24 Lies a Second: Annus Horribilis

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Annus Horribilis

Well, it has been a strange four months or so, hasn't it? It seems strange that, just as the newspapers are full of ominous stories about the so-called 'second wave', there are actually signs of some kind of normality resuming – which, in my house at least, is code for 'cinemas reopening locally'. Fingers crossed, of course. Not that we have been entirely short of new films recently, of course, one way or another, but the prospect of new theatrical releases is a relief if only because it will give us something to focus on other than whatever bizarre offering has somehow managed to find an audience on one of the big streaming sites.

Let us (hopefully) bid a heartfelt farewell to this dark interlude by examining a movie which is the best argument possible for seeing all your new movies in the cinema: Barbara Białowąs and Tomasz Mandes' 365 Days (Polish title: 365 Dni). This is a Polish film which actually got a theatrical release in the UK back in February, didn't attract much attention, but has somehow managed to become a hit for one of the major streamers. It is comfortably one of the very worst films I have seen in the last twenty years, although (as you may soon discern) it does not achieve this solely on its own lack-of-merits: the makers have obviously been watching other very bad films and taking notes. (Not so much standing on the shoulders of giants as digging round the ankles of midgets.)

We open on a Mediterranean island where we meet our male lead, Massimo (Michele Morrone), who is being groomed to become the head of the Sicilian Mafia. The grooming comes to a rather premature end when someone puts a bullet through Massimo's papa, leading him to have a bit of a near-death experience. Five years later, Massimo is now running the Mafia and wastes no time in sorting out some presumptuous Californian bankers who have messed up the mob's investments.

This is intercut with another tense office scene in Warsaw where feisty young manager Laura (Anna-Maria Sieklucka) sees off an incompetent superior. Afterwards we see her sitting wistfully in the empty boardroom. This is intercut with Massimo brooding in the other empty boardroom. Thus does the movie smash the viewer round the head with the notion that these two somehow share a connection. It tries to capitalise on this by following up with a sequence where Laura amuses herself with a flourescent sex toy while Massimo requires the stewardess on his private jet to do more than just give him an extra blanket. (Or it may just be that the producers demanded a sex scene every ten minutes or so.)

Well, Laura and her inattentive boyfriend go to Sicily for her birthday, where he just treats her badly and goes on about her WEAK HEART every other line. (E.g.: 'Hey, baby, don't be angry that I went up Etna without you! Don't forget you've got a WEAK HEART.') I can only assume that Laura's WEAK HEART will take on greater significance in one of the threatened sequels, because it has damn-all importance in this film. Eventually she has had enough and strops off, only to be descended upon by Massimo and his Mafia minions.

Soon she is recovering from being drugged ('You've had a bad reaction to the sedative – maybe because of your WEAK HEART,' says Massimo, getting with the programme briefly, but soon Laura's cardiological irregularities are forgotten) and learning of what has befallen her. Not long after taking the bullet at the top of the film, Massimo had a vision of a woman (or so he claims) whom he fell instantly in love with. It has taken him five years to find someone who looks like his vision – and it's her!!! Now she can look forward to being held prisoner by Massimo and the Mafia for a year, as he confidently believes that it will take no longer than this for her to fall in love with him.

Laura demurs somewhat at this prospect, being a feisty young manager in the hospitality industry, but Massimo does his best to reassure her by acting like a controlling psychopath. 'I will never touch you without your permission,' he growls, seemingly not realising he is copping an unauthorised feel even at that moment. But surely the millionaire lifestyle of a mob girlfriend and Massimo's impressive but coyly-presented bod will not be enough to win Laura over?

Well, of course they are, for we are in the realm of possibly the nastiest of all film subgenres, the coercive romance: you know what I mean, the one with the subtext that if you really love someone, they will inevitably come to love you back: all you need to do is terrorise and lock them up for long enough. 'Love is... never having to explain what Stockholm syndrome is.' Yes, for reasons which remain persistently elusive, Laura decides that Massimo the psychopathic mafia boss kidnapper is actually a bit of a catch. Many games of hide-the-sausage and whose-leg-is-that? ensue, while 365 Days may very well find itself on the shortlist if anyone gives out an award for the most-cunningly-framed fellatio sequence (there are a number of contenders: the directors seem to have let this sort of thing go to their head, if you see what I mean).

As you may recall, I did my tour of duty in the trenches when the Fifty Shades trilogy was on release and concluded, like many others, that seldom before had such bad movies done such good business. Well, I tell you, friends, 365 Days makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like Inception or Parasite, which is slightly curious considering it is clearly attempting to follow the same formula of soft-core humping interspersed with glossy consumerist drivel. But, unless you subscribe to the notion that it is somehow acceptable to kidnap people and basically force them to have sex with you, it just doesn't function as a romance at even the trite level the Grey films did.

It barely functions on any level other than simply looking like a commercial, anyway. The acting and direction are about as good as you'd expect for this kind of film, while the English dialogue is just painful on the ear ('Five years ago, my life has changed,' announces Massimo ahead of a key piece of exposition, which I had to rewind and watch twice as my cries of sympathy for the suffering of English grammar drowned out the dialogue the first time). Even the basic storytelling seems to break down around the ending, although once again this may just be to facilitate the threatened sequels. (Basically, we are meant to believe that Laura carks it in a mob hit, while pregnant with Massimo's child, on her way back from her wedding dress fitting. Yup, no pudding knowingly goes un-egged around this film. As we barely learn how or why this happens, and certainly don't see it, it is a dead cert she has just been kidnapped again and may be forced to fall in love with a different Mafia boss in the follow-up, regardless of her WEAK HEART.)

Literally the only positive thing I can say about all this is that it doesn't actually take 365 days for the plot to unravel, although it certainly feels like it at times. This is the kind of film which is so dreadful it is likely to bring on an interlude of existential fugue: you question not just the fact of its existence, but your own. But it's not just bad, it's nasty to the core, and if parts of it are so inept they're amusing that shouldn't distract us from the unpleasantness of the rest of it. You may find yourself tempted just to have a little look at it, to see if it's quite as bad-funny as you've heard. Resist the temptation. Proper films will be back soon, or so we can only hope.

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