her with lust; typically, he's just answering her questions about his past. Having had her own future thrown into disarray, the past of a famous man (even one whose fame must be verified by a trip to the video store) offers a kind of comfort stolen money can't buy.

Production Company: Jirafa Films

Cast: Manuela Martelli, Luigi Ciardo, Alessandro Giallocosta, Nicolas Vaporidis, Rutger Hauer

Director-Screenwriter: Alicia Scherson

Based on the novel Una Novelita Lumpenby Roberto Bolano

Producers: Bruno Bettati, Christoph Friedel, Mario Mazzarotto, Claudia Steffen, Emanuele Nespeca, Luis Angel Ramirez, Alvaro Alonso

Director of photography: Ricardo de Angelis

Production designers: Tim Pannen, Marta Zani, Sebastian Munoz

Music: Caroline Chaspoul, Eduardo Henriquez

Costume designer: Carola Espina

Editors: Soledad Salfate, Ana Alvarez Ossorio

Sales: Visit Films

No rating, 98 minutes