Yuri Ancarani on Atlantide, a film about speedboating on the lagoons of Venice
The filmmaker on his latest feature, Atlantide, recently screened at the Museum of Modern Art and coming to CPH:DOX
The Speed of Life: Yuri Ancarani, Director of Atlantide
By Nicolas Rapold
Yuri Ancarani’s Atlantide just wrapped up a theatrical run at the Museum of Modern Art. I first saw it last year at the Venice Film Festival, where it screened on opening night. In my Venice report for Artforum, I wrote about Ancarani’s stylish hybrid work, which paints a world that in terms of its gender dynamics can feel like a throwback to a 1950s juvenile delinquent film: “The new feature from gallery artist and filmmaker Yuri Ancarani was a playful overture, a coming-of-age portrait of teenagers and their fast boats on the lagoons and waterways of another Venice not mobbed by tourists. Reframing the games of status and speed from Ancarani’s luxe mirage The Challenge (with an assist from some re-creation), Atlantide has everything: drag racing, hot pursuit by police, boat sex, thumping trap music, adolescent tedium, fire at sea, a crab smoking a joint. ‘I am nobody’s slave. I want to be respected,’ intones Daniele, the film’s morose central figure, who has something to prove and a girlfriend who’s obsessed. ‘Just like everyone,’ she quips, before going back to losing her mind over him. What more could you ask for? Ancarani provides it with a camera-tilted tracking finale that turns Venice into a kaleidoscopic wormhole.”
I talked with Ancarani in Venice about Atlantide, which is screening at CPH:DOX on April 2, followed by a concert by Lorenzo Senni, who co-created the film’s score. Ancarani’s previous feature was The Challenge, which memorably featured a cheetah riding in a Lamborghini. “It’s more or less the same theme!” Ancarani responded when I said I was also a fan of The Challenge.
How long did it take to make the film—research, shooting, editing, and so on?
Four years. In Europe, it’s still possible to make an auteur film, but in order to do so, you need time, and to wait to get the funding. Cinema is a very general word that includes many asterisks. Cinema is not entertainment to me. Entertainment is something that kills the viewer because the audience waits to get answers without asking themselves any questions. For me, questioning the viewer is essential. It’s a duty. Back to answering your question... Something incredible happened because I searched for the protagonist of my film in 2018, started my shooting in 2019, and wrapped up in 2021. And this allowed me to make a complete journey that shows not only the growth and the change in my protagonist, but also in the city of Venice itself.
How did you get the trust of the teenagers on the boats?
It's very difficult for me, grown man that I am, to get into the life of teenagers or adolescents. There's nothing tougher. So how did I do it? By wearing the right pair of sneakers. And by listening to the music they listen to. That was not only to be able to understand what that music was, but also to appreciate it. And that music was trap music. The main problem is that an adult tends to see the music that 20-year-olds listen to as something that is almost not music. It's unacceptable. But in doing so, grown-ups forget that the music they're stuck with is the music that they listened to when they were 20 years old themselves. And this is true not only for adults nowadays but for their fathers and their grandfathers. If you ask an adult, “What is your favorite kind of music?” you would answer the music genre you were listening to when you were 20, because that is the music that will become the soundtrack of your life. So you cannot tell a 20-year-old that the music they listen to is shitty.
What’s the music in the film?
The music is very complex in the film because it's a complex universe. There are two generations of musicians. One is called Lorenzo Senni and the second one is
Francesco Fantini. And they are both signed to the London label Warp. They collaborate with a symphony orchestra. And then there's a sort of plastic music by an Italian rapper whose name is Sick Luke. I used the instrumental bass of his pieces without the singing.
How exactly did you shoot on the speedboats? It’s quite a technical achievement.
In Los Angeles I discovered the RED MONSTRO 8k Carbon Fiber. They managed to invent the lightest camera in the world, which is so sensitive, because it's supposed to be hooked to a flying drone. I said to myself, if that camera can fly, then I should be able to hold it and always have it with me, also when I'm on a speedboat. So I had the lightest equipment ever.
I had to shoot at night often, because that's when the boys are racing. So I couldn't have a proper crew when they were doing so. I entered a documentary-making mode, and I followed them around when they were racing at night. I asked my cinematographer friends how I could shoot at night with no natural light, and of course, none of them was able to help me because a cinematographer works with light by definition. No one could tell me what were the limits for a camera in that absence of light.
So I started experimenting myself, making little tests, and with the MONSTRO sensor, I realized I could see when it was a full moon. So I started acting not so much as a director, but as an esoteric expert, a shaman in a way. I was always invoking the full moon and saying, “No, we should not race with this darkness. You have to wait for the full moon to arrive. So let's do it at 3 a.m.!” And they would look at me, this shaman of mysterious magic that is cinema.
How did you shoot the chase with the police boat? Because the camera seems to be on the teenager’s speedboat, and then it’s on the police boat too.
It's a daily scene in the Venice lagoon. It's quite normal that the police chases after these speedboats. The way we reconstructed it was by shooting in five days. I got inspired by the police films about Italian detectives in the 1970s. There’s action, but everything is very static at the same time.
Yes, yes. Tarantino got inspiration for many things from them. [in English] It’s a B movie.
There are two romances in the movie, in a way. One is between the boys and the boats, and then the other is between the boys and the girls. Daniele’s greatest passion seems to be his boat. And Maila goes through a lot.
I think the main focus of the film is on something that we grownups tend to forget: the high degree of pain that we suffer when we are teenagers, which creates a trauma but also dictates the way we will be when we grow up. There are three different kinds of love that are articulated in very different ways in the film.
We know that Maila is the one that suffers the most. We see her smiling in the beginning, but then we hear her saying terrible things afterward because that pain, that distress [over her relationship with Daniele], has changed her. The second kind of love has to do with aspirations—a movement toward something, you don’t even know what it is. But it is linked to distress as well. We see Daniele beaten up and humiliated.
Then there's a third kind of love which is a synthetic love, so to speak. The group wants you to sign up to the codes that are the same for everyone. They don't want you to develop your inner oddity or inclinations. And in this manly universe the space for women is very limited. It’s as if the only hope they can have is for a speedboat to bear their name! It’s been like this for generations.
Nicolas Rapold is a writer and editor. His work is published in The New York Times, Sight & Sound, Artforum, Filmmaker, and W Magazine. He hosts the podcast The Last Thing I Saw and runs the newsletter you are reading.