An inauspicious hole in the ground leads a young woman to a sun-caressed idyll in “Happy Times Will Come Soon,” an elegantly mounted but effortfully cryptic foray into narrative filmmaking from promising Italian docmaker Alessandro Comodin. The audience likewise follows her into a murky warren of mystery, but most viewers are less likely to find their way to the light by the end. Though it’s dreamily lensed (in close-hugging Academy ratio) on 35mm, the snapped-off timelines and disassembled story arcs of this woozy rural fable finally prove less seductive than they are distancing. While it’s easier to surmise Comodin’s creative influences (Miguel Gomes and Lisandro Alonso among them) than it is to pick out his own creative throughline for the film, he’s aiming commendably, complicatedly high: Distributors will demur, while high-arthouse patrons should take his card.
For better or worse, “Happy Times Will Come Soon” is unlikely to prove revelatory to those who have seen Comodin’s Locarno-awarded feature-length debut “Summer of Giacomo” in 2011. Though billed as a documentary, that film likewise merged fiction and non-fiction registers against a golden-lit bucolic setting markedly similar to the one Comodin twirls through here; any viewers who find themselves drifting inattentively away from the splintered storytelling in his follow-up will nonetheless emerge with a mental file full of decisive vacation plans. “My greatest misfortune is that I come from nowhere,” a character confesses toward the end — though if this place is where you’re going to, what does it matter?
Things begins straightforwardly enough, albeit in an indeterminate period, as young fugitives Tommaso (Erikas Sizonovas) and Arturo (Luca Bernardi) escape from prison and seek refuge in the forested wilds of northern Italy. There, they squabble, tussle and forage for food and firearms. The faintest hint of burgeoning homoerotic tension between them is rudely cut short — along with whatever modest narrative momentum Comodin has accumulated by this point — as encroaching gunfire propels us several decades forward into what appears to be a present-day folk documentary. Characterful local barflies speak to camera, filling us in on a regional myth about a humanoid wolf that falls in love with, and ragefully kills, a white doe.
The film itself, of course, is not averse to changing form: Barely have we settled into this new phase that it begins again, this time with serenely winsome villager Ariane (Sabrina Seveycou) as its notional protagonist. What ensues appears to be a heat-hazed symbolic dramatization of the legend just described, in which Ariane, wandering heedless of the wolves currently laying waste to the local sheep population, discovers the aforementioned portal to summery paradise. Joining her there is Tommaso — seemingly reincarnated across the film’s parallel timelines, though rationalization is a fool’s errand in Comodin’s elastic story world.
Viewers can identify the themes they wish to find in the skewed reflections and missed connections that accumulate between the film’s separate, outwardly disparate parts — culminating in yet another location shift that points, more emphatically than expected, to a kind of moral closure. The endurance and evolution of native folklore, however, comes most prominently to mind in “Happy Times,” which finally resembles a study in storytelling architecture more than it does a feat of storytelling itself.
The frustration of interpreting Comodin’s film is somewhat mollified, at least, by its surfeit of honey-drizzled mood. Making tactile, deep-shadowed use of film stock, cinematographer Tristan Bordmann routinely casts a siesta-time afternoon glow over proceedings, with sunlight trickling through woodland ceilings like water through a colander. Comodin’s music cues, meanwhile, are eccentrically all over the map: Some of the more arcane selections are taken from vinyl, their witchy crackle burnishing the film’s already textured soundtrack, while the inclusion, in full, of The Pogues’ tortured, distinctly non-Continental rendition of “The Auld Triangle” over the closing sequence is as fitting as everything else in this strange country stew — which is to say, not remotely.