A compelling meditation on dreams that doubles as an expose of how cheap those dreams have become, “Futures Market” is a wise and fulfilling film that bears lofty comparison with the work of Spanish maestro helmers Victor Erice and Jose Luis Guerin. Mercedes Alvarez’s sophomore outing scrutinizes a real-estate trade show, a street market and masterpieces of world art, and then perceptively and meaningfully yokes these disparate worlds together. Though pic is sometimes overly didactic and repetitive, its assurance, visual beauty and insight more than compensate. Offshore arthouses are likely to invest.
Docu opens with voiceover reflections from the Greek poet Simonides of Ceos, whose ideas about memory underpin footage of a house being emptied of objects. Literary masterpieces by Stefan Zweig and Dostoevsky are tossed away. Later, along with some discarded dolls, they’re seen again at a street market, having become simply items for trade.
At the real-estate show, salespeople deliver earnest spiels to potential investors while images of not-yet-built properties are displayed behind them. There is no voiceover, but much overheard dialogue. The clear pastel images of beaches and infinity pools give way to a lovingly detailed sequence on the art of Andrea Mantegna, Hieronymus Bosch and Michaelangelo, which reveal textures, depths and layering that seem absent from the quotidian world that’s less interested in people than profit.
Other sequences include a management guru delivering a speech about finding inner peace to a hall full of stressed execs (and quickly sneaking a glance at his watch as they doze); a roomful of stockbrokers angrily barking out instructions to one another; and an elderly man tenderly, and with apparently infinite slowness, attending to his garden at a market.
The nostalgic notion that the quality of mankind’s hopes and dreams has declined through the centuries as spiritual values have been replaced by material ones is not exactly revolutionary. But it’s a worthwhile notion, and Alvarez succeeds superbly in dramatizing it, mostly via meticulous attention to composition. For example, she juxtaposes a grand-sounding salesman’s pitch with shots of the tiny plastic models of the buildings being described. It’s pretty clear which side of the ideological fence Alvarez sits on, but she prefers an even-handed approach to simple polemics. Scenes are generally held long enough to allow even the slightly desperate real-estate salespeople to seem sympathetic.
As with Alvarez’s previous “Sky,” most dialogue is overheard, magically edited down by Pablo Gil into chunks of meaning. Docu’s authentic hero is vibrant 90-year-old Jesus Castro, the one individual to whom a substantial amount of time is devoted. Wearing a Walt Whitman beard, Jesus sits in the sun at the door of his junk shop and, when people ask him for something, he mostly turns them away, since it would be too much effort to retrieve it from the mounds of stuff inside. “Why sell things?” he wonders. “If you sell something, it’s not yours anymore.” The suggestion is made that Jesus has found spiritual peace in the marketplace and freedom from the torment of his dreams, unlike the salespeople and their clients.
Visually, the pic is a meticulously prepared feast of exquisite framing and rich color, with mirrors being laid to rest on a wall at the perfect angle to capture glass towers, while the camera frames piles of junk to look like still lives. Part of our problem, the docu suggests, is that we’ve forgotten how to look — not only at things, but at people, too.