There is something unsettling about the colour grading of the very first shot of Yuri Ancarini’s dream-like ode to Venice and the city’s waterborne rootless youth.
The technicolour palette of the slender young teenagers diving into the waters of the lagoon off a riverboat mooring on one of the city’s smaller islands is gorgeously languid.
It looks like the opening sequence to a 1970s New Hollywood movie where innocence is introduced before the juggernaut of adulthood and outside forces beyond the ken of these carefree young Adams and Eves exacts a terrible price.
And, in a sense, that is what awaits the lightly-drawn characters in Ancarini’s Atlantide – Italian for Atlantis.
This is a strange documentary, fitting more readily into the category normally dubbed experimental, though it claims to be docu-fiction.
The action – or what passes for action in a film that is best viewed episodically and through the filter of a dream where linear reality is probably not your best guide – pivots around Daniele. Daniele is a 24-year-old handsome, lightly muscular young man whose day job working on an artichoke farm on a remote island in the lagoon is simply a vague backdrop to his love for his speedboat and the hormone-driven rivalry that goes with racing his barchini with other similarly ruggedly handsome young Venetians.
Their lives – all speed, girlfriends, minor criminality (look out for the beautifully shot boat chase where customs and excisemen fail to catch a hashish smuggler with a smaller, more agile boat) – are a world away from the view of Venice tourists chugging to and from Marco Polo Airport, or around the main islands on the sturdy water bus vaporetti.
Daniele knows he is not among the first ranks of the barchini boys – his boat is too old and slow; his girlfriend not quite glamourous enough. However, his decision to steal a state-of-the-art propeller – all shiny chrome, compared to his «chipped» old device (as his girlfriend unhelpfully observes) – precipitates the end of their relationship and a brief new burst of life for Daniele at his boat.
Their lives – all speed, girlfriends, minor criminality… are a world away from the view of Venice tourists chugging to and from Marco Polo Airport
Like a doomed city slowly sinking beneath the rising waters of its lagoon, Daniele embarks on a quest for speed and sex (found in the shapely form of a new girlfriend, all blonde and shining teeth).
It is all doomed, and we know it.
Word soon gets out, identifying Daniele as the thief of the prized piece of barchini kit, and a beating is ordered. That does not stop Daniele from getting his night of glamour and passion: the lovemaking on his boat beneath a Venetian bridge offers some small balance to a distinctly homo-erotic treatment of most young men in the film.
In the end, after a jarring TV news report interrupts our dreaming to inform us that a young Venetian called Daniele has died after his speedboat hit a floating bricola – one of the wooden stakes driven into the lagoon to identify waterways – Ancarini returns to an increasingly abstract view of Venice and its nocturnal waterways, the camera turning sideways to create a horizontal mirrored vision of a city that looks more like a pastel version of a Star Wars fleet spacecraft than anything terrestrial.
The promise of beauty
Atlantide lures one in with the promise of beauty and does not fail in its aim.
This is not the Venice that you or I know from our tourist visits.
It is a beauty that its pace and narrative remind us is fragile and fleeting – like the life of a handsome young Venetian, like the future of the beautiful shimmering dream that is Venice.