By José Sarmiento Hinojosa

Preceded by good comments and reviews, this adaptation of Roberto Bolaño‘s «Una Novelita Lumpen» (the last novel he published in life) even arrived with a «Best Film Award» at the latest Rotterdam festival1 (which was actually the KNF award, given to the best feature film in The Big Screen Award Competition that is yet to find distribution within the Netherlands). Nothing to be concerned about really, since festivals have a longstanding tradition of being rarely fair with films that really deserve an award (for n reasons which I won’t mention here). Even though, Rotterdam still has quite a reputation for being base camp to the most important discoveries in cinema in the past 5 years or so, and the fact that this was the first adaptation of a Bolaño’s novel made the expectations even bigger.

Scherson’s film and Bolaño’s novel stories are identical: they tell the story of Bianca (Manuela Martelli) and Tomas (Luigi Ciardo), two brothers that are left orphaned by a car accident, and who let their life drift in dubious passages as Tomas’ gym friends invade their home and elaborate a robbery plan which involves Bianca getting sexually acquainted with B-movie former star Machiste (Rutger Hauer), and old blind man who lives alone in his mansion.

Scherson tries hard to recreate the somber atmosphere that permeates Bolaño’s late period, specially in his short stories and his two big latest novels: The Savage Detectives and 2666. Bolaño’s universe is full of forgotten legends, of hermits and strange morose characters, all of which resemble a big cast of people in exile, outsiders, expatriates, both physically and emotionally. Rutger Hauer, appropriately cast as Machiste, is by far the best that Il Futuro has to offer. Hauer’s portrait as a former Mr. Universe and movie star invokes the ghosts of Bolaño’s best written characters, a blind man in solitude that receives the visit of Bianca (who plays the role of a prostitute) with a quiet resignation, the same quiet despair with which he waits for death to come. Rutger Hauer might be just playing Rutger Hauer though, a former movie star who could easily just be part of a Bolaño’s short story.

Besides the aptly performed roles and some accomplished moments, Scherson’s film falls flat into what she want’s to recreate. The adaptation feels way too close to the original book, a thing that shouldn’t be something detrimental to a  film (one of the best adaptations of a novel to film was Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, in which he is religiously faithful to the original story) except that Scherson makes use of very artificial methods to try to capture the original story essence: The lead character’s voice over, who almost literally reads the book lines to guide us through the internal logic of the story, or aesthetic resources like artificial lighting in some scenes (which wants to recreate a recurrent passage on the original story). And for most of the time, it is just that the translation of Bolaño’s lines, which feels completely natural in their own narrative environment, are completely artificial when they directly put into a script. The problem lies in the fact that maybe Bolaño can’t be directly transferred to cinema and needs a more subtle, less direct approach to his stories. Shcerson film feels erratic and meandering precisely because of it: the use of time, narrative, and imagery in literature sometimes is just not the same as in cinema.

This first semi failed experiment to adapt Bolaño’s to a film format should be a cautionary tale for future endeavors to come (specially the rumors circulating over the web about an adaptation of The Savage Detectives, a far more complex and accomplished work), and also a reminder that novel adaptations have seen better days (for a recent example, try Andrea Arnold‘s  outstanding adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights).


Director:  Alicia Scherson
Producers: Christoph Friedel, Mario Mazzarotto, Emanuele Nespeca, Luis Angel Ramirez, Claudia Steffen
Script:  Alicia Scherson, Roberto Bolaño (adaptation)
Cinematography: Ricardo DeAngelis
Cast:  Manuela Martelli, Luigi Ciardo, Rutger Hauer, Alessandro Giallocosta, Nicolas Vaporidis, Pino Calabrese