The premise of “Futura” could not be simpler. In late 2019, three filmmakers — Pietro Marcello (“Martin Eden”), Francesco Munzi (“Black Souls”) and Alice Rohrwacher (“Happy as Lazzaro”) — set out to interview groups of high-school- and college-age Italians in various parts of the country.
Sometimes they could be heard behind the camera. Their questions mostly dealt with the dreams, anxieties, and ambitions that are part and parcel of youth’s landscape in every place and at all times. Some of the answers you get in the final film will be concrete and personal. For example, a career as a farmer or cosmetologist; travel or children. Others are abstract and collective and involve the fate of the nation or the nature of happiness. There are glimpses of complex emotion, as well as tremors of subtext political.
The title captures the forward-looking intentions of this project. However, they are tangled up in present-tense developments. Not long after shooting started — 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. The filmmakers were eventually allowed to resume filming. Many scenes feature the subjects wearing masks as they reflect on the disaster that has affected their lives and gather outdoors.
“Futura,” then, is a document of the pandemic, a film that will be examined in the future for clues About what’s happening now. But it isn’t exactly a documentary about Covid. Like Michael Apted’s “Up” cycle, which revisited the same handful of British schoolchildren every seven years from 1964 to 2019, “Futura” is attuned to social particulars and open to the universe.
It’s about contemporary Italy, which is also to say that it’s about the divisions of class, region, sex, nationality and ideology that striate the peninsula. A sociologically inclined viewer can find lots of information about agriculture, vocational training, gender roles and the role of both the state and the South. An aficionado of Italian cinema might be reminded of treasured stories of family conflict and adolescent friendship, of farm labor and factory work — of Pasolini, Olmi, Fellini and De Sica. Anyone who has a heart will be moved by the kind, critical, and humanist spirit shared between the children in front of the camera, and the grown-ups to the side.
There is no plot, and the characters aren’t identified by name until the final credits. Some may not have returned because of the pandemic. Early on, I was charmed by a feisty cluster of boxers at a gym in Sardinia — perhaps the only young men in Italy who dislike soccer — and I waited in vain to see them again. However, it was like catching up with old friends when I checked in with a group of cosmetology students from Calabria and a few beachgoers from the North.
It’s not that the conversations are too intimate. Although young people may sometimes reveal details about their families or personal lives, most questions and answers are in a safe zone. Although sex and politics are not discussed explicitly, they do hover 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 not to give too much coherence to such a complex, open-ended collective portrait. Some youngsters who seem to come from privileged backgrounds — like a trio of equestrians near Turin — express contentment with the status quo. Some people speak in theory language in university settings. There is a strong desire for change but also skepticism regarding how it will be achieved. Perhaps the most passionate political statement is one young man’s vague but ardent plea for tax reform.
Many conversations are filled with a sense of futility. The idea that the country can’t provide a future for its rising generation is heartbreaking. At the same time, there is something in the solidarity among these young men and women, and in the affection many of them express for their parents, that testifies to the tenacity of Italy’s bedrock institutions and traditions.
And “Futura” is above all an affirmation of the durability of an approach to moviemaking predicated on curiosity, democratic principles and the idea that people can speak for themselves. We don’t know what the future holds but films like this remind us why we should care.
Not rated. Italian with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes. In theaters
Source: NY Times