NYFF 2021 review: Futura (Alice Rohrwacher, Pietro Marcello, Francesco Munzi)

Futura grippingly delves deep into the preoccupations and concerns of the current generation while providing much hope.”

Cinema has always been infatuated with youth. Whether it be with coming-of-age narratives or documentaries providing insight into the minds of young people, filmmakers have always desired to reach into the thoughts of those who will comprise the next generation. There have been many films that have interviewed and documented adolescents and their responses to the current societal milieu. An early film series that did this was Michael Apted’s Up films, which documented a group of children as they aged into middle and late adulthood in England. A more recent film which covered similar ground was Eric Baudelaire’s Un Film Dramatique, in which Baudelaire enters the lives of young students over a time period and details their hopes and dreams as they grow older. Now with Futura a trio of famous Italian directors (Alice Rohrwacher, Pietro Marcello, and Francesco Munzi) travel through Italy interviewing the youth of their country. These three accomplished directors successfully traverse a wide array of topics as they examine the youth of today’s Italy and provide much insight into the complexities that preoccupy their minds.

These established directors filmed Futura together. Alice Rohrwacher may be the most successful of the three, having released two tremendous narrative films in a row: The Wonders and Happy as Lazzaro. Pietro Marcello, likewise, is coming off major success with his film Martin Eden. Like Rohrwacher, Marcello works in both narrative and documentary filmmaking, and many of his films use aspects of both mediums. The third director of the project, Francesco Munzi, seemed like more of an odd choice to co-direct the film, as his last film, Black Souls, told the story of a gangster family in Calabria. While I did not love Black Souls, it received great notices from its premiere at the 2014 Venice Film Festival. Though Munzi has not directly worked in documentary features like Rohrwacher or Marcello, it’s evident based on his use of realist techniques in portraying the mafia that he had ample experience to work on such a project as Futura.

Marcello, Munzi, and Rohrwacher seamlessly blend the segments that they direct into one cohesive whole while retaining many of their own signature qualities. There is no stylistic difference in the interviews they conduct or in the cinematography of any of the directors. The most noted variance is when Alice Rohrwacher is interviewing the children, as her rich and tender voice provides a different quality from the baritones of Munzi and Marcello. Her segments provide a feminine voice and could potentially offer more accessibility for many of the students who feel more relaxed around a female director. She also narrates a bit of the film, providing a beautiful entryway to stunning images that open the film.

Using a range of medium shots the directors interview students from all across Italy. The youth are asked a wide variety of questions and many of their responses honestly portray the details, complexities, and naivety of their lives. For example, one group of young girls believes that men must provide for the family, which is an idea that many people may find antiquated. Another part of the film shows students declaring Italy to be one of the worst places to live. This of course isn’t the case, as Italy is still one of the better-off places in the world to live and grow up. The directors also highlight this irony as they display beautiful shots of Italy that counter the naïve viewpoints of their subjects.

This juxtaposition is a major quality of the film. The directors use black-and-white archival footage that displays the devastation of post-war Italy, with many children living impoverished and uneducated lives during that era. These images are then placed next to those of today’s Italy, where many people live in relative comfort. The economic crisis of the late aughts and early twenty-tens still reverberates in Italy and the young adults feel the squeeze or despair from that time. There are interviews in which they state there is no hope for them in Italy, as many students travel to other places outside of their native country for school or work. The contrast presented by the archives shows this relative dissatisfaction and naivety, something that generally always affects youth who are less mature and wise to the world. Importantly, the use of this footage also allows the directors to demonstrate hope for the future (as contrasted to what would have been an easy critique); even in a rather developed and rich Italy, the youth continue to want improvements in society.

There’s a powerful discussion with a group of students that occurs midway through the film. The group is mixed between immigrants and native Italians. Some of the immigrant students fled from Africa to come to Italy and have completely different opinions toward Italy than the native Italian students. In the conversation an Italian student states he’d support a society without money, while the immigrant students say that would never work. It’s compelling that the children from more privileged lives are more likely to support measures that may be unrealistic because they have less exposure to the hardships of life. This universal paradox exists in all countries and places and demonstrates how Futura is not only a film about Italian students, but a ubiquitous examination of the current generation worldwide.

Futura grippingly delves deep into the preoccupations and concerns of the current generation while providing much hope. Many of the concerns are anxieties that have existed throughout history, while others are more based on specific obstacles to this age group such as the use of social media. Ultimately the beautiful dialogues and conversations, coupled with a tender and uplifting score, provide much positivity and elevate the spirit of the film to optimism, compared to what could be expected based on the somber current economic and political crises.