What’s real is something that Daniele, a 24-year-old living on the outskirts of Venice has trouble navigating, so it’s only natural in “Atlantide” that director Yuri Ancarani sets about confusing the issue. Following up his 2016 documentary “The Challenge,” which only seemed to be beyond belief when set in the surreal world of wealthy Qatari sheikhs, the filmmaker contends with conveying a life on the quiet island of Sant’Erasmo, so bereft of anything for a young people to do beyond lounge in the sun that the vacuum is filled with what can be imagined, drawing on real dialogue that he picked over the years from the people he ultimately put on screen and going one step further in constructing a drama from nonfiction visual grammar, suggesting what you’re watching is reality even when the film starts taking more improbable twists and turns.
By design, the story isn’t actually the central attraction of “Atlantide” as Ancarani draws the eye to the juxtaposition between a restless new generation of Italians and the land that hasn’t seen much change for centuries with the elderly still tending to crops and areas of the island designated as sacred for prayer. The arresting dichotomies may be enough to pull some audiences all the way through, with such bravura sequences as kids carrying boomboxes through the quiet ruins of estates that have seen better days by the water, eager to pierce the silence and the sight of gargantuan cruise ships blocking the island’s view of nearby Venice, but Ancarani keeps returning to Daniele, a curiously angry young man with the modest but seemingly insurmountable goal of getting his speedboat up to 85 kilometers-per-hour to challenge the other locals who notch speed records on a wooden pole out in the water. His interest in getting a new propeller far outweighs his interest in his girlfriend Maila, though the pursuit at least gives the two something to talk about and it’s implied that the faster he can get, the more time he’ll want to spend in Venice where perhaps he wouldn’t have such a humdrum life.
While the striking cinematography alone is worth the price of admission for “Atlantide,” the creeping sense of artificiality can occasionally come across awkwardly as more florid scenarios such as a speedboat chase between a drug runner and the coast guard and Daniele’s flirtations with another woman in the canals betray the feeling of authenticity that’s been so strongly set up aesthetically and in the film’s performances, even when the point is to see Daniele unmoored by the pull of being anywhere else. Still, even as Daniele fights against stasis, Ancarani is apt to take audiences to places typically thought to be unreachable, whether that’s the idyllic lazy, hazy summer days at the film’s start or the “2001”-esque head trip that serves as its transfixing climax. As Daniele comes to learn, it’s easier to get in than get out, and the same can be said of “Atlantide” as an unshakeable experience.
“Atlantide” will screen at the Venice Film Festival on September 2nd at 4:15 pm at the PalaBiennale and 4:45 pm at the Sala Darsena, September 3rd at 9 am at the Sala Volpe, 11:15 am at Sala Casino, 3 pm at the Sala Volpi and 5:15 pm at the Sala Casino.