‘Atlantis’ review: A delightful portrait of restless Venetian youth
“Atlantis” is the Italian name for Atlantis, the fictional island utopia imagined by Plato, supposedly cursed by the gods and swallowed up by the sea. It’s a pointed legend to conjure up in a film about Venice, the city sinking that, real as it is, feels like a place we’ve collectively dreamed of, that could somehow be taken away from us at any moment. The crumbling fragility of this impossible city and the provocative boredom of its native sons are both richly illustrated in Italian video artist Yuri Ancarani’s dazzling hybrid documentary, which navigates Venice’s various secondary islands and waterways. separating them through the heavy-lidded eyes of young men. who live for the exuberant action of motorboats and, it seems, not much else. All life here is made to feel as beautiful and vulnerable as the city itself.
Since its premiere in (where else?) Venice last year, “Atlantis” has made quite an impression on the festival circuit, carried by its mature, sensual imagery and seductive sound. The film’s delirious audiovisual splendor is doubled by everything that “The Challenge”, Ancarani’s 2016 feature debut, which also traveled extensively, suggested about his gifts as a stylist and observer of the medium: as In this film’s eerie and beautiful depiction of Qatar’s rich falconry scene, “Atlantis” magnifies and aestheticizes a peculiar and socially dynamic subculture to such a degree that it completely bypasses the truth en route to a kind of earthy surrealism. As a character study, however, the film remains aloof and opaque, even as it fictionalizes the trajectory of its real-life human subjects. Perhaps giving us greater access to their inner life would break its humid, hypnotic charm.
The tone is set by an enchanting opening credits, centered on a group of young people swimming and diving in an uncrowded place. vaporetto (or waterbus) on the sleepy island of Sant’Erasmo – floating between Murano and the Lido east of Venice proper, but less romantically celebrated than either of these beauty spots . To the propulsive accompaniment of a throbbing electronic score, the teens leap into the water, resurface and repeat the process in a languorous loop of lazy pleasure, Ancarani’s camera capturing the sensory specifics of tan lines and towels wet. It’s Venetian summer somewhat removed from the tourists who flock to the main island. The lagoon both draws the confined world of the inhabitants of Sant’Erasmo and offers them a vast playground of temporary escape.
For 24-year-old Daniele, a gruff, taciturn waster who serves as the film’s human focal point, life is only worth living on the water, ideally at high speed. He is one of many young men in the area who can only be described as the Venetian equivalent of male runners, with barchini (inflated motorboats) replacing a smooth wheel set. Anyone who’s been on a heavy Venice vaporetto will have noticed those children whizzing over the water in foamy, curving circuits, going nowhere fast and more, for pure, life-giving joy. There’s nothing exciting about Daniele’s life on dry land: we’re given only a brief glimpse of his mundane work on an artichoke farm, while his conversations with his girlfriend Maila betray little passion or an intense emotional investment.
On the contrary, his life’s pursuit is simply to build the fastest Barchino possible. In that regard, he joins a reckless cult of like-minded young men, whose macho exploits Ancarani’s films with a strutting, sweaty verve reminiscent of nothing more than the first “Fast and Furious” film – in particularly in the ravishing scenes of their nocturnal gatherings, where garish fluorescent lights further dazzle their frantic carving of the waves. Yet there’s no real sense of family here, just testosterone-fueled competition: Daniele, in particular, isolates himself from his peers, devotes himself to his boat with a stubborn ferocity that can’t lead to no good.
Departing from a strict documentary form, Ancarani cooks up a melodramatic arc for her that instead highlights what little we know of the smaller, more mundane details of her life. The camera’s attention sporadically shifts to other pretty carefree guys in its orbit, about whom we learn even less. It’s only in a remarkable scene depicting an exchange between Maila and her manicurist – their faces are never seen as their weary, revealing conversation unfolds over shots of busy, embellished hands – that the magnificent sociology of “Atlantis “really penetrates under the tanned skin of its participants.
This detachment is designed, however, to pay off in an extended and surprisingly abstract finale, in which the humans move completely away from the frame. Aboard a fast-paced boat, the camera gazes like a bewildered traveler, tilting to the side so that the rose-lit architecture of Venice and its reflection in the choppy waters merge into a morphing kaleidoscope of symmetry like a doily. Venice will outlive its wild-hearted inhabitants, “Atlantis” suggests, before the whole city, like Atlantis before it, succumbs to the sea.