The premise of “Futura” couldn’t be simpler. At the end of 2019, three filmmakers – Pietro Marcello (“Martin Eden”), Francesco Munzi (“Black Souls”) and Alice Rohrwacher (“Happy as Lazzaro”) – set out to interview groups of Italians of school and university age . in various parts of the country.
Their questions, sometimes audible behind the camera, focused on the dreams, anxieties and ambitions that are part of the landscape of youth everywhere and at all times. Some of the answers you hear in the finished film are concrete and personal: a career in agriculture or cosmetology; travel or children. Others are abstract and collective, involving the destiny of the nation and the nature of happiness. There are hints of complex emotion and tremors of political subtext.
Before your eyes, however, the project’s forward-looking intentions, captured in the title, are complicated by developments in the present. Shortly after filming began – and not far into “Futura” – in the spring of 2020, Covid-19 arrived in Italy, leading to a nationwide lockdown and tens of thousands of deaths. Eventually, the filmmakers were able to resume their work, and for much of the film, the subjects wear masks, gather outside, and reflect on the disaster that has disrupted and rearranged their lives.
“Futura” is therefore a pandemic document, a film that will be examined in the future for clues about what is happening now. But it’s not really a documentary on Covid. Like Michael Apted’s ‘Up’ cycle, which revisited the same handful of British schoolchildren every seven years from 1964 to 2019, ‘Futura’ is sensitive to social particularities and open to the universe.
It’s about contemporary Italy, which also means it’s about the divisions of class, region, gender, nationality and ideology that streak the peninsula. A sociologically inclined viewer will pick up a lot of information regarding agriculture, vocational education, gender roles, the role of the state, and the state of the South. An aficionado of Italian cinema might recall the treasured stories of family strife and teenage friendship, farm labor and factory work – of Pasolini, Olmi, Fellini and De Sica. All those with a heart will be touched by the generous, critical and humanist spirit shared by the children in front of the camera and the adults on the other side.
There is no plot and the characters are only identified by name in the final credits. The pandemic may have prevented some return visits. Early on, I was charmed by a fiery group of boxers in a gymnasium in Sardinia – perhaps the only young men in Italy who don’t like football – and waited in vain to see them again. On the other hand, meeting a class of cosmetology students in Calabria and a group of bathers in the North was like meeting old friends.
Not that the conversations are too intimate. Young people will sometimes divulge details about their family or personal life, but most questions and answers are asked in a safe zone of generality. Neither politics nor sex are explicitly addressed, although both topics are in the air. At a Genoa school that was the scene of violence during anti-globalization protests in 2001, current students either don’t know much about the incident or don’t want to talk about it, offering diplomatic platitudes about the need for change and the importance of moderation.
It would be a mistake to impose too much coherence on such a kaleidoscopic and open collective portrait. Some youngsters who appear to come from privileged backgrounds – such as a trio of riders near Turin – express satisfaction with the status quo. Others, in academia, speak the language of theory. You hear a strong desire for change, as well as skepticism about how it will be achieved. Perhaps the most impassioned political statement is a young man’s vague but ardent plea for tax reform.
A sense of futility permeates many conversations. The idea that the country cannot provide a future for its rising generation is heartbreaking. At the same time, there is something in the solidarity between these young men and women, and in the affection that many of them express for their parents, that speaks to the tenacity of Italy’s fundamental institutions and traditions. .
And “Futura” is above all the affirmation of the durability of a cinematographic approach based on curiosity, democratic principles and the idea that people can speak for themselves. None of us know what the future holds, but a movie like this reminds us why we should care.
Unclassified. In Italian, with subtitles. Duration: 1h45. In theaters.