Watching Atlantide at the Venice Film Festival, in the heart of the Venice Lagoon, is a sobering experience. Gone are the hordes of tourists and expensive film stars, gone are the gondolas and fridge magnets and Guggenheim exhibition posters. Yuri Ancarani’s latest shows a side of one of the world’s most aestheticized cities that is rarely seen: one of locals and land labourers and disenfranchised youth, neglected by a city that is more interested in short-stay visitors than its own residents. It is a vital and long overdue story. It is unfortunate, then, that Atlantide isn’t better at telling it.

The film follows the fortunes of Daniele, a young man on the fringes of society whose only passion is pimping his boat and talking at his girlfriend. It’s hard to get a sense of quite who Daniele is: Ancarani’s approach is markedly naturalistic, blurring the lines between documentary and fiction in intriguing ways – including one all-too-short moment when Daniele’s girlfriend makes a meta reference to Atlantide itself – yet despite this grounded realism, Daniele’s desires, struggles, and history remain frustratingly elusive.

Ancarani’s visual landscape also rests heavily on Daniele and the other young men out on their boats, extended perspective shots whose purpose may be to ground us in the characters’ experiences but end up more reminiscent of GoPro vlogs. It’s a shame, because there are a few moments that reveal a true filmmaker’s eye: one in particular, of partying kids silhouetted against a vast cruise ship, offers a sharp and menacing mediation on Venice’s class hierarchies.

Ultimately, it is all a bit too unfocused to work: some scenes drag tediously on, others fail to lend emotional clarity to this vague, musical video world. An ambitious effort, Atlantide is nevertheless a case study of why style without substance will always end up feeling rather hollow.



CAST: Daniele Barison, Bianka Berényi, Maila Dabalà, Alberto Tedesco, Jacopo Torcellan

DIRECTOR: Yuri Ancarani

WRITER: Yuri Ancarani

SYNOPSIS: A young man from the edges of the Venice Lagoon enters the dangerous world of motorboat racing.