365 Days: 50 Shades of WTF

Wow. What a treat. For some reason 365 Days is trending on Netflix, a feat I was so proud of Avatar: The Last Airbender for achieving and now I feel like that success is sullied by this gross, horribly acted, poorly written, bizarrely directed adaptation of a Polish author’s trilogy of books who is, shockingly, a woman. All due credit to directors like Michael Bay who turn women into lips and boobs and sweaty trophies to be shunted from one place to another, but you really can’t beat the way some very successful female authors are capable of turning their main characters into vapid, objectified caricatures whose only personality is ‘hot’. It’s got to take an almost Uncle Ruckus type level of self-loathing on their parts but I can’t really fault them because, well, there’s sure as hell an audience for this kind of story. Credit is also due for transforming their male “protagonists” into domineering, preening, sex obsessed, well…. predators, it’s equal opportunity if both sexes are portrayed as everything that we try to teach children it’s not okay to be.

I understand this is fantasy, that hasn’t escaped me but it’s pretty fucked up fantasy. After the son of a mafia boss watches his father get murdered by a…sky bullet or something, Massimo sees a hot lady on the beach and is enamored as he lays in a pool of his and his father’s blood. Five years later he randomly sees her again while glancing out of the car window while pulling into the airport and recognizes her. That’s some wild shit right there, I can barely remember someone’s face after an hour of conversation but Massimo immediately sets a plan into motion to, let me check my notes here…, ah, yes. Kidnap her from her best friend and boyfriend, cover it up with a note and imprison her for 365 days during which he will try to earn her true love but if he doesn’t she’s free to go. You know. Like ya do.

Now, I don’t daydream as much as I did when I was a kid, I miss it to be honest, but even back then when I was lost in my imagination and things took a weird turn I had the presence of mind to think, nah, heh, that actually just stupid, back it up a few beats. Blanka Lipińska, whose novel this film is based on, apparently never developed that same editorial instinct because this character, Laura, just kind of goes with being abducted and torn away from her life in order to fill the niche desires of a career criminal and sexual predator because he saw her on the beach one time after he got shot a little bit. Contrary to what some friends and exes might assert, I am not a girl, so I don’t quite understand this obsession fantasy, this desire to have a powerful, dangerous figure basically threaten sexual violence but stop short so many times eventually I’m like, well now I actually want to, good job knowing that I wanted to be choked and thrown around and afraid for my life but not really because you, in fact, love me. I must have looked so good on that beach where you saw me one time while you were in shock and had just lost your father to murder and were also bleeding out. 

I do have to be completely honest, however. When the credits suddenly and inexplicable rolled, oh, I don’t know, halfway through the third act I was enormously disappointed. Somehow this artless, exploitative, utterly tone-deaf travesty of a film had me invested, I needed to know where it was going, not why, I’d given up on “why” about 15 minutes in when the main male character sexually assaults a flight attendant but it’s okay because she masturbated about it later. Because I guess consent can be retroactive, way to think fourth-dimensionally, Europeans. But for some reason I had to find out what happens to these characters I didn’t really care about, maybe it was morbid curiosity, or maybe it was horniness. Or some combination of the two? Morbid Curi-Orniness. Apparently, a sequel has been greenlit by Netflix but filming has been delayed by some kind of contagion, I don’t know, I’m in Texas and we’re all carrying on like nothing is wrong.

A word on directing. What’s odd is that 365 Days looks pretty spectacular. It could be that technology and digital filmmaking is at a point where any toddler can point a Red camera at a pile of rocks and make it look like art, but the lighting, set design, and cinematography are all top notch, this movie looks fantastic, it’s like a Bond film had a baby with a watch commercial. And then someone filmed softcore pornography on top of that baby. This is, again, not a compliment to the directing because the camera work itself is remarkably awful. As in it’s almost impressive how wrong the decisions are to film, for instance, an intimate dinner scene by swaying inexplicably back and forth like a pair of adolescents clutching each other at a Sadie Hawkins dance trying desperately to find the beat and failing, failing, failing. The constant orbiting of characters is a problem that makes it hard to understand whom is speaking to whom or why. Camera positions and blocking are used to communicate standing and strength or vulnerability, to imply a comfortable relationship between X and Y or an antipathy between W and Z. But if the camera is just wandering around aimlessly it’s an entire avenue of communicating information shut down.

It occurs to me that the name of the film is 365 Days because that’s how long Massimo needs to make his victim love him, and that I wondered how he was going to come up with a full year’s worth of sexy, seductive Stockholm Syndrome stuff to do and apparently so did the filmmakers because the story itself only lasts about 2 months. And when it ends, oh, man. I had to rewind the damn thing to make sure I hadn’t missed something. I hadn’t, there’s nothing to miss, but damn if it didn’t make want more. Laura Biel, the main love interest had a character arc that consisted of, essentially, that she was a brunette at the beginning of the film and blond at the end. Massimo was a blank slate at the beginning, a sex criminal in the middle, and a sadder sex criminal at the end because of something called the Hero’s Journey? This all happened in the middle of some kind of mafia war that some of the unnamed side characters who were not sexy and naked all the time insisted was going on. If you say so, more unrealistic sexual positions, please!

Any real review boils down to a recommendation or the polite suggestion to save your time and in this case, I’d give 365 Days a shot for one reason. Well. Two reasons. That first one is that I learn a lot about storytelling and film from good movies, the really good ones are great for inspiration but I learn exponentially more from bad films. You learn pacing and what bad acting looks like and how much can go wrong and it’s fun to learn, thanks Levar Burton. The second reason is the music and you’ll have subtitles on because there are three different languages spoken and English is no one’s first but the music, oh the music, the wonderfully corny, sappy, trite euro-pop and the lyrics therein. Bellisimo. Because this big ol’ slab of man named Michele Morrone can also get rapey jiggy with it.

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