On paper and on the screen, the Fifty Shades series are problematic in almost every way. While it functions admirably as a showcase of a rich lifestyle, at no point does any sense of humanity emerge. It has a loose grasp on how people interact in the world, and the less said about how poorly it represents women, the better. Top that off with goofy sex scenes and you have the model for how not to bring an erotic drama to life. For the past few years, I have been grateful to see no other films reach new lows for that sub-genre. But now that 365 Days exists, it pains me to say that the reign of E.L. James’s infamous series is over.
To fully explain what makes this a complete disaster would take an eternity. That said, I admire screenwriter Tomasz Klimala for taking no time to drop the first major red flag. In a near-death experience, Sicilian crime boss Massimo Torricelli (Michele Morrone) envisions a woman so beautiful he can hardly form words. Due to this euphoric experience, he spends the next five years doing whatever he can to find this woman. By the way, I must point out that his object of affection is a stranger he briefly saw at an airport.
It is bad enough that these introductory scenes establish Massimo as a creepy stalker. However, what makes things worse is how unwilling it is to show his lengthy process. Instead of showing his procedures in detail, directors Barbara Bialowas & Tomasz Mandes simply use a “Five Years Later” title card to show character progression. Barely five minutes into the 116-minute runtime and it already breaks the fundamental rule of “show, don’t tell”! As a result, 365 Days does not give its unpleasant protagonist the time to become a compelling figure.
If there is a silver lining, it’s that the movie soon focuses on the woman of his dreams. The person in question is Laura Biel (Anna Maria Sieklucka), a sales director trying to liven up her romantic life. And this time, the movie actually gives us an opportunity to see what makes her tick. At the very least, it shows her growing tired of her boyfriend and his various dumb antics. Once the movie shows her displeased expressions towards her boyfriend, we get to see a character with an actual personality. For these short minutes, the film lays the groundwork for a fairly decent romantic drama.
But for those expecting 365 Days to get better, know that it falls apart once Massimo meets Laura. First, he introduces himself to her with the line of “are you lost, baby girl”, the first of the film’s embarrassing attempts to show sleaziness. On top of that, he forces himself upon her in a deeply unpleasant manner. Most notably, Massimo kidnaps Laura and tells her she has to spend the next year with him until she falls in love with him. Even though his proposal does not require her to remain in a closed area, he still strips her of her own agency (the stripping of clothes will come later). Thus begins the grand tale of a crime boss mentally beating up a woman until he gets what he wants.
From that last sentence alone, you can immediately see that this premise has no business existing as it does. Admittedly, Klimala simply carries over the main hook of Blanka Lipińska’s 2018 novel of the same name. Nevertheless, the story’s core is as troubling now as it was just a few years ago. For one thing, we live in a time where representing women as well-rounded individuals and not objects of affection is paramount. Perhaps this concept can flourish if it leaned into its horrific implications and depicted Massimo’s actions as utterly heinous. But in the hands of Bialowas & Mandes, it aims to have the sweetness of a much more wholesome romance story.
This sickly sweet worldview manifests in a few places, starting with the movie’s plushy visual aesthetic. From the many Sicilian locales and the characters, cinematographer Bartek Cierlica uses soft lighting to illuminate these subjects. In many romantic films, combining soft lighting with a simple color palette exudes a sense of comfort. And more often than not, watching individuals express love for one another is inviting. However, when 365 Days applies the same visual language, it creates a huge contrast between what is happening and how the directors want you to interpret that. As a result, what appears nice at first glance becomes ill-fitting as soon as you consider the context.
That said, its discomforting worldview manifests the most in how it transforms Laura into an obedient and mindless individual. To say that the story reaches a point where she gives into Massimo’s advances is hardly surprising. But what is surprising is how quickly she devolves as a person. In one particular scene, Massimo forces her to watch him perform a sex act with a random woman. You might think this is where she would start to burst in anger at the situation. As it turns out, this is not the case, since the movie shows her with the blankest expressions imaginable. Keep in mind, this is the same character who expressed anger at the realization she was a prisoner to Massimo.
On a side note, it is amazing how badly Bialowas & Mandes craft a sex scene on a fundamental level. It’s one thing for them to trot out tedious R&B tracks in a weak attempt to have something with a hint of sleaze. It’s another thing for them to edit a scene into such quick glimpses that even the thirstiest of viewers will struggle to see the action. Nowhere is more clear than in the extended boat scene where Laura and Massimo have “some time for themselves”. With the help of several dozen cuts, editor Marcin Drewnowski transforms this small-scale scene into a wholehearted montage. I suppose Drewnowski cut this sequence to have the same rhythm as “you know what”. Yet what actually happens is that you begin to fixate on the scene’s chronology and not the clear selling point of 365 Days.
I suppose there are a few things keeping this from being the most technically inept thing ever made. After all, the film is not actually 365 days long! But while 365 Days does not have total technical incompetence, it sure makes up for it with total moral incompetence. Its positive attitude towards Stockholm Syndrome is a big turnoff in 2020, and its retrograde attitude only gets worse as it reaches its end. If the Fifty Shades series showcased female empowerment in its infancy, this showcases what it would be like if it never existed. So although this breaks new ground for the erotic drama, this is the one time where the filmmakers should have quit while they were ahead. – Mark Tan
365 Days is now available on Netflix.
The film stars Anna Maria Sieklucka, Michele Morrone, Bronisław Wrocławski, Otar Saralidze, and Magdalena Lamparska.