The Orphan and Mr Universe: Il Futuro Explores the Ethics of Sexuality

The sight of Rutger Hauer in Il Futuro is a far cry from the European beauty he displayed back in 1982 with Blade Runner. He looks tired and overweight, sheathed in a silk bathrobe of oriental origin, held upright with the use of a walking cane, and his wrinkled face belying both the image of Hauer himself as well as that of the character, a former Mr Universe who still to this day works out despite having lost his sight. The role of Maciste is one designed for an actor like Hauer who, much like Mickey Rourke in Darren Aronosky’s The Wrestler, is willing to use his face and body and the audience’s history with it the benefit of the role and the film that encompasses it. It’s very believable that Hauer could have once been a Mr Universe of ambiguous origin – “he is kind of English or Australian”, says one character – who has since become a recluse in his Italian mansion. A man whose mythology is more creative than the reality. And if there was to be just one thing that Alicia Scherson’s adaptation of the late Chilean author Roberto Bolaño’s 2002 Una Novelita Lumpen is remembered for then it will be the performance of Hauer who proves that if given a film with the zeitgeist-hitting strength of the aforementioned The Wrestler did then his career could hit a more respectable twilight that doesn’t have to include mention of the likes of execrable Hobo with a Shotgun. I would love to see the 69-year-old actor cited for an Academy Award for this performance, but that’s never going to happen. The great film and performance will have to be its own reward.

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Il Futuro (stylised in its foreign language due to conflict with Miranda July’s equally non-futuristic The Future) actually takes its time before arriving at the trump card that is Hauer. Scherson, who wrote and directed this production in her home country of Chile despite its Italian setting, focuses her story instead on Bianca (Manuela Martelli), recently orphaned along with her younger brother, Tomas (Luigi Ciardo). Old enough to avoid foster homes, but not old enough to have a firm grasp of life’s harsh realities, Bianca takes up a job as a hairdresser assistant as a means of keeping Tomas in school and their highrise apartment in order to keep social services at bay. However, Tomas’ joining of a local gym and subsequent befriending of two older brutes leads them down a path of crime, sex, and betrayal.

Filmed in lush, rustic yellow tones by cinematographer Ricardo DeAngelis that occasionally approaches a bleached, sun-fried quality, this is a very untraditional way of presenting such grim material. Once the story merges from that of two orphaned children attempting to carry on after their parents’ death into that of Bianca’s ethically uneasy relationship with the burly Maciste, it refuses to let the ugliness of the situation take control of the visual narrative. The burgeoning relationship between the 19-year-old Bianca and the much older Maciste is frequently framed in sensual ways that makes Bianca’s unconventional emotions all the more believable. Their bodies, frequently naked, are smashed together in much a similar way to the way their characters have been thrust together against their initial wills and better judgements. It’s also a way for Bianca to form a relationship with a man that provides a paternal element that she still clearly misses and craves. A retaliation to the adulthood she had no intention of acquiring so soon. A form of rebellion that allows Bianca to continue to feel like she’s still just a regular teenager who is, if not innocent, then at least isn’t entirely accountable for her actions. An opening prologue suggests her more fantastical attitude to life as filtered through the prism of Hollywood, a theme that extends to her treatment of Maciste and the revelation that he used to make cheesy Z-grade action movies about muscle men and the women who loved them.

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The damage that these two people have experienced is palpable and it’s a credit to the performance not just of Hauer, whose grisly voice hangs over the second half like a mournful siren, but also Martelli. Barely a scene goes by without her presence and her look, reminiscent of Noomi Rapace, as well as her confidence in spite of trepidation is key to making the second act’s shift into heist territory believable. Bianca’s evolving relationship with Maciste is fascinating and gives a refreshing kick up the arse to the tired formula of older man/younger woman fantasy. Their cinematic duet of sorts is captivating very much because of the story’s more outrageous elements. It’s unique and its conflicts tangible. As Bianca questions her morals and the deeds she has done, the way she has used her body, and how she found herself in the predicament she’s in, director Scherson never loses sight of the story’s more flavourful, surreal, impressionistic, and artful elements.

Alongside other recent releases The LifeguardAdore, and A Teacher (all three of which are also in cinemas or VOD now), it presents a surprisingly mature examination of inter-generational sexuality. Unlike those films , however, the illegal element with Bianca is not of a sexual nature, which significantly alters the way the relationship unfolds on screen. Less time is taken with this part and allows more attention to be granted to the way Scherson so effectively integrates cinema into lives of these individuals, the reasons behind who we lie to and why and how, and the way people cope with events that seem so out of character whether its the loss of parents when still a child or the deterioration of a body when your entire life has been built around it. I was greatly moved by Il Futuro and found its style and unexpected story engaging. It has a really unique point of view that puts it on par with some of the most adventurous South American cinema of recent years. B+

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